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How to Be More Influential

Influence - The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.
Influence – The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D.

One of the best podcasts for business or for learning anything really, is the Freakonomics Radio podcast. This particular episode was especially interesting because it has direct relevance to sales. One of the biggest issues for any business is generating revenue. In order to do that, your revenue centers have to be skilled at influencing clients to purchase from your business.

The social psychologist Robert Cialdini is a pioneer in the science of persuasion. His 1984 book Influence is a classic, and he has just published an expanded and revised edition. In this episode of the Freakonomics Radio, Cialdini discusses the seven psychological levers that manipulates our self-described rational minds and lead us to act, follow, or believe without a second thought. The seven levers of influence are reciprocation, liking, social proof, authority, scarcity, commitment and consistency, and unity.

Some key excerpts from the interview:

  • Reciprocation – Reciprocation is the rule that is installed in all of us, in every human culture, that says we are obligated to give back to others the form of behavior they’ve first given to us. 
    • For large groups, he would ask the first person for an order, and no matter what s/he ordered, he would frown, lean down so everyone could hear, and say, “That’s really not as good tonight as it normally is.” And then he’d recommend something slightly less expensive from the menu. “This, this, and this are really good tonight.” So, what he did was to say, “I’m being so honest with you, I’m willing to recommend something that will give me less of a tip.” Then when he returned at the end, he would say, “Would you like me to recommend a dessert wine or a dessert?” And people would all look at each other and say, “Of course, Vincent, you know what’s good here, and you have our interests at heart,” and they would spend on wine and dessert.”
  • Liking – Being likable makes you more persuasive
    • But how do you make someone like you? One is to point to genuine similarities that you share. The other is praise. Because first of all, people like those who are like them, and secondly, they like those who like them and say so.  Car salespeople, for example, are trained to look for evidence of such things while examining a customer’s trade-in. If there is camping gear in the trunk, the salespeople might mention, later on, how they love to get away from the city whenever they can; if there are golf balls on the back seat, they might remark they hope the rain will hold off until they can play the 18 holes they’ve scheduled for the next day.
  • Social Proof – We are more likely to say yes to a proposal or a recommendation if we have evidence that a lot of others like us have been doing so. 
    • The power of social proof is so substantial that people who watch a presidential debate on T.V. are said to be significantly swayed by the magnitude and direction of the applause at the live event. This is not at all a recent phenomenon.
  • Authority – Deferring to authoritative figures and sources
    • In one study, someone called the nurses in various wards of hospitals and claimed to be a doctor on the staff who the nurse had never met and ordered the nurse to give a double dose of Astrogen to a patient. They’re not supposed to take these orders by phone. The dose was twice the maximum dose that was on the bottle of Astrogen. But 95 percent of them were on their way to give the drug to this patient before they were interrupted by a researcher who said, “Wait, don’t do that.” The researchers concluded that one would think there would be multiple intelligences operating to decide whether to give this amount of drug or not. But it turns out that, because of the principle of authority and the deference that the nurses were giving to the physicians, there was only one such intelligence function. As highly trained and intelligent as nurses are, in a fast paced challenging environment, it is easy to unthinkingly follow an authority’s directive.”
  • Scarcity – An insufficiency of amount or supply
    • In the book, you tell the story of your brother when you were much younger, that he would buy and resell used cars. And his big trick was to tell all the prospective buyers to come view the car at the same time, so that he’d have everybody come Sunday at 2:00 p.m. to create a sense of demand or a false scarcity.
    • Another example is companies that create an artificial scarcity, essentially by limiting the amount of production they engage in. Let’s say it’s a T-shirt, a sneaker, a luxury watch. They could make a million a year. They choose instead to make 10,000 a year and charge 100 times what it might go for on the market as a mass-market item.
  • Commitment & Consistency – Seeming to appear true one’s decisions, beliefs, and/or actions
    • In one study, when six- or 12-person experimental juries were deciding on a close case, hung juries were significantly more frequent if the jurors had to express their opinions with a visible show of hands rather than by secret ballot. Once jurors had stated their initial views publicly, they were reluctant to allow themselves to change publicly. Should you ever find yourself the foreperson of a jury under these conditions, you could reduce the risk of a hung jury by choosing a secret rather than public balloting method.
  • Unity – The power of social identities to drive people’s behavior
    • In the United States, citizens agreed to participate in a survey to a greater extent if it emanated from a home-state university. Amazon product buyers were more likely to follow the recommendation of a reviewer who lived in the same state. People greatly overestimate the role of their home states in U.S. history. Readers of a news story about a military fatality in Afghanistan became more opposed to the war there upon learning the fallen soldier was from their own state.

The most fascinating take-away is that the more “rational” aspects such as features, benefits, quality, value, or pricing is not a major direct decision making factor. Although, it is arguable that quality, features, etc. can fall under Like; they prefer substance over style, etc.

Listen to the whole episode here:

Another effective marketing strategy is using the MAYA approach, “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable” also incorporates some of the levers of influence namely Liking and Commitment & Consistency. Read about MAYA here.

How to Sell Something Old and Something New

Pabst Blue Ribbon: Why hipsters found a beer that was cool before it was cool

Hipster and Pabst Blue Ribbon - Your Startup Guru
Hipster and Pabst Blue Ribbon

Pabst Blue Ribbon’s (or PBR) rise and fall is a story of a market finding a product — unfortunately, it 170 years for it to happen. PBR has been around for 170 years but only in 2008 enjoyed a 6 year boom in popularity (outside of a brief moment in the 1970s). If hipsters were around 170 years ago, it wouldn’t have taken one hundred seventy years for PBR to find popularity.

It is better to find an under-served market and create a product/service for them than wait for a market to find your product/service.

Hipsters are known for following the latest trends and fashions, while eschewing things regarded as being within the cultural mainstream. Hence the term, “I was into __________ before it was cool.”

So why did hipsters like PBR? To put it simply, it was “retro chic”, anti-mainstream, and with many people still trying to recover from an economic recession, Pabst Blue Ribbon’s low price point was an attractive option. This brings us to a tool in marketing used to find customer groups — psychographic segmentation.

What is Psychographic Segmentation for Business?

Psychographic segmentation is used in market research as a way to divide consumers into sub-groups based on shared psychological characteristics, including subconscious or conscious beliefs, motivations, and priorities to explain and predict consumer behavior. Any dimension can be used to segment a group of consumers such as style, variety, availability, price, etc.

Hipsters avoided things that were popular and some of them were not price sensitive so they were willing to consider a range of beers that occupied a certain psychographic zone.

Psychographic segmentation of hipster beer consumption - Your Startup Guru
Psychographic segmentation of hipster beer consumption

As PBR’s popularity grew, it was departing from the zone of consideration – the region of price and popularity where hipsters were willing purchase from. Also, as hipsterism became more mainstream, the association of PBR with hipsters caused a self-fueling downward cycle.

Shift in Pabst Blue Ribbon popularity caused hipster abandonment - Your Startup Guru
Shift in Pabst Blue Ribbon popularity caused hipster abandonment

How to Use Psychographic Segmentation for Business?

Since you don’t have over one hundred fifty years for your product or service to be found by a market, it is better to find an under-served market and create a product/service for them than wait for a market to find your product/service. You can read about more businesses that found a need and filled that need.

Your Startup Guru used psychographic analysis to differentiate our client’s brand from that of their competitors yet stay true to their envisioned identity:

swimsuit brand psychographic differentiation - Your Startup Guru
Swimsuit brand psychographic differentiation

How to Do Market Research for Business?

There are many sources at your disposal to gain a deeper insight into who your customers are and segments within that market.

  • Ask potential customers: Surveying is a form of primary market research. Ask them how they use their product, what they like/dislike about it. How long they have used it, is it expensive, how does it make them feel, etc. These questions will give you valuable insight on the psychology of the user.
  • Pose as a customer and visit your competitor’s store/website. Learn how they do what they do. See what they do well, what they can improve on. Sometimes employees are very happy to share details you cannot find anywhere else.
  • Industry and market research companies such as IBISWorld, Pew Research Center, Audience Overlap Tool, Statista are loaded with great information. The downside is that they can be expensive. Less expensive options include the SBA’s Office of Entrepreneurship, US Census data, and older reports/white papers.
  • Industry and trade publications for your particular sector are also a great source of information. Some are free while some require memberships.

So What Should Pabst Blue Ribbon Do?

Given that hipsterism is on the way out, a brand extension with Pabst [pick your color] Ribbon which is guerilla marketed to a new niche market segment such as Yuccies: Young Urban Creatives (that are a slice of Gen Y) with product placement on their YouTube channels is a viability…or wait another +100 years.


Contact us today to get started on market research that will help pinpoint your target market.

Old school business model

I just saw a commercial for Rent-A-Center and thought to myself that their old school business model is nearly a half center ahead of the times.

Founded in 1974, Rent-A-Center is an American public furniture and electronics rent-to-own company based in Plano, Texas. The company was incorporated in 1986 and as of 2014 operates approximately 2,972 company-owned stores in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico, accounting for approximately 35% of the rent-to-own market in the United States based on store count.

A convergence of trends—including the Mari Kondo-sparked enthusiasm for cleaning out closets, increased concern over the impact of climate change, and a movement toward smaller, urban apartments—has made millennial consumers more conscious of how many items they’re accumulating.

Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman.

As you may know, companies are taking a similar business model and expanding it to other consumer sectors such as clothing and jewelry. This model has already been applied to transportation with Lyft/taxis/vehicle leasing and with housing with AirBnB/hotels/apartments and intellectual property with game rentals/public libraries. Entering into the fray are companies like Rent the Runway, which rents unlimited designer styles to subscribers and Fat Llama, which rents electronics (in the UK).

A convergence of trends—including the Mari Kondo-sparked enthusiasm for cleaning out closets, increased concern over the impact of climate change, and a movement toward smaller, urban apartments—has made millennial consumers more conscious of how many items they’re accumulating, according to Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman.

The spending habits of millennials, the largest single consumer group out there with 83.1 million (a full quarter of the U.S. population), was surveyed. The survey found that the main reason why they rent is to “test things before purchasing” at 57%. This makes sense with money being tight and space being limited, every purchase has to be scrutinized. The results of the survey are shown in the infographic below:

World Economic Forum: This is how millennials are fueling the rental economy

Old school brands such as Play it Again Sports and Rent-A-Center are riding the boom of the change in consumer sentiment and behavior. Rent-A-Center’s revenue grew $9M between 2018 and 2019 to $2.6B, operating income balloon an astounding $197M between 2018 and 2019 to $253M, helping net income to increase by $165M to $173M.

See a need, fill a need

bigweld

Often entrepreneurs come up with their business idea because of their own personal experiences or that of someone in their circle of friends & family.  This is a great strategy but sometimes doesn’t tap into a market large enough.

In episode #850 of Planet Money, The Fake Review Hunter the hosts interview Tommy Noonan, creator of SupplementReviews.com.  SupplementReviews.com is a highly popular website that provides unbiased user reviews of health supplements.  However, Tommy soon found that there were reviews that were suspiciously positive.  Because Tommy’s entire website was based on authentic user reviews, fake reviews became an existential threat.  After a lot of research, he found that some of these reviews were being written by the supplement companies themselves.  He uncovered so many fake reviews that he started noticing a pattern; almost like a modus operandi.  They were often single product/brand reviews, used fake pictures, lots of reviews in a short period of time, and/or only had one review.  Sometimes the “reviewer” would give positive reviews for one brand and negative ones to competing brands.

This is when Tommy had his a-ha moment.  If his website had fake reviews, others would also probably have them too.  So he created another business that aligned with one of the juggernauts of the internet, Amazon.  Tommy’s site which uncovers fake reviews is called ReviewMeta.com.

How to find a need

As mentioned at the top of the post, most rely only on their personal experiences or that within their network.  Sometimes the need is obvious.  For example, at a 7-Eleven in Shirley, New York one 7-Eleven sells more coffees than any other franchise in the US; all because of one store manager than knows virtually every customer’s name and greats them.  No special location mojo or customer flow algorithm, just old fashioned customer service. You can read more about it in my post Competitive Advantage and Coffee.

Other times it is not that obvious.  In that case, you have to hustle in a different manner.   How do you do more “work” when you’re already working to the bone?  Find efficiencies:  know your customers, know your competitors, lower your expenses,  by working to learn more doing more research in episode #700 of Planet Money, Peanuts and Cracker Jack.  In Boston’s Fenway Park, Jose Magrass is the top seller.  One year, on opening day he sold 500 hot dogs, $2750 worth of hot dogs in a single game.  In fact, Jose has been the top seller for over 5 years.  Part of his secret?  He has a spreadsheet where he analyzes many factors beyond just the weather such as what his competing vendors are selling and what fans are likely to purchase depending on the price of their seats.  For example, behind home plate diet coke sold better because possibly that is where the “vain people” sit.  That kind of analysis is impressive.

Time utilization for startups - Your Startup Guru Time is a finite resource

One of the top five reasons people say they cannot start their own business is lack of time.  I always, always, ALWAYS emphasize time efficiency to my clients.  For example, scheduling calls in advance, taking notes during meetings, making checklists, etc. all can help maximize time efficiency.  I cannot tell you how many times people have called to discuss business but do not have their materials in front of them…even worse, while driving.  Invariably they do not remember everything that was discussed and another meeting will be had.

In a startup, there are so many things to consider and juggle.  Rent, advertising, staffing, licenses, etc.  It becomes very easy to become overwhelmed in the thousands of tasks that need to be done which can cause us to lose sight of direction and lose creativity.  However, according to Economist Joseph Schumpeter business people would be better off if they did less and thought more.

All this “leaning in” is producing an epidemic of overwork, particularly in the United States. Americans now toil for eight-and-a-half hours a week more than they did in 1979. A survey last year by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that almost a third of working adults get six hours or less of sleep a night. Another survey last year by Good Technology, a provider of secure mobile systems for businesses, found that more than 80% of respondents continue to work after leaving the office, 69% cannot go to bed without checking their inbox and 38% routinely check their work e-mails at the dinner table.

Managers themselves could benefit. Those at the top are best employed thinking about strategy rather than operations—about whether the company is doing the right thing rather than whether it is sticking to its plans. When he was boss of General Electric, Jack Welch used to spend an hour a day in what he called “looking out of the window time”. When he was in charge of Microsoft Bill Gates used to take two “think weeks” a year when he would lock himself in an isolated cottage. Jim Collins, of “Good to Great” fame, advises all bosses to keep a “stop doing list”. Is there a meeting you can cancel? Or a dinner you can avoid?

Your time is valuable. Make sure you’re spending it wisely.

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