I came across an entertaining animation illustrating the ‘Universal principles of persuasion’ from Robert Cialdini, Professor of Marketing at Arizona University. It is itself highly persuasive and has clear implications for many sales, marketing and communications campaigns.

In short, it presents six powerful ways to encourage people to say ‘yes’ based on years of scientific study.

They’re based on the short-cuts we all use to make decisions in this busy world of information overload:

1. Reciprocity – people’s tendency to give back when they’ve already received. Cialdini cites studies that found that restaurant tips rose 23% when a waiter gave diners something as simple as mints.

What could you give to increase your chance of receiving?

2. Scarcity – people want more of something there’s less of as they’re afraid of missing out. When BA announced it was to end Concorde flights, immediate sales rose dramatically. So don’t just emphasise the strengths of your products, focus also – where appropriate – on its limited supply.

3. Authority – people’s inclination to listen to people with apparent expert status. Studies find people are more likely to give parking meter change to a complete stranger if he’s wearing a uniform.

This one is no big revelation: third party endorsements to bolster credentials underpin the whole discipline of public relations. What more could you do to emphasise your authority?

4. Consistency – getting people to make small, easy commitments encourages them to agree to bigger things later on. A doctor’s surgery achieved an 18% drop in missed appointments after asking patients themselves, rather than the surgery staff, to write their appointment on a card.

What easy ask can you make to pave the way for your main request?

5. Liking – people are simply more likely to say yes to people they like.

Studies found groups negotiated agreement in a controlled environment 55% of the time if they got straight down to business, but 90% of the time if they got to know each other first. Social interaction with your customers is not a waste of time!

6. Consensus – people look to others’ actions to validate their own. A hotel found saying 75% of its guests reused their towels led to a 33% increase in compliance.


The 11-minute animation is well worth watching.

Apply these principles wisely and I suspect we could see a big increase in the effectiveness of our sales, communications and marketing efforts.


What do you think about these six principles? Have you tried applying any of these and do they work?