3 Persuasion Techniques You Should Know

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I’ve spent 200 hours interviewing persuasion experts. In this blog, I share the persuasion tactics that actually work.

You’ll learn why persuasion attempts work better if you ask for action in the future (rather than the present). You’ll learn the tiny tweak that persuaded hotel guests to reuse their towels. And you’ll learn how questions are more powerful than you might expect.

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3 Scientifically-Proven Rules for Persuasion

Since starting my podcast back in 2019, I’ve spent almost 200 hours interviewing researchers, professors, and experts about persuasion.

I’ve asked them to share the scientifically proven-tactics that actually persuade others. Their findings are eye-opening.

Turns out, persuasion is fairly simple if you follow some scientifically-proven rules. Here are the three persuasion techniques you should use to get someone to act.

1. Ask for future commitment.

All of us experience a bias known as temporal discounting. Put simply, it means, the further something is away, the less salient it seems.

So, if you need to study for an exam, it’s easier to say I’ll do it tomorrow, rather than today. It’s always easier to start the diet next week rather than this week.

This tendency to commit more in the future can help you persuade.

In a 2008 study by Promin, high-performing students were asked by their professors to tutor their below-average peers.

It’s not an easy task. Students have a lot on their plate, tutoring is the last thing they want to do.

Yet, making one tiny change to the request made students twice as likely to agree.

See, when the students were asked to tutor others in the current term, the students only committed to 27 minutes of tutoring per week on average.

However, when the students were asked to tutor in the next term the commitment rose to 85 minutes.

People commit more in the future, than they do in the present. If you need to persuade, you’d be better off asking for a future commitment.

This persuasion technique isn’t only relevant for time-sparse professors. Marketers should encourage customers to enroll in an upgrade next quarter. Fitness instructors should ask customers to commit to signing up in the new year. And you should ask your boss to approve your raise at the next performance review.

We’re more likely to commit if the commitment feels far away.

2. Show how the majority act.

That previous tip will help you persuade others to make future commitments. But what if you need to persuade someone to act immediately?

Well, researchers over the years have identified very effective ways to accomplish this. It involves social proof.

Social proof is the idea that we follow the actions of others. If you see a queue outside an art gallery, you’ll want to go in. If you’re told that HubSpot is the best selling CRM, you’ll be more likely to use it.

Robert Cialdini, a professor from Arizona University, proved that persuading with social proof is fairly easy.

His study, in collaboration with a local hotel, aimed to encourage guests to reuse their hotel towels.

The hotel spent a fortune washing towels each day for guests. Encouraging reuse not only helps the environment, but saves the hotel money.

But how do you persuade hotel guests?

Here’s what Cialdini tried. In a random control trial, guests saw one of three messages:

  1. The control read: “Please reuse your towels.
  2. The environmental plea read: “Help us save the environment. Reuse your towel.
  3. The social proof variant read: “Most guests in this hotel reuse their towels.

Here’s what he found:

The control was pretty ineffective, not improving towel reuse at all. The environmental plea worked better, increasing towel reuse by 35%. But incredibly, the social proof variant was far more effective, boosting towel reuse by 45%.

To persuade, share how most others do the action you want to encourage.

If it persuades hotel guests to reuse their towels it’ll almost certainly work for you.

Linens and towels persuasion example

Dozens of hotels have followed Cialdin’s advice.

3. Ask the right question.

In 2009, two researchers hit the streets in California and asked pedestrians to stop and answer a survey. No one likes answering these surveys. We all have things to do, no one wants to change their plans and stop for 10 minutes.

And that’s what the researchers found. Only 29% of Californians agreed to stop.

But then they tested a simple persuasion technique.

They asked a question which was designed to persuade. Before asking if they could answer a survey, they asked “are you a helpful person?

Now how would you answer this?

My guess is that you would say “yes, I am.” Most of us have positive self-perceptions and this question prompts us to think of them. And because the Californians were prompted to think of themselves as helpful, they became far more likely to stop.

Just asking “are you a helpful person” increased the number of people who answered the survey from 29% to 77.3% — an incredible improvement, more than doubling the amount of respondents.

Affirming positive self-perceptions increases persuasion.

But this effect is even simpler than that.

Simply asking any question seems to boost persuasion.

To explore this, I set up my own test with two Reddit ads. Both ads encouraged people to listen to my podcast Nudge. The ads were shown to people in the UK and US who had interacted with marketing subreddits on Reddit.

The first ad, the control, had no question attached.

It said “Ditch boring business podcasts. Try Nudge.” Next to that text I put a few of my 5-star reviews.

The second ad was identical to the first, except, the copy read:

Bored of boring business podcasts? Try Nudge.

Turns out, adding the question boosted clicks. The ad with the question was 17% more effective than the control ad. It drove far more people to my podcast and resulted in many more listeners.

A 17% improvement from changing just two words.

Question boosts clicks persuasion graphic

Now let’s face it. These persuasion tactics won’t turn you into a world leading sales person. They won’t make your offers irresistible.

But, they’re better than nothing. And if you use these tips, rather than attempting to persuade blindly, you’ll almost certainly see greater success.

This blog is part of Phill Agnew’s Marketing Cheat Sheet series where he reveals the scientifically proven tips to help you improve your marketing. To learn more, listen to his podcast Nudge, a proud member of the HubSpot Podcast Network.



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