The heart of tech is coming to the heart of the Mediterranean. Join TNW in València this March 🇪🇸

This article was published on November 2, 2013

The art of persuasion: How to pull in more customers with scarcity, reciprocity and other tactics

The art of persuasion: How to pull in more customers with scarcity, reciprocity and other tactics
Nick Summers
Story by

Nick Summers

Nick Summers is a technology journalist for The Next Web. He writes on all sorts of topics, although he has a passion for gadgets, apps and Nick Summers is a technology journalist for The Next Web. He writes on all sorts of topics, although he has a passion for gadgets, apps and video games in particular. You can reach him on Twitter, circle him on Google+ and connect with him on LinkedIn.

For the longest time, I thought persuasion was a genetic trait bestowed upon a lucky few. Some folks were just born to be world-class salespeople, while others were destined for less public-facing or results driven forms of employment.

Persuasion is a science though. There are principles that anyone can learn and apply to the way that they work, as well as the team, strategy or business that they oversee. Understanding those theories and applying it to your own use can have a dramatic effect on how many people click, buy or subscribe to your product, app or services.

To understand the fundamentals of persuasion and apply it to your own business, you need to talk with two people: Dr. Maurits Kaptein and Dr. Lisanne van Weelden. Luckily, the pair are running a class for TNW Academy on November 7 (Persuasion Profiling: Make Your Customers Click, Buy & Subscribe) to expand upon this very topic. We caught up with Kaptein to get ourselves up to speed.

TNW: What are the core factors that will influence someone’s decision?

There are many, depending on person and context. However, there are some simple high level theories, which are wrong in the sense that they miss out some drivers of behaviour, but can be useful to get an initial picture.

I myself am quite appealed by starting with an evaluation of people’s motivation, opportunity, and ability: A specific behaviour will only occur if people want to perform the action (motivation), if the environment allows them to (opportunity) and if they are (physically) able to (ability).

This is a great starting point to explain people’s actions: If one of these is not present it is very unlikely that a specific action will happen. Behaviors and decisions are complex and thus not explained in one or two sentences. However, structurally there are useful theories to think about human decision making.

TNW: What impact does scarcity have on the desirability of a product? Would the limited availability for the gold iPhone 5s, for instance, be persuasive?

Scarcity is a well-known persuasive strategy: it is mentioned and discussed explicitly as one of the six “weapons of influence” in Professor Cialdini’s work (his book Influence is a bestseller).

There is a lot of proof of a positive average effect of scarcity: pitching a product with a message that states “limited available” as opposed to “abundantly available” leads to a higher willingness to pay on average. However, that behaviour is also more complex: There are studies that show that if scarcity is clearly not driven by demand, but rather artificially imposed, that its effects are weaker.

Also, we have found that there are large individual differences in the effects of scarcity: Some people seem to consistently be more likely to buy scarce products, while others tend to avoid such products.

TNW: How powerful is reciprocity in technology, or the idea that if you receive something of value, you should give some of equal value to another?

Reciprocity, also one of the famous “weapons of influence”, can be extremely powerful: having the feeling that you owe something to someone else is very persuasive to comply to request originating from this person.

However, from experience it’s a hard strategy to implement in apps or online services: reciprocity has the largest effect when you genuinely give something of value before asking for a favour in return. Often offering (e.g.) free shipping after a customer has bought something is much less effective: here the giving is conditional on the behaviour of the receiver.

So, you would have to look for things that are of value for your customers, and actually give it to them, no questions asked.

TNW: What’s the simplest, or quickest change that a company could make right now to be more persuasive?

For some, reading some of the persuasion literature is a good starting point to start thinking about persuasion more structurally. Those who are advanced could try their own persuasive messages, write content, and AB test it.

For those even more advanced, they could move into persuasion profiling, where obviously I should recommend PersuasionAPI. But in all fairness, there is a time and place for everything: please remember that if you have a perfectly personalised sales pitch, but your customers cannot get through the check-out process because of usability concerns, you are unlikely to succeed.

Kaptein and van Weelden’s class, ‘Persuasion Profiling: Make Your Customers Click, Buy & Subscribe’ features on TNW Academy on November 7 and is priced at $99. It promises to be a valuable opportunity to hear from two of the most respected authorities in the field, so sign up while you still can

Image Credit: Shutterstock