Last week’s blog entry described a series of studies conducted by Professor Robert Cialdini and colleagues, which demonstrated one of the means by which we are persuaded. Professor Cialdini’s work also illuminated a variety of other means by which we are persuaded to spend, to vote for, campaign for, donate to, etc. The two we have discussed in this blog are social proof (everyone is doing it) and scarcity (call now, supplies are limited). Two other common principles of persuasion that are reciprocity and commitment, also known as consistency. Here’s what they are and how they are used.

Reciprocity. Reciprocity is one of the most commonly used persuasive techniques in both marketing and the solicitation of charitable giving. If you have ever received an envelope from a charitable organization containing self-address stickers and also requesting a donation, you have experienced a reciprocity appeal. The person or organization that wants you to part with your money first gives you something for free. When charitable organizations give you address stickers, you still may not be very likely to donate, but you are significantly more likely to than if they hadn’t given you the stickers. So, too, with the free samples.

One would hope that manufacturers believe that if you try it, you’ll like it, but that’s not all there is to it. If you try it for free, some small part of you will feel that you should buy some of whatever it is, just to settle the score. Of course, we all respond to such tactics differently, but on average, our desire to reciprocate when we receive something for free induces us to spend or to give more than we otherwise would.

Commitment/ Consistency. This principal of persuasion is most commonly employed in personal, face-to-face selling situations, but it may be employed in other circumstances, as well. Next time someone is trying to sell you a big ticket item, make a mental note of the kinds of questions the salesperson asks you early on in the process. If you are dealing with a good salesperson, they will likely ask you a series of questions that you are highly likely to agree with, and they will look for ways to illustrate that you and the salesperson think alike. They are cultivating your habit of agreeing with them. When we feel like we think alike, or that we agree on many things with someone, we like to be consistent. If we agree with the salesperson that the car is stylish, well-built, and that it would be suitable for our transportation purposes, we are also likely to agree that it is affordable when the price is revealed. When we have agreed with the salesperson on a long list of small things, agreeing that the rust guard and the gold-plaited floor mats are necessary is much more likely.

Consistency/commitment also comes into play in other areas of life. For instance, if a work colleague floats bits and pieces of an idea that we sort of agree with on Tuesday, we are very likely to support the idea when it is brought up in a staff meeting on Friday, even if the full-fledged idea isn’t that attractive anymore, or if we have since thought of reasonable objections. Our desire to be consistent often squelches reasonable doubts.

At BeyondThePurchase.Org we are researching the connection between people’s spending habitshappiness, and values.  To learn about your spending habits, what influences your buying behavior, and how you define the good life, first Login or Register with Beyond The Purchase, then take our Materialistic Values Scale, our Consumer Susceptibility to Interpersonal Influence Scale, and our Beliefs about Well-being. We think you may learn a lot about what causes you to part with your hard-earned money.

This blog post was written by Kerry Cunningham, a member of the Personality & Wellbeing Laboratory and recent M.S. graduate in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at San Francisco State University. Follow @kerryfc

About Kerry

Kerry has an M.S. in Industrial-Organizational psychology and something just short of 20 years experience as a manager and executive in b2b direct marketing. Currently, Kerry works with organizations to improve processes and practices in the area of people management. In addition, Kerry has a deep and abiding passion for all things evolution, but particularly evolutionary perspectives on organizational and economic behavior. When not geeking out with research literature and data, Kerry is generally playing tennis and/ or enjoying a restorative cocktail.
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