It’s important to know that it is possible to manipulate people. Like any tool, the application of psychology to move and persuade people can be misused in marketing.

For all of its episodes, this was the first one I’ve heard from the Art of Charm marketing podcast. The first thing that jumped out at me was that they use a phrase very similar to my own. The phrase I use quite often is “It’s not that we think we have all the answers, but I believe we certainly have the right questions.” While slightly bummed to find that my saying isn’t original (not that I thought it was), it’s always comforting to feel validated.

Robert Cialdini is the author of a popular book called Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In the book, he discusses six pillars of marketing persuasion—psychological factors that influence people to act more strongly. Those factors include reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.

These elements have been so influential (no pun intended) that many marketers probably apply them without realizing they stem from Cialdini’s research. This, incidentally, reminds me of another phrase I use quite frequently. When I first present the Idea Spring Branding, Marketing, and Messaging framework, I often tell my audience up-front, “Some of what I teach will just sound like common sense—and it should, because we’re marketing to humans. So what we teach is most effective if a) you are human, and b) you are trying to market to other humans.”

One of the topics in the podcast is the misuse of these principles to manipulate people. Trust me, even being fully aware of the manipulation that occurs, I’ve been suckered into more marketing “guru” scams than I’d care to admit. Fortunately, it’s always easy to rationalize these expenses as business research. I often do learn something useful about principles and psychology—not always from what they are teaching, but through introspection about what caused me to say yes to their offer, and the patterns they use. But often I feel more upset at being manipulated than glad I made the purchase.

It’s important to know that it is possible to manipulate people. Like any tool, the application of psychology to move and persuade people can be misused. I think it is Seth Godin, though I’m not entirely sure, who said something to the effect of “Manipulation is convincing people to buy things they won’t like; marketing is telling the story in a way that gets people to buy something they will love.” At Idea Spring, we’re pretty selective about who we work with because it’s really a lot easier to persuade people when you love the product (or service) and know the target audience will too.

“Pre-suasion,” as Cialdini defines it in this podcast, is “The practice of getting recipients sympathetic to your message before they experience it.” He points out that this practice is not magic; it is rooted deep in the mind. One of the things I wish business owners—especially small business owners—had is a deeper understanding of what marketing really is. It is so important to know that marketing is really the application of psychology in a business context to motivate an individual to respond positively to our asks.

Real marketing strategy starts as an exercise in trying to get into the mind of the target audience. Every aspect of marketing—the words we use, the physical design, the channels of communication we employ, and how we choose to deliver the message—requires us to place ourselves into the mind of the recipient. We must imagine what actions will be most effective in getting our target audience to say yes to whatever it is we’re asking them to do in that moment. This is the case whether we are looking for a “micro-yes” (simply reading an ad, clicking a link, or opening an email) or a “macro-yes” (making the ultimate decision to do business with us).

The podcast goes in-depth about how we can take psychology even further to get recipients prepared for the delivery of our message, and how even subtle things like images, placement and word choices can have a major impact on the behavior of the audience when our message is delivered.

Enjoy the podcast, and let me know what you think. And of course, if you are human—or marketing to other humans—feel free to reach out and talk about your own marketing experience or needs.

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