Black Friday Lessons for Persuasion Ninjas!

According to The New York Times, an incredible $8.9 billion dollars were spent on online Black Friday bargains in the US this year. And judging by the avalanche of ads, Americans are not alone in succumbing to Black Friday fever! But ever wondered if Black Friday is good for anything apart from separating you from your hard-earned cash? Well, it’s probably no surprise to learn that Black Friday can teach you a thing or two about persuasion strategies. Indeed, a brief visit to any good shop or website will reveal some influencing “weapons” that you can also use to boost your influence with colleagues and customers. Now’s your chance to become a persuasion ninja!

Technique 1: Social proof

Whether we’re buying basics like breakfast cereal and shampoo or more sophisticated items like computers or TVs, these days we’re spoilt for choice. Supermarkets now have over 40,000 references—that’s almost seven times the number on sale 30 years ago! And if we were to weigh up the various advantages of every single purchase, then we’d be overwhelmed by paralysis by analysis. Luckily for retailers, we have a natural tendency that helps us avoid decision-fatigue and, we think, choose the right thing. This tendency is to obey Social Proof—in other words, what do others like us buy or do in a similar situation?

A famous experiment by renowned social psychologist Roberto Cialdini showed that 48% of hotel guests obeyed a request to re-use their towel when they were told that the majority of the guests who had stayed in that room had also done so. This was a huge 30% improvement on just asking for cooperation on environmental grounds alone.

So, what is going on here? Researchers explain that most human beings feel an innate need to fit in—we feel safer going along with the crowd, especially when we are in an unfamiliar situation or admire the person or social group in question. That’s why Influencers wield such enormous power over teenage spending habits. Or why Amazon points out that “people who bought X also bought Y”. And why salespeople tell you, “There’s not much demand for the game you’re asking for, but TikTok is really going mad over this other one. I bought it for my children and they really love it!”

How can you apply the Social Proof principle?

When talking to colleagues and clients try to find things in common and use their vocabulary to create a sense of similarity and connection! When selling an idea, make sure to mention how other (similar, admired) internal customers or stakeholders were in a similar situation and explain how your suggestion helped them.

Technique 2: Scarcity

Last Days, Final Offer, Today Only…All these sales slogans play on our ancestral fear of missing out on valuable resources and maybe losing them to a competitor. In short, the more difficult something is to obtain, the more we tend to value it. We all marvel at the long waiting lists to get into exclusive restaurants, buy limited edition handbags, or even the undignified fighting over toilet rolls—all triggered by the scarcity response. Salespeople using the scarcity “weapon” will often invoke a special offer that ends today, an exclusive offer limited to premium customers, or even one that requires special management approval, to push us to buy. “What?! 55 people bought this EasyJet flight today and now only four seats are left at this price? I’ll take all four right now!”

How can you apply the Scarcity Principle?

Don’t say, “Ring me any time on Monday afternoon”. Instead say, “I know this is important to you, so I will free up Monday afternoon so we can discuss it”. Don’t say, “We have a lot of X left over, I’ll have no problem getting it to you”. Instead say, “X was very popular last month, but we did reserve a selected number of items for special customers. I´ll see what I can do”.

Technique 3: Authority            

There’s a reason so many toothpaste ads feature a dentist in a white gown. The authority principle is an important weapon of influenceafter all, we are brought up to respect and note signs of authority from childhood onwards. This means that we have a tendency to make our decision-making easier by following expert advice and recommendations. After all, nine out of ten dentists recommend Colgate/Sensodyne/Licor del Polo! The same principle is at work in Black Friday and Christmas ads featuring models promoting beauty aids and athletes pushing sports equipment. Sometimes you don’t even have to be an expert in the same field—if Rafa Nadal is recommending Deckton for your kitchen, it must be good!

How can you apply the Authority Principle?

Make sure to flag up—without sounding arrogant—your relevant qualifications and experience to deliver what your client is asking for. Also look and sound the part. No need to don a white gown, but appropriate dress, voice and confident body language all contribute to your aura of authority and gravitas.

Become a Persuasion Ninja!

Now that you know some of the “weapons of influence”, you will immediately recognize them next time you talk to a salesperson and be able to make a more objective decision. So does that means it’s wrong to use these techniques? Like everything, that depends how and why you use them. We spend an enormous amount of time at work selling ideas and trying to get people on our side. Providing we respect the other person’s needs and interests, a little purposeful persuasion can help make our proposals more attractive, accelerate decisions and gain faster cooperation.

Finally, remember that Persuasion is a skill—a learnable one. And even people who consider themselves to be influence lightweights can become persuasion ninjas by using these proven techniques. If you want to learn more, check out Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion—or even better, book your place on one of our Communication courses!