The psychology of persuasion – liking

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

This article is the sixth in an eight-part series about Robert Cialdini’s book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. I’ve been writing about the principles in Cialdini’s book in some detail because the primary mission of Take Back Your Brain is to level the playing field between the advertisers and us in the competition for our own mindspace. While we use weak methods like “trying to remember to do it more”, they possess an arsenal of incredibly effective psychological techniques that are very difficult to resist.

One of the ways advertisers get to us is through the principle of liking, which asserts that we are more likely to say yes to a person (or product) if we like them. Therefore, a useful question is, what makes us like someone? It turns out there are several dimensions to liking that are relevant to our personal advertising campaigns.

Associate it with something or someone you like

Certain activities are intrinsically pleasureable to us as animals, and we like things better that occur in proximity to those pleasurable activities. So it’s persuasive to associate your goal with food, sex, or something else you find pleasurable. Of course we see this technique used in advertising all the time. Sex sells. Try using the sexiness angle in ads designed to get yourself to work out. It really helps.

You can also use association with a person (or animal) you have positive feelings for. I wrote about positive association in Refrigerator makeover update: who could say no to that face?. In that experiment, I posted a huge photo of our dog on the refrigerator next to a picture of a recreational vehicle my partner and I hoped to buy. He is exceptionally cute, and we absolutely adore him. Every time I saw that combination of images I felt the warm happy emotions I associate with our dog. The RV sitting in the driveway is testament to how well that experiment worked!

What, or who, do you truly love? What do you find really enjoyable? Find a way – any way – to associate that with your goal. It doesn’t have to be logical or even make sense. Just make that association in your advertising and let your objectives benefit. We see this technique used frequently as athletes, musicians, actors and other well-known personalities pitch products. We like them, and the advertiser is counting on the fact that our positive feelings for them will rub off on our perception of the product. Try using Photoshop (or scissors and glue) to get someone you admire to be the spokesmodel for your goal.

Be the spokesmodel

Even better, be your own spokesmodel. Salesmen are taught to mirror us – to profess similar background and interests, and even to mirror our speech and body language – because we are more likely to be persuaded by someone who seems to be like us. As I mentioned in the last article about social proof, technology gives us tools to develop ads which feature someone who looks exactly like us. We can make creative use of a digital camera and Photoshop to see ourselves already doing the thing we want to persuade ourselves to do. Your subconscious mind will believe that image, and begin working to make it so.

Make it familiar through repetition

Familiarity underlies almost all advertising. An idea, person or product becomes more familiar and comfortable, and thus more attractive, to us through sheer repetition. I wrote about this phenomenon in Unexpected results, when I found myself powerfully drawn to purchase pansies for my front porch in the middle of winter. I walked by a display of plants outside a local store, and without knowing why I just liked them – really liked them. The urge was incredibly specific – down to both the variety and colors. Later I realized there had been a pot of identical flowers in one of my ads.

Often we don’t realize that our attitude toward something has been influenced by the number of times we have been exposed to it in the past. For example, in one experiment, the faces of several individuals were flashed on a screen so quickly that later on the subjects who were exposed to the faces in this manner couldn’t recall having seen any of them before. Yet, the more frequently a person’s face was flashed on the screen, the more these subjects came to like that person when they met in a subsequent interaction. And because greater liking leads to greater social influence, these subjects were also more persuaded by the opinion statements of the individuals whose faces had appeared on the screen most frequently.

Personal technology gives you tools to automate the repetition of your advertising messages. This is one way you can level the playing field between you and the commercial interests who are competing for your mind. Their ads are automatically delivered to you hundreds – even thousands – of times a day. How do you think the effectiveness of that compares with trying to remember to say an affirmation? Not! You can use tools like gadget and screensaver slideshows to automate the repetition of your own ads, or use low-tech methods like posting a photo on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror.

Find a benefit for someone you like

Companies like Tupperware have figured out that it’s hard for us to turn down a request to purchase something if it benefits someone we like. You may be able persuade yourself by framing your advertising message around how it will help someone else who matters to you. If you really want to supercharge this technique, you can also invoke the consistency principle by telling them about it.

Flatter yourself

Apparently we are all suckers for flattery. We love it when someone gives us a compliment, even if we know it’s a stretch. It makes us like them and be more likely to do what they want. That suggests an intriquing possibility for our personal ads: how could you suck up to yourself in your own messages? Perhaps you could send yourself text messages that compliment you on your progress. Or leave yourself several phone messages about how hot you look in relation to the habit you want to develop. There are several online tools emerging for scheduling voice messages, such as Jott and Pinger. I’ll write more about them soon.

Strategies like those above can give an extra edge to the images and affirmations you use to advocate for your own goals, amidst the cacaphony of other interests competing for your attention.

Other articles in the psychology of persuasion series

  1. The psychology of persuasion – because
  2. The psychology of persuasion – perceptual contrast
  3. The psychology of persuasion – reciprocation
  4. The psychology of persuasion – consistency
  5. The psychology of persuasion – social proof
  6. The psychology of persuasion – liking (you are here)
  7. The psychology of persuasion – authority
  8. The psychology of persuasion – scarcity

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One Comment

  1. Jasper
    Posted October 4, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    An excellent article about association and persuasion.

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