Pre-suasion, not to be confused with persuasion, is a famous term coined by Dr Robert Cialdini. To some, it appears to be magic; the art of gaining agreement with a message before it is even sent.
Dr Cialdini tells us about a time he was visited by a person collecting for a charity. Being the master of persuasion and influence, he was completely surprised when the door closed and found he had given more money than he’d ever given to any charity visiting his door.
He had been pre-suaded.
The charity that knocked was a children’s charity; the person at the door was a parent – standing behind their leg was their young daughter.
Dr Cialdini realised that through societal influence, marketing from this charity and others, he had been preconditioned to want to give more because of this ‘vulnerable’ child being at the door with their parent.
Fluffy clouds and stacks of pennies
Dr Cialdini gives us a powerful example from an email campaign of a furniture store. Half of the audience received an email that took them to a landing page with fluffy clouds alongside several offers. The other half received the same offers but coupled with a bench with stacks of pennies on it.
The buying journey of each customer was the same, but the people who landed on the cloud page ended up buying more expensive luxurious sofas. Those that bought from the penny page ended up buying lower value products or other items on sale.
The customers seeing clouds imagined their sofas would be like sitting on a fluffy, soft cloud and those seeing pennies were reminded of budget and keen to ‘penny-pinch’ sought out the cheapest option.
We have been preconditioned to perform specific actions throughout our lives, by our parents, our teachers and marketers.
Politicians use this to condition you (are you surprised?)
Donald Trump is an excellent example of using conditioning to pre-suade. Leave his politics aside – he has an incredible campaign and marketing team around him. That is clear; he was, at one time, President of the United States.
Take a look at some of his campaign rallies:
Ignore the speech, pause the video as it begins on the crowd. That crowd has been handpicked. Each person standing directly behind Trump will represent different social demographics that he is targeting. Some have speculated they were paid, but let’s assume they are all real Trump supporters.
When an audience member sits and watches this speech, they start to identify with the people in the background — subconsciously associating themselves with the Trump supporter, absorbing his message in a mindset of being the supporter behind him, cheering him on.
These are incredibly powerful techniques based on science to perform what seems like magic – creating a state of mind that is ready to act.
Responsibility for marketers
Dr Cialdini himself calls these moments privileged moments. They are the moments before we present an idea that creates a mindset consistent with our goal.
This idea of privilege speaks to me and the way I like to sell. We now have access to every potential customers’ intimate life, from emails on their phone to impressions while they interact with their friends and family on social media. We can market in an incredibly personal way.
This brings an ethical dilemma; how far should we push our ability to precondition people? I believe that we, as marketers, have a responsibility more significant than our products and brands. We have to make sure that the tools and techniques we use, that play upon the natural psychology of people, shouldn’t be used to make people do things they shouldn’t or don’t want to do.