Psychology in Marketing: Using the 6 Universal Principles of Persuasion to get your customers to say ‘YES!’

Peter TylerUncategorized

Understanding human psychology is essential to effective advertising and marketing.

In order to encourage your target audience to part with their hard-earned money, we need to be able to persuade them to say yes to your offer or proposition. Luckily there’s a science to how we human beings are persuaded.

So what do we know about persuasion that can help us to sell our products and services more effectively? 

There are 6 universal principles of persuasion, according to professor Robert Cialdini author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. Let’s look at what they are and how we use them in digital marketing to encourage our prospects to say ‘yes’. 

6 Principles of Persuasion

1. Reciprocation

The first principle is reciprocation. This one is simple. If I give you something then you feel obliged to return the favour, gift or behaviour – you feel indebted to me. In this context of social obligation, you are more likely to say ‘yes’ when I ask you for something in the future.

We see this reciprocity in action a lot in digital marketing – content marketing is a great example. You give away information that is valuable to your audience and either helps them gain insight into a topic or solves their problem. A step further on from this is downloadable free guides, whitepapers, and webinars – all offering more in-depth information and interesting content that is valued by the recipient. 

Think about how you could put the power of reciprocation to work in your marketing? Could you create ‘the definitive best buyers guide to blue widgets’, or a short video training course that gives away just enough information to encourage your prospect to say yes when you offer them your full online training course?

2. Scarcity

Our second principle is scarcity and this is a common one used in marketing. People generally want what they can’t have so when we restrict the supply of something (either naturally or on purpose) we can increase demand. 

It’s not enough to simply convey the benefits of your product or service, the audience needs to be made aware of why your solution is unique and what they stand to lose if they don’t say yes now.

A word of warning though, genuine scarcity will always be far more effective than a fabricated form of scarcity. Unfortunately, marketers have overused false scarcity in certain markets and people become disillusioned and untrusting of the constant ‘last chance’ offers.

How can you use scarcity in your marketing?

Here’s a couple of ideas for you to try:

  • If you have a lot of stock of a specific product that you need to sell then offer the product at a heavily discounted price but limit the number available, and let your audience know that they must act quickly to avoid missing out on this great deal. It’s a good idea to make a complimentary upsell during the sale as well; this helps drive up the average order value and helps cover the discount you made on the first product.
  • On your website make people aware of the limited availability; websites like do this very effectively by quoting ‘only 2 more rooms available on your chosen dates’ or ‘only 2 left in stock’ in the case of e-commerce websites.

3. Authority

The principle of authority is key in marketing. We seek out credible, trustworthy experts when we need to solve a problem or make an important decision. For this reason, it is important to communicate your authority clearly in your marketing by demonstrating why you are a credible and trustworthy source of knowledge and advice. 

For example, if you’re looking for an accountant to do your annual accounts, you’d be more comfortable taking advice from one with an accountancy qualification (like ACCA or CIMA) and at least 3 years of practical experience in an established company.

You can demonstrate authority and credibility to your target audience in a few ways:

  • Display your qualifications, accreditations, and level of experience on your website
  • Speak at industry events to demonstrate your knowledge and expertise
  • Get featured in relevant industry publications or local/national newspapers
  • Offer expert comment to journalists or provide guest blogs on relevant websites

4. Consistency (and Commitment)

Our next principle is consistency. Human beings like to be consistent with the things they have previously said or done. If we make a decision to do something, we naturally look for things that confirm or reinforce that choice. When people make an initial small commitment they’re more likely to say yes again because they want to be consistent with their previous decision.

How can we activate this consistency principle in our marketing? 

Let’s say we’re a chiropractor looking for new clients with lower back pain. We can encourage prospects to make a very small commitment first like reading a blog post on the ‘top 5 causes of lower back pain’. Provided we make the right impression and demonstrate our authority on the subject we ask for a slightly larger commitment next by offering more in-depth information in the form of a simple guide ‘The best home exercises to reduce your lower back pain’, in exchange for their email address. In our email marketing, we send the free guide, but we also offer a complimentary 15-minute assessment appointment to professionally diagnose their back pain and provide a treatment plan. As the prospect has already committed to reading your blog post and seen some benefit from doing the exercises in your free guide, they’re much more likely to take you up on your offer of a free consultation. The principle of consistency has helped move them from website visitor to email subscriber to prospect. Now all that’s left to do is demonstrate your authority further in the diagnosis and treatment of their back pain.

5. Liking

This principle is probably the simplest of them all. People prefer to say yes or buy from those that they like. As the old saying goes, ‘people buy people’ and it’s true! 

What makes one person like another though? According to the principle of liking, there are three factors:

  1. If they are similar to us
  2. If they pay us a compliment
  3. If they cooperate with us towards mutual goals.

There are a number of ways these factors can be brought into play to activate the liking principle.

You can demonstrate how you are similar to your customers. Did you at one time share the same problem or struggle they are facing in their lives now? Can you find similarities between their lives and your own during small talk or via social media? Maybe you support the same team or have children the same age?… hunt down the common ground you share with your prospects.

As you get to know your audience and prospects more, you can offer genuine compliments during interactions on social media, email, or telephone. Just make sure it is sincere!

The final one is a little more difficult but it’s powerful if you can use it. What mutual goals do you share with your prospects? Perhaps there’s a charity that is close to both of you? You could donate a percentage to charity for each sale or you could organise a fundraising event for a charity close to your prospects’ hearts and get them involved.

The best advice is probably this: be authentic. If your marketing reflects your own values you’ll naturally attract the right people to your business who will like you for who you are and what your business stands for.

6. Consensus (Social Proof)

 On to our final principle of persuasion – consensus.

As humans, our decisions, actions, and behaviours are heavily influenced by those around us. We not only look to experts for help, but also friends, family, and often complete strangers to help us make decisions, especially in times of uncertainty. Marketers often rely on social proof like product reviews, expert recommendations, celebrity endorsements, and media coverage to help them persuade prospects to buy.

How many times have you asked (or read) the opinions of others before making a decision to do or buy something? That might be asking our friends what they think, reading product reviews on amazon or Trustpilot, asking a question on a forum or simply reading a statistic in an article that helps us make up our mind.

Consensus is powerful. Here’s a few examples of it in action. uses simple messages that appear for a few seconds telling us “This hotel has been booked 3 times in the last 2 hours”

  • Local businesses quote “we’ve been rated 9.5/10 by over 2000 people on Trustpilot”.
  • Hotels use signs like this to encourage guests to reuse their towels: “75% of our guests help us to preserve the planet by reusing their towels”.

Each of the principles we’ve covered above are powerful on their own, but when they’re used together they’re infinitely more effective. How many of the following ideas can you put to work in your own marketing to encourage your prospects to say yes?

  • Offer something of value for free – useful blog content, a free guide, a free trial period, or maybe 15 minutes of your time – and you’ll invoke the principle of reciprocation.
  • Limit your offer in some way, either with a set period of time (only available for the next 48 hours) or a set number of people (offer limited to the first 50 orders) – and you’ll activate the scarcity principle.
  • Demonstrate your authority by communicating your knowledge and expertise. Start simply by having your accreditations, awards, media mentions, and relevant qualifications on your website, or by speaking at an industry event.
  • Lead your prospects up the value ladder with the help of the consistency principle. Start with a small commitment and provide them with valuable free information or advice, then ask for a slightly bigger commitment in exchange for more value, and so on until they’re sufficiently invested and ready to become a paying customer.
  • Invoke the liking principle by demonstrating how you are similar to your prospects, paying them a genuine compliment, and cooperating towards mutual goals.
  • Demonstrate to your prospects that others value your product or service by showcasing positive product reviews, recommendations from experts, awards, and media mentions. With a website plug-in you can even tell visitors in real-time when someone else buys. Powerful stuff!