The Science of Persuasion: The Cues

In my last blog, I wrote about the first step of a successful persuasion attempt: know your audience. In particular, audiences who are both motivated to process the conversation and knowledgeable about the topics will give thoughtful consideration to the arguments. To convince them, you arguments need to be detailed, logical and rich in content.

However, a lack of motivation or knowledge on the topic will hinder the audience’s ability or willingness to carefully process the information. Rather than only relying on the strength of the argument, these audiences often incorporate other information—the peripheral cues[1]—in their decision-making processes.

Sales and marketing experts have mastered the art of using peripheral cues to influence consumers. For example, there is currently an obvious trend for car commercials to involve real customers, not actors. By doing so, the advertisers hope the potential car buyers will relate to these people (they are just like me and they like this car) and generate positive feelings and preference for their brand.

Such phenomena has been explained in many studies; they state that people tend to form positive interpersonal engagement by observing similar appearances, postures, stances or facial expressions in others.[2] However, to build rapport with mirroring will fail and has the opposite effect when others think you are doing it on purpose.[3]

For another example, we often see people in white lab coats in personal care product commercials. Or you will see endorsements from experts, celebrities or certain professional associations within an advertisement. Research studies have found these endorsements positively influence consumers’ affections and evaluations toward the goods or services.[4],[5],[6] In fact, some experiments have revealed that to gain trust from the audience, the endorser doesn’t even need to be a real expert—you can just tell the audience that this person is an expert in the field. It works in both marketing and the field of politics.

Or simply ask yourself, when you shop for houses online, are you more likely to schedule a visit for a nicely photographed house or one that only has pictures with terrible lighting? Does the appearance of the pictures affect your decision to give it a try? Research told us that we make decisions based on pre-existing internal links in our minds, which psychologists call “priming.”[7]

In this case, attractive pictures may trigger our internal link and tell us it might be a good house, and bad pictures can indicate a bad one. That’s also why most of us like products with nicely designed packaging and using websites with neat layouts and beautiful colors. The effects of priming work on both experts and inexperienced shoppers.[8]

In the above examples, I shared two types of cues. These cues 1) can generate positive feelings and 2) are from expert or attractive sources. We are being influenced and persuaded by these peripheral cues all the time, and in a lot of the cases we don’t even notice it. But we can surely adopt these cues in our persuasion attempts to better communicate with our audience.

To generate positive feelings in the audience, try the following:

  • Make the presentation environment clean, organized and comfortable;
  • Carefully design your presentation so it looks nice and professional;
  • Build rapport with the audience before and during the presentation;
  • Try to mirror your audience’s postures or expressions naturally
  • Dress properly for the situation and present your arguments with confidence;

You can also invite experts from the field to join the conversation, get expert (or celebrity) endorsement, or cite the work from the experts or other well-known and credible sources on the topics.

Last but not least, always try to build a strong argument. Attitude changes that result from getting the audience to carefully process issue-relevant arguments will not only last longer, but they will show greater likelihood of follow-up behaviors and are better at resisting counterarguments than attitude changes that result mostly from the cues. So in the next blog, let break down how to build your argument. Stay tuned to Lead Read Today.

[1] Petty, R.E., & Cacioppo, J.T. (1986). The elaboration likelihood model of persuasion. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 19, 123-206.

[2] LaFrance, M., & Broadbent, M. (1976). Posture sharing as a nonverbal indicator. Group and Organization Studies, 1, 328-333.

[3] LaFrance, M. (1985). Postural mirroring and intergroup relations. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 11, 207-217.

[4] Erdogan, B. Z. (1999). Celebrity endorsement: A literature review. Journal of marketing management15(4), 291-314.

[5] Dean, D. H., & Biswas, A. (2001). Third-party organization endorsement of products: An advertising cue affecting consumer prepurchase evaluation of goods and services. Journal of advertising30, 41-57.

[6] Biswas, D., Biswas, A., & Das, N. (2006). The differential effects of celebrity and expert endorsements on consumer risk perceptions. The role of consumer knowledge, perceived congruency, and product technology orientation. Journal of advertising35, 17-31.

[7] Herr, P.M. (1986). Consequences of priming: judgement and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 19, 323-340.

[8] Mandel, N., & Johnson, E.J. (2002). When web pages influence choice: Effects of visual primes on experts and novices. Journal of Consumer Research, 29, 235-245.

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