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Seven Ways to Sway Others

Marshall wasn’t aware that we were closely watching him as he strode into the pool table showroom but he was the ninth unwitting participant in our experiment. He glanced at the sign “Our Three Most Popular Models” that hung above an ornately carved, antique pool table, flanked closely on either side by a bare-bones model and a lean, modern pool table. Frankly it would have been hard to avoid this scene. The sign was hanging from the ceiling at eye-level and the tables rested on the curved end extension of plush, royal purple carpet upon which he stepped after walking through the front door.

The store’s re-opening was announced a month ahead of time with signs in the window, indicating that only 200 people would be allowed in the first day, and able to watch two renowned pro players in a game at the antique table. Passersby could view three flat screen TVs in the window, each showing video vignettes of local media personalities, politicians and civic leaders (all needing to grow their “audience) playing pool. The TV screen in the middle had a sign above it, “Playing on an Antique Pool Table is Priceless.” The screen on the left  featured people playing on the plain, lowest-cost model, with the sign, “Playing is fun for anyone” and the sign above the TV screen on the right, above the mid-priced model, read, “Cool playing and camaraderie never go out of style.”

1. Offer just three simple choices

What happened? In a world of increasing complexity and choice, we can feel stressed when the best choice is not obvious, nor simple. We either don’t make a choice or, if we do, it takes longer and we are less satisfied with our choice. So discovered Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice. Conversely – if you, as a seller, provide us with just three vividly clear choices we are more likely to buy something and be more satisfied with our choice. As well, the amount we spend, on average, will be higher.

Here’s how to craft the three choices to nudge more people to buy and to spend more. Make one option almost a no brainer in minimal cost, so they get a “taste” of the opportunity to use your kind of products or services. The basic “bare-bones” pool table fit that category. Make the second option super-deluxe with all the bells and whistles you can provide, like the antique pool table. Price that third option in between the other two, like the modern pool table. My friend, a behavioral scientist who had no experience with pool tables except playing twice with her father-in-law, then keenly observing the avid players over the course of several family visits, made an unexpected decision. She bought a pool table store in her town.

Following her “three choices” approach, she generated an 18% increase in sales over the most lucrative month that the previous owner had ever enjoyed.

Here are six other ways you may sway others to buy or take other action:

2. Get specific sooner

Specificity is the biggest gateway to credibility and memorability.

“We put our customers first.” “We care about our people.” Sound familiar? Lofty, often-used general statements about company values mean nothing to possible customers without specific proof.  Imagine, instead, that a medical clinic used this headline in its outreach, “Now open weekends and evenings for your convenience.” The specific example proves the general conclusion, not the reverse.  Sadly, many times, we make these two big mistakes when trying to sway others.

4. Offer the most alluring alternative

We usually make choices by comparing the options we see in the situation. Instead of attempting to make people feel guilty for taking the lazy route – the escalator – several groups of inventive folks offered the fun option.  They turned the stairs into a set of piano keys so we could make music as we walked up the stairs.

5. Speak to their better nature

Even if we are not acting heroic or decent we instinctively want to demonstrate admirable traits. That’s why one of the most successful anti-littering campaigns had this motto on highway signs that built on Texas pride, “Don’t mess with Texas.” See the rest of the methods to persuade others to act at my “Connected and Quotable” column at Forbes.  


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