Persuasion Starts with Psychology: 3 Techniques to Convince People to Take Action

We’ve all seen it happen. You create a fantastic video for a marketing campaign and hope it goes viral. You set up an online donation page on your non-profit’s website and hope visitors will give money. You write a fascinating, helpful blog post and hope readers will comment on it, or share to their social networks.

But the video isn’t shared. The donations don’t come in. The blog post goes un-commented.


(We’ll assume that visitor traffic isn’t the problem; that’s a whole different solution!)

To understand what is happening (or not, as the case may be), you need to understand how your viewers and visitors and readers think.

Here are 3 things you need to understand about how people think if you want them to take action:

1. Give them social proof

The notion of “social proof” is that people tend to view a behavior as correct in a given situation to the degree that they see others performing it (just think of a laugh track on television).

This is why product marketing so often uses “fastest growing” or “largest-selling” in copy; it tells customers that others are buying it, thus reducing the burden of also convincing customers why the product good.

Try this: Incorporate testimonials to your product or service from members or customers. Provide a running count of the number or amount of donations to your campaign.

Read this: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini

2. Play on the emotions

This may not matter as much for something more straightforward like, say, trying to encourage comments on a blog post about marketing psychology but it’s crucial for driving larger user actions, like donating money or taking the time to share an article with their social network.

People are motivated by an appeal to their emotions more than an appeal to their logic. In a 2007 Wharton study, when asked an analytical/math question prior to a charitable appeal, people gave less. When asked a feelings-related question prior to the same appeal, they gave more.

Furthermore, the more you can personalize the emotional appeal, the better. People can’t care about and be motivated to act for a million people, but they can for one. Save the Children uses this to great results by focusing on the story of one child and how your donation will turn his or her life around.

Try this: Tell the story of one person helped by your organization; use photos and videos if possible.

Read this: “To Increase Charitable Donations, Appeal to the Heart—Not the Head” by The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

3. The 90-9-1 rule (or, forget about the 99%)

The 90-9-1 rule is a case when you want the 1%, not the 99%.

Simply stated, it says that 90% of online community users are lurkers, 9% contribute a little and 1% contribute most of the activity.

It isn’t new; when noted usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote about it in 2006 in the context of social networks, for example, he was citing research from the 1990s.

It means that your expectations of audience participation have to be realistic. If you have 1,000 site visitors a month, it isn’t reasonable to expect 1,000 shares of your content.

Try this: Look at your traffic numbers and compare them to your activity numbers (shares, comments, re-tweets); are you hitting 1%? Now look at who is participating and focus at least part of your time at keeping them; grow their engagement with you with specific interactions, like weekly Twitter chats or a contest on Facebook. Give them a targeted, memorable reason to come back.

Read this: “Participation Inequality: Encouraging More Users to Participate” by Jakob Nielsen for Nielsen Norman Group and Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip and Dan Heath.

From persuasive copywriting to landing page optimization, we can help you move the needle with your visitors. Look at our clients and see how we’ve helped with landing page optimization for others.

[Photo credit: reynermedia, Flickr Creative Commons]

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