“Man is a mixture of desires that extend beyond his knowledge and often result in action conflicting with rationality.” – Charles A. Lindbergh (“Atlantis,” Autobiography of Values, 1978)
The following story illustrates a million-dollar business secret. RP was unsure about whether he should buy another standard SUV or upgrade to the deluxe model. We talked about it and compared costs, benefits, and uses. In the end, logic dictated the conservative choice and he left for the dealership, comfortable with our conclusion.
Three hours later, when he came back into my office, he was beaming. “So you are happy you made the right choice?” I asked.
“I am,” he said. “I got the deluxe model.”
In the conversation that ensued, I made an interesting observation. All the hemming and hawing he was doing before his purchase had been replaced with deliberate, assured statements. Although none of the factors about the car or RP’s need for it had changed since we first talked, two things had happened:
1. He had opted — obviously for emotional reasons — to make the less-practical purchase.
2. His uncertainty was gone and in its place was a surprising confidence.
Why? Because RP’s salesman had made the very shrewd move of spending a half-hour with him after the sale, showing him the features of his new SUV and enumerating the many specific features that only the luxury model provided. By taking the time to drum these features into my friend’s head, he achieved several worthy objectives:
* He alleviated (even eliminated) “buyer’s regret.”
* He gave RP a set of phrases that he could use in the future to rationalize his purchase and, as a consequence, advertise the car to others.
* He left RP with the memory of having made a good and sensible deal with him. Next time RP thinks about buying another car, he will feel good about going back to this salesman.
There is an important truth about human psychology at play here. Understanding how this works could help you become a better marketer (and, generally, a more persuasive individual).
According to Robert Cialdini in his classic book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” a host of psychologists attribute our need to rationalize a buying decision to our desire to feel that our actions are consistent with a higher code of behavior.
But is this desire for consistency strong enough to compel us to do what we ordinarily would not do?
“Definitely,” Cialdini says, “Prominent theorists such as Leon Festinger, Fritz Hieder, and Theodore Newcomb have viewed the desire for consistency as a central motivator of our behavior.”
To prove the point, he cites this experiment:
On a New York City beach, a research associate posing as a sunbather set down his blanket and radio next to the subject and, after relaxing for a few minutes, went into the ocean. Moments later, another associate, this one posing as a thief, came by and “stole” the radio. The first 20 times this was done, only four subjects did anything about it.
The experiment was repeated another 20 times — but now the sunbather asked the subject to “watch my things.” This time, 19 of the 20 went to the rescue, often restraining the “thief” or snatching the radio back from him.
In the case of RP, the motivation is the desire to feel consistent with the code of rationality. In the case of the sunbathers, it is the desire to feel consistent with a moral code — to do what one promises to do.
You can employ both aspects of the desire for consistency in your marketing — and make your marketing doubly powerful — by (a) creating a “moral” obligation that impels the prospect to buy, and (b) helping him rationalize his decision after the purchase has been made.
I already explained how RP’s salesman helped him rationalize his buying decision. Now, let me give you an example of how he might have first made RP feel “morally” obligated to buy.
Have you ever heard a salesperson say something like “John, if I could show you a way to do thus and such without risking thus and such, would you do it?”
Sure you have. It is one of the most common techniques of person-to-person selling. In the case of my friend RP, the salesman he dealt with could well have said “RP, if I could show you how you to get the bigger tires you like, the upgraded sound system, the anti-locking brakes — all without increasing the $400 monthly payment you told me was your maximum — would you be interested?”
If RP had said “yes” — and he would have been sorely tempted to do so (by curiosity if nothing else) — when the salesman had shown him how he could get the better vehicle simply by extending the term of the contract by “a mere six months,” he would feel morally compelled to be, at least, “interested.”
In most impersonal forms of advertising (and that includes both image advertising and direct-response advertising), this technique is seldom used. For some reason — perhaps the feeling that they need to stick with the “push” part of the sale — copywriters don’t think they have time for this kind of diversion. But if you recognize the awesome power of creating a moral obligation with the customer, one that will compel him to take one step closer to the sale, and then helping him rationalize his emotional decision to buy, you will understand that you are not digressing at all, but making a very powerful move toward closing the sale.