Getting Your Point Across

Blog Series Outline

1. Understanding a powerful motivator – the Consensus Principle 
2. How Consensus can influence fellow executives and staff
3. Some ways marketers can use Consensus to influence consumers

Part One – The Persuasive Power of Social Proof

At some point in their professional lives, everyone needs to persuade someone.  Senior managers need buy-in and support for important initiatives.  Marketing professionals need to persuade their own company’s senior management about marketing programs while convincing consumers to buy their products.

Research in persuasion has uncovered a powerful motivator:  the desire to blend in with one’s peers.  Social psychologists refer to this influencing factor as Social Proof or, as persuasion expert Robert Cialdini, PhD terms it, the Consensus Principle. The effect of peer pressure on teenagers is well known.  Highly trained and experienced senior managers may wonder if one’s peers have much effect on adults, to say nothing of fellow executives.  They may find an answer in some of Dr. Cialdini’s research.  

As reported in the NY Times, electric utilities from Cambridge, Massachusetts to Sacramento, California have adopted his method for encouraging customers, all of whom are adults, to reduce their electrical consumption.  Electric bills from those utilities now include a graph showing how that individual household’s electrical consumption compares with the average amount consumed by neighbors.

This has had quite an effect.  In “Nudging People to Combat Climate Change,” author Peter Aldhous reported an unexpected consequence of telling consumers how their electrical usage stacked up against the average.  One utility was encouraged to see that those who consumed more than average reduced their electrical consumption.  But those who used less than average actually increased their electrical usage. Clearly, few would do this consciously – it happens automatically.  Social psychologists refer to the “magnetic middle,” the tendency for humans to unconsciously seek consensus with their peers.

It is evident that the unconscious desire to blend in with one’s peers does not disappear once teens become adults.  People will always be influenced by what others around them are doing.  Recognizing this tendency can help executives in all fields become more effective in persuading others to adopt their point of view and implement their plans.  How?  This will be covered in Part Two of this series, How Social Proof Can Motivate Members of Your Team.

Larry Rondeau is Senior Director of Research and Business Development at The Allied Group, a marketing communications company and full service fulfillment provider.

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