Marketing Planet

Robert Cialdini’s principles of effective influence

Influence is sometimes a rather controverse topic but hardly anyone denies its importance. When well used, it can bring facilities and opportunities to negotiations and to marketing strategies.

Principles of effective influence

Robert Cialdini has carried out studies regarding influence and according to these it proves that influence clearly affects the people’s way of acceptation or compliance to a proposition or request. It should not be seen as a direct means in negotiation but rather as an indirect way in communication. According to his studies he has defined 6 principles of effective influence:


This principle is based on the fact that people give back what another has given to them. It might seem obvious, and it is indeed one of the main rules of our society. Test for example yourself: smile to the people you meet, how many do reply with a smile? Or another example stated in on of his studies: a professor sent Christmas cards to a number of people he didn’t even know but he was very surprised of the number of people that simply did send a Christmas card back to him, without investigating who he was. Some parts of this rule apply in a kind of automatism, whereas others can be influenced when «helping a hand». When giving a free gift, the receiver is often much more tempted to buy the product or offer something in return. In marketing, the free samples are a good illustration. There is also a part of «guilt» in the reciprocity principle: «they have given me something, I have to do something in return».


This principle is based on the desire from people to be consistent with their previous actions, opinions and assertions. Combined with the idea of commitment, we can notice that people when having decided upon something, they will do whatever they can to remain to that point of view. Whether they are afraid of the “public eye†or they do not want to disappoint themselves is linked. Moreover, if the commitment is made publicly or written, it is seen as even more important to remain consistent to it. Nevertheless, consistency cannot work under all conditions. For example, if the decision was not taken “freely†the person will not be able to stick to it.

Social Proof

This principle illustrates that people often decided what to do by looking at what similar others have done. Everyone knows the famous “Keeping up with the Jones†. In the same way, we decide what are the rules we should follow by finding out what other people think is correct. This principle functions even better as people are in a condition of uncertainty. Uncertain people can be influenced much easier. In general with sects, the members are often found when they are in a period of fluctuation and more easily to listen to someone that can bring their help. A next step is the integration of the ideas and gradually the new member is convinced of the truth. The more people are alike the more the principle of social proof applies. Moreover this is reinforced with the need for similarity (see liking). When attempting to influence behaviour, illustrate how others have done so and where successful.


Liking is based on the principle that people are more easily influenced by those they like. It consists of several elements: physical attractiveness, similarity, praise, contact and association. People tend to say more easily “yes†to someone they like or they want to identify with. According to studies, physical attractiveness does not only influence the beauty but the mind seems also to identify this with talent, kindness and intelligence. The more you are in contact with someone, or the more you frequent the same environment, the more likely you are to be influenced by it. In the same time, people tend to be influenced by people they want to look alike: sport fans, fashion models etc. They are a very important factor of influence due to the desire of identification.


The influential power of authority is undeniable. The first form is parental authority. Authority is reflected in different forms such as clothes, titles and – as it seems – automobiles. People decline the level of authority almost automatically according to any of these elements. The importance of authority is proven by the Milgram experiment on obedience-to-authority where the Teachers did apply exactly the orders that were given no matter how much the Learner cried. For experts, the title and role do go closely together but it is also very important that the expert is seen as a true source of reliable information.


The rule of scarcity depicts that items and opportunities become more desirable as they are less accessible. The level of being unique or the fact they represent elsewhere unattainable advantages, are strong influential elements. Another example that speaks out for itself is censorship. The censored subjects or things are always the more interesting ones and do gain automatically in importance. “Limited editions†or “last week for sale†are slogans that have an immediate effect. The more something becomes scarce, the more people are afraid of losing something. The value increases as it becomes rare. Secondly, scarcity influences our freedom which naturally replies by wanting to have them. In negotiation, when the offer is scarce it is more likely to be interpelling. Also the deadline that is approaching influences the decisions since the reaction to it is one of emotion and decreases our rationality.

The use of influential principles

Not all principles can be applied in any situation and with anyone. First to state is the aspect of ethics. Influence can be used in bad perspectives and can hence be very dangerous. The Milton experiment on authority is a good proof. Secondly, depending on the situation and the person influence can be more or less effective. Especially when applied not subtle, like in praise, the result can be averse. Thirdly, the principles can best be applied in combination.

In Marketing the different elements have proven its effectiveness. We have seen above the free samples, the “Limited Editions†the identification and the fact copying of stars etc to identify. These uses are rather old, but still apply, especially when done delicately. A customer does no longer appreciate when being fooled with and its reaction can be very dangerous for a brand.
The principles of influence can also be applied in the fields of negotiation, for which they may even be the most known. Negotiation with your partners and with your competition may be well served with the principles.

For more information on Influence, please read the studies by Robert Cialdini and moreover “Influence - Science and Practiceâ€

Nb: the article is mostly based on his study «Influence – Science and Practice» and a special article “The Science of Influence†by R. Cialdini and others.