How to Use Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion to Boost Conversions
What do all eCommerce business owners have in common? The desire to increase conversions and increase profitability.
What they also have in common is the lesser-known need to understand consumer behavior. Behind every conversion is a human being with tendencies and biases. When these are understood, marketers can create persuasive messages and strategies that persuade people to behave in certain ways.
Robert Cialdini is an American psychologist and author that wrote a best-selling book on that very subject. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion has been listed in the Fortune magazine as one of the 75 smartest “business books”, and for good reason.
The principles Cialdini covers in his book are currently being used by numerous brands to persuade customers in order to not only maximize profits but also enhance their likeability in the eyes of customers.
And today I’m going to show you exactly how to do that yourself.
Here’s a sneak peek of what we’ll cover:
- Reciprocity: how small “favors” makes customers more likely to reciprocate by converting
- Commitment and Consistency: how encouraging small actions can increase the likelihood of future conversions
- Social Proof: how to show prospects the popularity and trustworthiness of your brand to boost conversions
- Authority: how to establish yourself as a leader to further enhance trust
- Liking: how to make customers genuinely like your brand and in turn become loyal customers
- Scarcity: a powerful principle to trigger immediate purchases
Let’s get started.
Humans are innately wired with a tendency to pay back favors.
Many experiments have proven that a sense of indebtedness automatically takes place after someone does us a favor, regardless of its nature.
Here’s an experiment that proved just how powerful the tendency to reciprocate is:
In 1971, Dennis Regan and his assistant Joe set up an experiment that was framed as a “painting appreciation” exercise for the subjects.
Participants were separated into two groups, both of which were made to believe that Joe was also a participant. For group A, Regan manipulated the participants’ opinion of Joe by making them overhear a fake phone call in which Joe was rude to the person he was talking to. For group B, participants had a neutral view of Joe since they did not overhear the conversation.
All participants were asked to rate the quality of a set of paintings with Joe. For one group, Joe left the research room and returned with a soft drink to give to his partner (this was the ‘favor’). For another group, he did not.
Then, Joe asked each of the participants if they’d like to purchase raffle tickets from him. Results showed that the subjects who received a soft drink were significantly more likely to purchase the raffle tickets.
And here’s the surprising part – even the participants who were manipulated to dislike Joe displayed this tendency to purchase tickets from him.
Now that we know how powerful reciprocity is, let’s discuss how to use it to increase conversions.
Content marketing is a form of digital marketing that involves the creation of content that is useful for a brand’s target audience in order to attract them (and eventually convert).
The clearest example is the blog post you’re reading right now. AdTribe’s target audience involves individuals like you who manage an e-commerce business. This article includes tips to increase conversions, which is something you find valuable.
Any channel that allows you to share content that your audience can benefit from can be used as a content marketing channel – be it a blog, a newsletter, or a social media account.
How is content marketing related to reciprocity? It’s simple – you’re giving your audience free advice that may help them solve their problems.
This ‘favor’ creates a sense of appreciation and in turn an unconscious tendency to reciprocate.
What makes reciprocity in the form of content marketing even more powerful from a marketing perspective is that it allows you to attract individuals (for example, when they’re making a Google search and come across one of your blog posts) and retain them. If they like your content, they’re likely to check your blog consistently, follow you on social media, or consistently open your newsletters.
This makes them much more likely to turn into customers because it allows you to make product or service offers after they’re already appreciative of your brand, rather than in colder ways like Facebook ads.
Let’s take a look at some examples of reciprocity-fueled content marketing.
Quest is a brand that sells low-carb snacks. Their content strategy revolves around a blog that shares low-carb recipes.
Dot & Key Skincare
Dot & Key is a skincare brand. In their social media account, this brand makes use of reciprocity subtly by sharing helpful content for women that are interested in skincare, such as how to adjust a skincare routine according to the menstrual cycle.
They also share funny content in the form of memes and jokes, which can also be considered a ‘favor’ because we all appreciate the emotion of happiness, especially when the content itself is relatable (we also like to feel like we’re part of a group).
While brands like Quest can easily come up with helpful content, some eCommerce stores may struggle to do so.
Consider the case of a clothing eCommerce store – what kind of content could you share that is both useful and relevant?
You’ll have to think about what kind of people buy the clothes you’re selling. If you sell eco-friendly clothes, your audience is probably interested in topics revolving around an environmentally conscious life, so you could share content surrounding eco-friendly habits.
What if you’re selling something like jewelry, which targets a more generic audience? In this case, you could share jewelry-related tips.
Take a look at this example from LooptyHoops:
Topics such as “wearing and caring for your jewelry” and “safely store and travel with your jewelry” are of interest to their target audience.
Now that we’ve discussed content marketing, let’s go over other ways to use the power of reciprocity to boost your conversions:
We all like to get things for free. In the case of eCommerce, you have plenty of opportunities to share free things:
- First-order discounts
- Discounts for loyal customers or during specific seasons
- Free samples of similar products with purchases
Here’s an example of a pop-up offering not only a first-order discount but also exclusive email offers:
As I mentioned previously, content that makes people happy can create an unconscious feeling of appreciation.
Some kinds of content you can share with this approach include relatable quotes and memes. For example, for a pet supplies eCommerce store, you could share quotes about dog ownership and jokes about common struggles dog owners can relate to.
Here’s an example of “feel good” content from a skincare brand:
Commitment and Consistency
According to a study done by Canadian psychologists, horse betters develop more confidence in the horse they bet on after they’ve placed the bet. Why so?
According to the principle of commitment and consistency, once people develop a certain image of themselves, they’re likely to behave and think in ways that are consistent with that image. If you start eating healthy food every day, you’re likely to identify yourself as a healthy person, making you more likely to engage in other healthy habits such as exercising.
In the case of horse betters, they identified themselves as believers in the ability of a specific horse, which triggered increased feelings of confidence.
How can you use this principle to increase your conversions?
This makes them identify themselves as someone who has some sort of relationship with you, making them more likely to make a purchase.
There are many ways to do this, one of which happens to be content marketing. No matter which channel you’re using, making someone regularly check your content automatically creates a feeling of commitment.
In the case of social media, you can further harness the power of consistency by encouraging user-generated content.
UGC is any kind of content – be it an image, video, or text – that is created by people rather than the brand itself.
It is one of the most powerful ways to increase conversions because it not only uses the power of consistency but also makes prospects and customers feel special.
Take a look at how Ipsy, a makeup brand, encourages UGC with the hashtag #IPSYShowYourColors:
Now that we’ve covered the power of UGC, let’s discuss two other ways to use commitment and consistency to boost conversions.
On social media, giveaways refer to when brands ask their followers to perform certain actions in order to participate in a contest in which they earn something for free.
Giveaways combine the power of reciprocity and consistency, while also boosting your visibility (since giveaway instructions typically ask participants to promote the brand by sharing the post on their stories).
Here’s an example from an eCommerce brand that sells books for children:
To encourage first order and in turn create a sense of commitment, try to offer substantial discounts for new customers. While from a business perspective this may seem to decrease profits, the reality is that after a first order customers are much more likely to make further purchases, allowing you to actually maximize profits. Make sure you know your LTV though, this strategy won’t work for brands that rely on high AOV products that don’t have anything to upsell to existing customers.
Social media platforms have numerous features that allow you to engage customers, such as polls. Instagram stories are a particularly useful way to engage customers, as you have options such as asking questions, starting a discussion, and re-sharing UGC.
Finally, you can encourage prospects to sign up for your newsletter by offering something in return. Here’s an example from Revelry, an eCommerce brand that sells bridesmaid dresses:
Social proof refers to the human tendency to trust the decisions of others. It is the reason why you check reviews before making an online purchase and ask people you know for recommendations on where to go and who to trust with a specific commercial need (such as which doctor to go to).
In an eCommerce context, social proof is not only a powerful way to increase conversions, it is crucial. Your brand doesn’t have a physical presence, so customers have no way of knowing whether you’re trustable and whether your products actually look like and function like they’re supposed to.
To add social proof to your marketing strategy, you should share kinds of information that indicate others have used your product and approved of it, or that your brand is popular.
Forms of social proof include celebrity and expert endorsements, purchase numbers, badges, brand mentions, links to social media accounts, subscriber counts, and product reviews and ratings.
Here’s an example of a website section that combines brand mentions with reviews:
And here’s an example of a footer section that includes links to the brand’s social media accounts:
Now that we’ve discussed different forms of social proof, let’s dig deeper into product reviews and ratings and how you can enhance their effect to maximize conversions.
Nearly every consumer checks product reviews and ratings before making a purchase. To make these even more powerful, consider incorporating additional review features. According to research, these are the most impactful review features:
If you check the lower left part of the screenshot below, you’ll find a feature that allows users to report whether a comment was helpful.
Helpful “yes” votes were shown to increase conversions by a whopping 414.3%.
A review search feature can lift conversions by an average of 260.7%
Star rating filters
Finally, star rating filters can significantly increase your conversions. The interesting part is that most people who use start rating filters do so to check out one-star reviews, and even these visitors convert at an 85.7% higher rate than average.
Here’s an example:
Your website is the most important channel to share social proof, but it’s not the only one.
The forms of social proof we’ve covered can – and should – be incorporated into your social media and newsletter strategy.
Here are some ideas
- Share important company milestones and awards
- Add reviews, ratings, and relevant UGC to promotional emails and posts
- Use numbers to emphasize popularity in promotional emails (e.g. “only 200 left in stock)
Here’s an example of an email that uses numbers to boost social proof:
And here’s an example of a brand that created a different social media account purely for social proof, combining numbers in the bio description and UGCs.
Humans tend to be more easily influenced by authority figures, even if their opinions and actions are questionable.
In eCommerce, harnessing this principle basically comes down to making your brand and the people associated with it portray authority.
How can you do that?
The first step is to use social proof since it portrays brand authority by emphasizing credibility and popularity. Pay special attention to authority-related forms of social proof such as awards and partnerships with celebrities and influencers.
Here are some other ways to establish authority:
High-quality web design is essential for establishing authority. Let me prove this to you.
Take a look at this website:
Now take a look at this one:
Which one seems more credible?
If you want to establish authority, the most important aspect to focus on is how your website is designed. That’s because your website’s design determines the user’s first impression of your business. If you have a beautifully designed website as The Horse does, it immediately gives the impression of authority and credibility.
What is considered “good” web design?
It is clean
Make sure your website has significant white space and only displays information that is either crucial or plays a role in persuading the user to perform a certain action.
Copywriting is something to pay attention to, because low-quality copy is unnecessarily long, which adds clutter to your design.
It has a consistent color scheme
Websites should have a consistent color scheme involving up to 3 colors.
Its elements go well together
Certain fonts, colors, and many other elements go well together because they trigger a specific emotion. Consider the case of health brands – they typically use green as a major color and specific fonts to portray a feeling of wellness.
To make sure your website elements go together, it is important to develop a branding strategy. Your branding professional or agency has the skills required to develop visual aspects and choose elements such as fonts that are well-aligned with your niche and brand personality.
It is user-friendly
User-friendly design is easy on the eyes and intuitive to navigate. When people land on a user-friendly website, they can immediately understand what it is about and where to click for specific information. Navigating it feels pleasant.
Another important element of user-friendliness is speed. Websites that are slow can massively decrease conversions and are often abandoned before they’re explored properly.
Thought leadership involves establishing your brand as knowledgeable in your specific niche. This is easy for service-based businesses (for example, consulting agencies can easily share insights that portray thought leadership) but it may require more creativity for eCommerce brands.
For example, if your eCommerce store sells low-carb snacks, you could create content about scientifically-backed tips to enhance the benefits of the low-carb lifestyle.
Expert reviews are a great way to establish authority for eCommerce brands in niches such as health and wellness.
By sharing the review or stamp of an expert, you can effectively communicate that your brand is approved by authority figures, in turn making your brand more authoritative.
Take a look at how Naturemade displays the expert verification of the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention on their website:
Humans are more likely to be persuaded by someone that they like. In the case of eCommerce, making your brand likable can go a long way in not only boosting your conversions but also promoting customer retention.
Let’s discuss some ways to make your brand more likable.
Many eCommerce businesses don’t invest enough in a branding strategy that portrays a likable personality. Unfortunately, this is a fatal mistake because not having a personality means that your business won’t stand out from the competition.
Consider companies like Starbucks and Nike. Why do most people choose to purchase from them? Granted, Starbucks has delicious drinks and Nike has great products, but the most significant reason behind their massive success is that they stood out with a specific personality that people like and feel attached to
Developing a personality ultimately comes down to a branding strategy, and the two most important aspects of a successful branding strategy are brand tone and visual elements.
Brand tone refers to the specific tone and choice of words that your company uses in all forms of communication – from the copy on your website to your social media captions. A successful brand tone is one that resonates with your target audience.
Suppose company A sells gym clothes for young women, while company B sells luxury clothes. Each of these companies would need a specific brand tone that their audiences can relate to. Company A could use a casual tone while company B would need a more serious tone that feels “classy”.
Moreover, their brand tone should be in line with their offering. If you’re selling gym clothes, part of your branding should involve an element of health and inspiration. Consider the case of Nike – they adopt an assertive, motivational tone with pieces of copy such as “Run the day. Don’t let it run you”.
The way in which the elements on your website are designed, as well as the choice of colors and visual graphics, should also resonate with your audience.
Let’s take a look at some examples of web design that effectively do that.
Mothercare sells baby supplies and other products relevant to mothers. Their choice of fonts and colors, as well as images, effectively communicate a sense of motherhood.
Soulflower is an eCommerce brand that sells “hippie” clothes. The choice of green, as well as the distinct font and logo, make it an attractive brand for individuals that identify as hippies.
Transparency is a quality that we all appreciate in others. As it turns out, research shows that 66% of consumers consider transparency as the most attractive factor within a brand.
Developing transparency is highly case-specific, but general best practices include emphasizing your core beliefs, sharing behind-the-scene visuals such as videos and pictures of employees and the production process, and being open about mistakes.
A great example of case-specific transparency is when Rixo, a clothing brand, realized that a dress that landed in their warehouse had different colors depending on the size. Instead of sending them back, they sent their customers this email:
According to PWC, 64% of consumers would buy from a brand based on their stance on social issues.
Make sure that your brand acknowledges important events such as Pride Month and that you’re aware and vocal with your opinions about social issues when they rise up.
Impact reports are another brilliant way to display your brand’s stance on issues such as climate change.
In their 2019 report, Impossible Foods discussed animal agriculture’s detrimental impact on the environment and their approach to keeping their footprint low and making an impact.
Finally, customer support is a crucial element of likability. If people purchase from you, they expect a certain level of friendliness and efficiency when it comes to solving problems.
Ensuring a good customer support system shows customers that you respect them, which in turn makes them more likely to purchase again in the future.
Take a look at how Humnutrition makes support convenient for its users by offering both bot-generated answers and an option to contact support:
The Scarcity Effect states that individuals are likely to falsely perceive things that are scarce as more valuable than identical non-scarce counterparts, in turn making them more likely to make a purchase.
Why does this happen? Mostly due to the unpleasant fear of missing out (FOMO) effect. Moreover, if a product is scarce in terms of quantity, it’s not unreasonable to assume that it is a great product (otherwise, why would it sell so quickly?).
Let’s go over some ways you can make use of scarcity to boost conversions.
Behind every limited-time promotion is the concept of scarcity. If you’re interested in a product and it’s on sale for only 24 hours, you’re more likely to buy it.
Take a look at this example:
Even if consumers are only slightly interested in the product being offered, a limited-time discount can persuade them to immediately explore product features and make a quick decision in order to benefit from the discount.
To enhance results, try to incorporate a countdown timer, as visibly seeing time passing makes the feeling of scarcity more powerful.
The idea here is the same as for limited-time discounts – coupons and free shipping opportunities that are only available temporarily are highly effective in persuading customers to act fast.
Highlighting limited stock is a kind of quantity-based scarcity that also promotes quick action.
To highlight limited stock, make sure to include copy such as “only [number of products] left in stock” in product pages and promotional posts or emails.
A best practice in this case is to make the copy stand out with a bigger font or a vibrant color such as red.
If an item is out of stock, make sure to highlight that as well, as it may encourage customers to check again in the future or add it to a wish list.
Limited-edition products combine both temporal scarcity and quantity-based scarcity (since they’re likely to sell out quickly).
Moreover, limited-edition products feel exclusive to own, so they effectively appeal to people’s egos.
To make limited-edition promotions even more powerful, try to incorporate a limited-time discount on them and highlight how many are left in stock.
We’re coming to the end of this article, and we hope it helped you better understand how to use psychology to boost your conversions.
If you need help with improving the ROI of your eCommerce brand, feel free to contact us. Our team has consistently produced outsized results in a variety of channels for previous clients, and we’d love to help you as well!