5 ways to persuade consumers

The value of persuasive messaging is well-known—just look to the yearly buzz surrounding Super Bowl ads. But how can you start to incorporate these tactics in your messaging?

In a recent webinar on persuasion tactics in marketing, Olin Marketing Professor Steve Nowlis laid out the principles of persuasion.


Do consumers really feel they must “return the favor” when a company provides them with something of value? The idea of reciprocity in marketing may sound far-fetched, but it’s a foundational law of social psychology. Coupons, free samples, and even content marketing can provide a platform to leverage that sense of obligation.

Commitment and consistency

Customer loyalty is important, since customers tend to stick with what they know. But how do they get to know your business? Nowlis points to the popular “foot in the door” tactic. Offer customers a way to get to know your company without making a commitment, as many companies do with “money back” guarantees. If they try it, they might like it, and a new customer relationship is born.

“You can also encourage the consistency part by encouraging commitment. They can post photos of themselves using the product,” Nowlis said. Dunkin’ Donuts used this approach around Halloween in a campaign that rewarded customers for decorating Dunkin’ Donuts cups. Rewarding consumers for customer loyalty is an effective tactic.

Social proof

“Probably the most effective way of persuading someone is word of mouth. But how do you influence word of mouth?” Nowlis asked. People trust what their friends, experts, or celebrities have to say. Proactiv uses social proof with celebrity endorsements, but inexpensive approaches to this principle are also effective. Seeing a friend like or comment on a Facebook ad may pique a person’s interest. Similarly, Amazon suggests products that “customers who liked this item also bought.” Both tactics lend more credibility and legitimacy to a potential purchase.

“Probably the most effective way of persuading someone is word of mouth. But how do you influence word of mouth?”


It goes without saying that people have to like a company, its products, or the people representing them. Luckily, there are a few ways to build this trust. Among the tried and true tactics are highlighting similarities with customers, finding a common cause, and thanking or complimenting your customers. All of these approaches help create a more human element in marketing, which is more palatable than a cold sale.


Tickle Me Elmo, the newest iPhone, Wii consoles—these are all examples of products that produced hefty profits for companies, and largely for one reason—scarcity. Of course, the demand for these products have tapered off, but when each first appeared on the market, their novelty and limited quantities made them more appealing. Even if a company can create the appearance of scarcity, it can influence profits. For example, Nowlis’ recent research revealed that customers are more likely to gravitate toward items when there are only one or two of those items on a store shelf, thinking they are a hot seller.

Steve Nowlis

Steve Nowlis

However, you can go wrong with persuasion tactics. Don’t try and fit too many in one campaign—simple messaging and clear objectives are still the most important elements to successful persuasion. Nowlis says there is a tendency for advertisements “to do too many things.”

“At the end of the day, people kind of walk away saying, “Yeah, I remember some kind of story, but I can’t remember what it was for,” Nowlis said. Stuffing multiple tactics into a single message (or vice versa) can wash away the message.

Thumbnail image courtesy of Flickr/Ab Fab Marketing
In Business & Research, Teaching & Learning
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