Applying the Principals of Persuasion

Applying the Principals of Persuasion

All four of our studies this year point to a gap between intention and action – so much so that we’ve actually created a discount rule-of-thumb (as in “discount the percentage who say they’re likely to do X by Y%). So, for our annual Inner Circle Symposium – held last week in Atlanta – we invited Rusty Overby with Robert Cialdini’s Influence at Work group to speak about the Principals of Persuasion (otherwise known as nudging – applying specific methods of pressure/persuasion based on behavioral science to move people to action). I’m probably contractually obligated not to spill everything that was shared, but there are a couple of broad concepts with specific implications for energy efficiency messaging that I think I can get away with passing along (since we see these concepts in our research as well):

  • Consensus: This is the principle being applied by Positive Energy (now OPOWER) and others like them. It’s the idea that we’ll be motivated to do something based on knowledge/fear/guilt that we’re not as cool/giving/smart as our neighbors. Several studies – and actual pilot programs – show that the more specific you can be with a peer pressure approach, the better it works. Here’s what this kind of messaging looks like:
    • “57% of the homeowners in your neighborhood have already stopped wasting money on their monthly utility bills”
    • “Homeowners in your neighborhood who have followed our advice have cut their utility bills by 17%”
  • Scarcity: This is the threat of loss, and it’s a method of persuasion our research says plays very well in the economy. This messaging looks like this:
    • “If you don’t make the energy efficient home improvements we’re recommending, you’ll continue to waste $30/month with the utility company.”

Fear of wasting money and of not being as smart as our neighbors are powerful motivators – even if we don’t want to fess up to it sometimes.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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