Persuasion Tip From the Volkswagen Beetle

When the Volkswagen Beetle was introduced to the U.S. market about 50 years ago, the marketers had a problem. How do you get Americans to buy it?  It was a goofy little machine.  Americans were used to driving big luxurious land-yachts.

What the VW marketers did was counterintuitive. They highlighted the car’s faults, pointing out that the Beetle was ugly and small.  It was a stroke of genius.

By coming clean about the car’s weaknesses, VW built credibility for it’s claims about the Beetle’s key strength, reliability. As a result, the car sold like crazy.

The ads for the VW Beetle emphasized both strengths and weaknesses. The car’s advertisments used lines like “Ugly is only skin deep” and “It will stay uglier longer”.  

What does this have to do with persuasion and public speaking?  If you want to sell an idea, be sure to highlight the negatives of your position.  Candor about weaknesses builds a relationship with an audience. It’s that positive relationship that ultimate gets people to buy into your ideas.

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Persuasion Tip from the Wizard of Oz

Remember why Dorothy and her gang were off to see the Wizard?

It was “because, because, because, because, because of the wonderful things he does.”

It turns out that the word “because” is incredibly persuasive when answering questions and making requests.

In the new book “Yes: 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive”  authors Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin, and Robert Cialdini, detail an interesting study of the persuasive power of simply using the word “because” when giving a reason.

In the study, a stranger would approach a someone waiting in line to make a photocopy and ask “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the Xerox machine?”  In that case, 60 percent of the people allowed the stranger to cut in line.

But if the stranger gave a reason (“May I use the Xerox machine because I’m in a rush”), 94 percent allowed the stranger to jump ahead and make copies.

Here’s the interesting part. In a third trial, the stranger made the following request: “May I use the Xerox machine because I have to make copies.”  It was a meaningless reason! Yet the compliance rate was 93 percent.

The point is that the simple use of the word ‘because” increased compliance, even if the reason wasn’t particularly meaningful.

Now I’m not saying that you should give meaningless reasons in response to questions or when making requests. Of course you should have a meaningful reason.

But giving a reason – any reason — dramatically increases your persuasiveness.

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What is Public Speaking Hygiene?

Marketing guru Seth Godin posted yesterday about a concept called “marketing hygiene.”  It’s the idea that to sell a great product, you need to create an environment that is conducive to making people buy.  For example, you may have the best tomatoes in the world, but no one will buy them from you if your grocery store has roaches all over the walls. 

Godin’s post prompted me to think about the following question: “What is public speaking hygiene?”

Put another way, what is the environment that you need to create when you speak to ensure that people pay attention and buy into your ideas?

One thing in particular comes to mind.  The message needs to be presented simply. 

Let’s say that you’ve invented a wonderful new way for your listeners to double their investment. If you present the idea amid a complex jumble of incomprensibility, then your listeners will be too distracted to get your idea.  The complexity undermines the hygienic environment and makes it less likely for your message to get through and take hold.

On the other hand, what if you deliver your message as part of a simple three-part plan?  In that case, there’s no messiness to distract from the core idea.  There are no “cockroaches on the wall” to distract.  

The simplicity creates an hygienic environment that allows your message to jump out at the listener and take center stage.

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If You Want to Perasuade, Say It Again and Again

If you want to get people to buy into your ideas, just say them over and over. That’s the conclusion of Stephen Garcia, PhD, of the University of Michigan, Gerald R.Ford School of Public Policy.

In a study, Garcia found that when one person expresses an opinion repeatedly the effect is the same as several people lobbying the point. Repetition evokes a sense of familiarity, making it seem that convictions are widely shared, says Garcia.

“What we think others think greatly influences our own personal thoughts, feelings and behavior,” Garcia says.  “An opinion is likely to be more widely shared the more different people express it. But surprisingly, hearing one person express an opinion repeatedly also leads to the conclusion that the opinion is more widespread relative to hearing the same opinion expressed only once.”

In a study published in The Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, Garcia and other researchers at the University of Michigan, Stanford University, and Virginia Tech had about 1,000 students read fake opinions on various subjects.  The studies found that an opinion is more likely to be assumed to be the majority opinion when multiple group members express their opinion. However, they also showed that hearing just one person express the same opinion multiple times had nearly the same effect on a listener’s perception of the opinion being popular as hearing multiple people state the same opinion.

So what’s the lesson? If you want people to buy into your ideas, one key is simply to repeat the idea multiple times.

 

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