Win More Customers by Learning the 6 Key Principles of Influence

  •    Rob is a creative content strategist from Detroit. When he’s not developing integrated marketing campaigns, he’s probably watching Netflix.

Have you ever bought a product because you liked the way it was advertised? How about if it was recommended by a friend? Have you ever bought an item you may have normally passed up because it was on sale for a limited time?

If the answer is yes, then you've been influenced! While this may make you feel slightly dirty and used, the truth is that no purchase decision happens in a vacuum. We're not robots who operate on pure, cold logic. There are many factors that contribute to how we make decisions and the key to building a successful business is understanding how best to leverage them.

Fortunately, noted psychologist and business author Dr. Robert Cialdini has already done the hard work for us. In his seminal book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Cialdini wrote about the six key principles of influence. While the book was first written more than 30 years ago, his insights remain incredibly valuable today.

Let's explore each principle and how you can use it in your business.


Woman choosing flowers at a store

It's a strange quirk of human nature that when we're given something, we often feel indebted to the giver. It doesn't have to be something fancy either. Even the smallest item or favor can compel a reciprocal action. In marketing, this principle is what drives free samples. One example comes from Warby Parker, which has been very successful in disrupting the traditional eyewear industry by allowing customers to order and try on up to five pairs of glasses for free.

You have to be careful when using this strategy because it can get costly, but the higher conversion rate can more than make up for it. If you don't have a physical product to give away, consider other things you can offer to benefit from the reciprocity principle. Free information or consultations can be equally valuable. Things like white papers, e-books, and other kinds of educational content spur the reciprocity principle (not to mention collect email information so you can re-market to customers).

​Commitment and Consistency

If you've ever known a flip-flopper, you may not believe this principle, but it's a scientifically proven fact that when someone commits to an idea, they're more likely to honor that commitment in the future. In marketing, this can manifest in a lot of ways, but an easy example is in how you structure an online form.

Imagine that you're trying to get a customer to sign up for your email list. If they see a long form, they may decide they don't have enough time and move on. Instead, break the form up into smaller parts and lead with a compelling question to get their commitment. Something as simple as a checkbox that says, "Yes, I want to learn more about INSERT PRODUCT" can dramatically improve conversion.

Social Proof

While we prize individuality, the truth is most people can be surprisingly sheeplike. Look no further than the social proof principle, which says that when someone is uncertain about a decision, they will likely go along with the crowd.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you use customer testimonials in your marketing, you're already using the social proof principle. Another popular marketing technique that leverages the social proof principle is to feature a celebrity spokesperson.

Since most small business owners probably can't afford a fancy celebrity, another way to use social proof is to feature user reviews or highlight the relative popularity of an item.


Similar to social proof, the authority principle is focused on indecisive customers and is meant to inspire confidence and credibility. We're socially conditioned to trust authority figures or people whom we perceive as experts, so featuring people like this is an effective way to influence your customers.

However, leveraging the authority principle means more than just splashing expert testimonials all over your marketing. If you set high expectations for your customers, you have to live up to them. In other words, you have to walk the walk, and a huge part of that is designing an engaging website.

Often, your website is the first point of contact for a new customer, so it should be a strong reflection of your brand that shows you know what you're talking about.


People are more likely to buy products from people or brands that they like. While this principle may seem like a no-brainer, it's often overlooked. From your brand's tone of voice to the images you use on your website, it's important to consider whether you're connecting with your audience in a manner that makes them feel good about your brand.

You can leverage the liking principle in your social media outreach. Maintaining a friendly, conversational tone is key to building goodwill and showing that you have your customers' best interests in mind. Highlighting any social causes you support is another useful technique for being more likable.


This final principle is all about supply and demand. When people feel like they may miss out on something, they're more likely to take action. A perfect example of this principle in action is a limited time sale or a limited run product. Of course, it's important to remember that your customers won't care if your products or services are on a special, once-in-a-lifetime sale if they don't find any value from them.

With time, practice and some experimentation, you can become a master influencer using a combination of these techniques in your marketing. But in the words of Spider-Man, "with great power, comes great responsibility." Great marketing can only go so far. The surest way to increase your sales and grow your business is to actually deliver a meaningful experience for your customers.