The Six Principles of Influence
No one understands how an influencer can stoke the fires of an audience to get them to buy better than Robert Cialdini. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Cialdini’s bestseller is based on his experiences learning, theorizing, testing, and refining persuasion in various real-world jobs over several years. The framework of Cialdini’s work revolves around what he calls six universal shortcuts to guiding human behavior.
The first principle is easy to understand: You give to get. It’s why when someone buys you lunch or coffee, you instinctively want to return the favor at some point. It’s why companies offer you samples or trials before encouraging you to buy their product.
The phrases “supplies are limited” or “for a limited time only” exist to create an aura of scarcity around the product. If we think there aren’t enough for everyone, the prestige of being one of the few people to own one punches our pride and ego buttons. We have to have it!
Authority is the perception or belief that you are an expert in a given subject matter. Notice I didn’t say you actually are an expert. What matters is that your audience thinks you are.
In the context of influencer marketing, consistency is the long-term application of the previous principle of authority. Cialdini explained in his book that consistency refers to an audience’s tendency to validate their previous decisions or behavior by doing something similar, even if it doesn’t make much sense.
For example, if you buy Girl Scout cookies from your neighbor’s daughter, and then months later her son comes by selling Boy Scout popcorn, you’ll probably buy some, even if you hate popcorn. That’s because you’ve already demonstrated the friendly behavior of supporting your neighbor’s kids, and you don’t want to look like an ass by saying no a second time.
Would you rather buy life insurance from some random person who approaches you at a networking event or Jan, the lady from the PTA you often sit and chat with before meetings? Most people would say Jan. You like Jan. You know she at least has something in common with you, in that you send your kids to the same school.
Cialdini said, “People prefer to say yes to those that they like.” This isn’t a startling revelation, but it’s one that influencers often overlook.
As much as we hate to admit it, at the end of the day, we tend to be lemmings. When we think everyone else is buying this or thinking that, we tend to buy this or think that, too. It’s the psychology behind “Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend!”
When we see people buying something, a switch flips in us that makes us want to buy that thing, too. It’s a bit of a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses reaction, but it goes deeper than that. Cialdini explained that when hotels place signs saying “75 percent of our guests reuse their towels” and ask new guests to do so as well, towel reuse increases 26 percent.
The Problem with “Influencer” Marketing
We know there are people with big networks called “influencers” who may have an impact on our thinking or decision making when it comes to products. The marketing practitioners among you know leveraging the right online influencer can move your brand forward.
But the key word in the label isn’t “online.” It’s “influencer.” There are many people out there with big online audiences who cannot motivate that audience to act or think differently. And there are people around the world with no online audience who can do everything from influencing a buying decision to starting a movement.
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenage environmental activist, began protesting outside Swedish parliament in August 2018, demanding that the government reduce carbon emissions. She eventually joined demonstrations in other European countries, inspired hundreds of thousands other students to “strike,” and gave multiple high-profile speeches, including one at the UN Climate Action Summit that went viral online. She was named Time magazine’s Person of the Year in 2019 and has not one but two Nobel Peace Prize nominations (2019 and 2020). At the time her activism began, she had a few dozen followers on social media.
Influencer and influence are not one and the same. The term “influencer” should not mean someone with a big online following on social networks. It should mean someone who can influence their audience to think or act differently. So let’s rethink “influencer” marketing.
The Three Types of People Who Influence
The average Joe or Jane Consumer breaks down who they are influenced by into three main buckets:
- People they know
- People who are like them
- People who are trying to convince them
The “people they know” group includes family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and anyone else they identify with in their personal and professional life. These are individuals they have a real-world relationship with and trust intimately.
“People who are like them” can mean they live in the same town; are similar in age, gender, or another demographic; or share a common trait like supporting a certain sports team, musician, or even product. This group can also apply to celebrities, politicians, media members, or other notable individuals they identify with. The trust factor here derives from their sense of identity. They might trust a product recommendation or news, opinions, or ideas they share, but they wouldn’t necessarily invite these people to dinner.
“People who are trying to convince them” includes anyone who doesn’t belong in the first two groups and is trying to sell, persuade, convince, or otherwise influence them. Trust is hard to come by here. This is where your business starts from when approaching prospective customers. The trick, then, is to move into one of the first two groups. That’s a rudimentary explanation of what influence marketing is all about.
Nothing you do in marketing should be done without laddering up. That’s the term many strategists use to indicate that whatever you’re doing should contribute to the overall efforts of your department, business, or brand.
A car salesperson’s activity should ladder up to the sales department’s goals and objectives. The sales department’s goals and objectives should ladder up to the marketing department’s goals and objectives. And the marketing team’s activities should ladder up to the dealership’s business plan, or perhaps the goals and objectives of the manufacturer’s marketing and sales team.
If you have a clear understanding and explanation of how your day-to-day activities feed the goals of your department, division, and, ultimately, business, then you’re executing on a strategy. You’re laddering up appropriately.
Influence marketing is no different. When you lay out your goals and objectives for your relationships with people of influence, you shouldn’t just make some up at random. You should use your marketing goals and objectives, which hopefully have been formulated as extensions of the business’s or brand’s goals and objectives, as the impetus for the who, what, when, where, and why of your influence efforts.
This is Winfluence vs. influencer marketing.
Start with the Business Goals
Let’s say your business’s overall goal is to increase market share, which will require increasing customers and sales. Marketing can contribute to that by creating better awareness of brand and product; differentiating the brand or product from its competitors; building stronger relationships with customers, community members, media, and those with influence; and communicating direct sales opportunities and information to various stakeholders.
So you pick some combination of marketing strategies to accomplish your goals: advertising to persuade your audiences to purchase; PR efforts to associate or align your product or service with corresponding themes, people, and events; ratings and reviews to validate your offerings; and word-of-mouth or loyalty programs to drive enthusiasm for your product.
In that overall marketing strategy, you know that people with influence can help in multiple ways. They can serve as the benchmark for alignment or association in your PR campaign. Influential people are perhaps better than random customers when it comes to validating your offerings in ratings and reviews. You’ve already learned how influential people are extensions of word-of-mouth advertising and, thus, can drive enthusiasm around your brand. So you start with a strategic reason and specific goals that ladder up to your overall business.
That, in a nutshell, is approaching influence marketing strategically. That is Winfluencing. But without that ultimate sense of purpose and contribution to the overall plan, influence marketing is just a dangling participle of tactical nothing.
Plan to Measure: The Power of UTM Parameters
UTM parameters are additional characters you can add to any website link or URL to enable analytics software to better identify characteristics of the traffic produced by the specific link. It’s those characters you sometimes see after a question mark in a URL, like site.com/page?utm_source=jasonfalls.
By giving your people of influence specific links to use with properly coded UTM parameters, your website analytics can show you exactly what each influence partner (or source) produced in terms of visitors, conversions, and sales on your website. It can also show you how all the influence partners together (also referred to as a medium) fared against other mediums, like paid search, organic search, and the like.
Using Google’s free Campaign URL Builder (https://ga-dev-tools.appspot.com/ campaign-url-builder/), you can assign a specific source, a medium, a name for the campaign, and a content description.
NOTE: Take it easy on your influence partners. Once you have that big, long URL, run it through a URL shortener like Bitly (bitly.com) to make it more manageable. Bitly allows you to customize your short link, too, so you can produce something like bit.ly/fromfalls for a link you might give to me.
The trick to measuring everything by individual person of influence, or even by various types of social traffic, is planning, distributing, and successfully deploying UTM parameters. Your analytics reports can show you a spreadsheet-style ranking by social network and by influential person or method—or even influential individual divided by social network—if you and your person with influence manage them well.
The Residual Benefits of Being Smart with Influence Partners
It’s also good to consider that sometimes influence marketing isn’t just about intentional strategy. Michael Brito, whose resume reads like a who’s who of important tech companies (Sony, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo!) and marketing agencies (Edelman, W2O Group, Zeno Group), said Microsoft’s use of influence partners over the past 10 to 15 years is something to behold, but it’s not something drawn up on a whiteboard or in a strategy deck.
“Take the term ‘digital transformation,’” Brito explained. “Every B2B technology company wants to be associated with it. In fact, if you go to Google and try to buy that keyword, it’s like $25 a click.
“But seven, eight years ago, before the term became popular, Microsoft was doing influencer research,” he continued. “They were looking at influencers and how they were talking about the shift in business with social media, technology, and integration. Microsoft picked up on these influencers that were gravitating around the idea of digital transformation.”
Microsoft began partnering with those people of influence to create owned content—blog posts, white papers, webinars—around the topic. Now if you look for anything about digital transformation online, Microsoft owns a lot of real estate. And Google searches reward that.
Microsoft was just using influence partners as a natural byproduct of knowing their market, identifying the players in the audience, and building relationships with them. Was it strategic? Certainly. Was it the intentional outcome of a written strategy and execution plan? Nope.
These organic successes are derived from strategic planning, however. Without the intention of engaging with and understanding people with influence, Microsoft would never have been able to dream up, much less coordinate, such a success. It takes intention, immersion, and consistent engagement with influence partners to see unplanned successes emerge.
The logical next step, then, in laying a foundation for those future organic successes is to build influence marketing campaigns. You have to do it to be good at it.