BY NICK KOLENDA
Nick Kolenda is an entertainer who “reads minds” for a living. His apparent ability to read minds is a process of persuasion. Using proven methods of psychology to influence his subjects, he can give the appearance of being able to read thoughts. While his displays of “mind reading” are entertaining and a lot of fun, the principles he uses to pull it off are based on sound principles of human nature.
Kolenda has taken these basic tenets of psychology and created a guide for anyone that wants to influence or persuade. These methods may seem manipulative and even a bit deceptive, but their application in the real world can be just as much for the good of others as it can be to manipulate them. Whether these methods are used for good or bad, their effectiveness is undeniable.
The methods outlined in the book include changing people's perceptions and getting them to “buy-in.” From presenting messages in a certain way to using peer pressure, the methods here are all part of a strategy to get others to think and act in a certain way.
Mold their perception
A recent study by the California Institute of Technology illustrates how powerful perception is and how easy it is to mold. By creating a study that measured the relation between perception of quality and price, the group was able to prove that higher priced items are perceived as having more value. Twenty people who had an average knowledge of wine were brought together for a wine tasting. They sampled what they thought were five different brands of wine while being monitored with an MRI. The reality was that there were only three wines.
“If you want people to perceive something more favorably, you should convey high expectations because those expectations will become a lens that will mold their perception.”
Two brands of wine were offered twice and were the same price. The $5 bottle of wine was marked with its real price and again with a price tag of $45. The $90 bottle of wine was also marked with its real price and again with a price tag of $10. The results showed that the tasters’ brains registered more pleasure when drinking from the higher priced bottles, even though they contained the same wine as the cheap bottles. The results proved that consumer satisfaction can be directly influenced by the expectation of quality whether that quality is real of not.
Elicit congruent attitudes
A congruent attitude simply means an agreement or alignment with a particular idea or product. This alignment with a particular concept can be achieved both in how a message is presented and how others react to that concept. If a company uses a tennis star to deliver their message of how great their tennis gear is, they elicit a congruent attitude because consumers will associate the “messenger's” qualities with the quality of the products.
“When people are free to do as they please, they usually imitate each other.” — Eric Hoffer
Similarly, social proof also has a strong influence in aligning attitudes. People typically reflect the actions they see in others to ensure they are behaving “correctly.” If everyone else buys a Thunderbolt tennis racket, then it must be good. This line of thinking may be illogical, but it is a very powerful tendency in human nature.
Trigger social pressure
In high school, they called it peer pressure, but when everyone's all grown up, they call it social pressure. No matter what it's called, the influence of groups on individuals is a powerful force in changing behaviors. Everyone has that basic need to be accepted, and they will typically conform to a group's ideas or attitudes usually without even realizing it.
"People can undergo a sudden change of thinking and loyalties under threat of death or intense social pressure..." — Keith Henson
Researchers from Arizona State University discovered that before Billy Graham's televised crusades, his organization had coached thousands of volunteers in certain behaviors. They were instructed on when to come to the stage, when to sing, and when to clap. This appearance of great religious intensity primed the rest of the crowd to behave in similar ways. The infectious atmosphere created a zeal that made the audience ready to accept the message being presented.
Habituate your message
Repetition is one of the easiest, and most powerful, methods of persuasion. By habituating the same message over and over, the power of persuasion takes on a life of its own. Repetition is used so often that its use has become almost invisible on a conscious level. Just listen to any politician or some other influential speaker. They repeat the same message over and over, planting it firmly in the subconscious.
“The power of ads rests more in the repetition of obvious exhortations than in the subtle transmission of values.” — Michael Schudson
Psychology studies conducted in the 1970s revealed what has come to be known as the “illusory truth effect.” This effect refers to the tendency to believe the information to be correct after repeated exposure. The more someone hears a message, the more believable it is. Psychologists point to the fact that familiarity breeds liking. This familiarity makes a message appear to be truer than if it were being presented for the first time.
Optimize your message
For a message to have maximum effect, it must be optimized. In marketing, optimizing a message simply means personalizing the message based on the preferences of an intended audience. The book outlines the major consumer markets by age and provides traits and tactics for each audience.
Millennials — ages 15 – 35: This group is immersed in the digital world, and digital media is the best way to get a message to them. Texting, chatting, and instant messaging are their preferred way to communicate. This young consumer group is influenced more by engagement than attempts to convert them.
Generation Xers — ages 36 – 50: More savvy and skeptical, this group is all too familiar with traditional marketing tactics and prefers a direct approach. They are more concerned with quality and value than the popularity of a product or message. A brief email or voicemail is effective as long as they are to the point.
Baby Boomers — ages 51 – 69: Baby boomers prefer to engage on a personal level. They value communication skills and relationships. While they are comfortable with digital correspondence, they respond better to phone calls or meeting in person.
Traditionalists — ages 70 – 88: Traditional values and trust are the hallmarks of this group. Their emphasis is on honesty and being open. They typically like to take their time in making decisions.
Drive their momentum and sustain their compliance
By giving someone incentives and periodic rewards over time, their familiarity with an idea or product is reinforced. This reinforcement keeps the relationship constant. Making it easy for someone to continue using a product or service or to have access to a specific message is another way to keep that momentum going.
Mobile applications use “momentum drivers” by sending reminders or special offers. Application developers understand that to sustain user's interest, they must engage end users frequently and in innovative ways. The goal is to make the application a part of the end user's day-to-day routine by creating a subconscious habit. The key to momentum and sustainability is to expose people over and over to the product or message.