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August 6, 2008

Steve Martin:The art of persuasion applied to events

Events and meetings professionals spend more than their fair share of time staying in hotels; so much time in fact, that most will know only too well what they will find in their rooms when they check in.

Take a look in the bathroom for example and you’ll know there will be a little card asking you to reuse the towels during your stay. What you may not know though, are the potential lessons that these little cards could teach you about the effective marketing and selling of your next event or meeting.

As part of a study conducted by my colleagues Dr Robert Cialdini and Dr Noah Goldstein, a series of different messages were written on these cards and placed randomly in the bathrooms of a large hotel that is part of a well established global chain.

Asking guests to reuse their towels for the sake of the environment (the almost universal appeal) resulted in a reuse rate of 38%. Surprisingly when the hotel offered to donate some of the savings they make if guests did use their towels more than once - the rate went down slightly!

However when the little card pointed out that the majority of previous guests reused their towel at some point during their stay, almost 50% of guests complied. That’s an over 30% increase. Not bad a return for just changing the words on a card.

The reason why this change of words had such a dramatic effect is quite simple. It concerns how we are persuaded in everyday life and also how we persuade others. We live in a world where our customers are inundated with information about events, meetings and other opportunities. They need shortcuts to help them make good decisions and over the past sixty years, scientists have been studying what these effective shortcuts are.

Here is what they find. Successful persuasion strategies generally fall into just one of six universal principles of influence. One of these principles is social proof – the idea that we will follow the lead of what many others like us have done.

When guests in hotels rooms saw information that other guests reused their towels the social proof of the situation kicked in and they did too. As a result, one way to make your events more popular is to tell your potential customers of the number of other people like them who are attending.

The other principles of influence are:

Scarcity – the idea that we are more influenced by losing something than gaining the same thing. So don’t just tell your customers what they will gain by attending your meeting, also tell them what they will lose out on if they don’t.

Authority – people tend to take more notice of and trust credible experts and sources of information. As a result it’s a good idea to ensure that your events are endorsed by a recognised professional body or expert. It will make them more appealing than those events that aren’t.

Consistency – states that we are more likely to make decisions that align with previously declared commitments. It is important, therefore, to show how your event is consistent and supports what is important to the customers you are trying to do business with.

Liking– We don’t have to be best friends with our clients but it has been proven that people are more likely to do business with people they see as similar to themselves. So spend more time getting to know people and understanding them and let them find out what commonalities they have with you.

Returning a favour
Finally the reciprocity principle says people are more likely to do you a favour if you do them one first. That’s why the promise to donate some of the hotels savings if guests reused their towels backfired. The hotel didn’t give first. When they did, towel reuse jumped to 48%. Accordingly look to help others first with personalised information and services that make it likely they will be obligated to attend your events rather than the many others they are invited to.

There are many ways of applying these universal principles in an entirely ethical and effective manner. Many are little used though; how many hotels do you know that tell you that many previous guests have reused their towels? Even though doing so could save them millions of pounds and help the environment into the bargain?

Find out how persuasive you are by taking the free test at www.scienceofyes.com

Steve Martin is co-author of the international best selling Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion (Profile Books). The book was nominated for the 2008 Royal Society Book of the Year Award.

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