How To Use Two Different Persuasion Styles And When to Use Each One
You don’t sell a 19-cent rubber doorstop the same way you sell a $1.3 million 1,001-horsepower Bugatti Veyron 16.4 Coupe. Selling the made-in-China wedge takes about 19 cents’ worth of influence. For the Bugatti, you may need to work through lunch to clinch the sale.
But it’s more than what you need to say to your prospect that makes all the difference in your success. It’s the way your prospect needs to think about what you’re saying.
Listen: Two types of thinking processes occur when consumers are faced with buying decisions. These two thinking methods represent two routes to changing consumers’ attitudes: peripheral (“of, relating to, or situated on the edge or periphery of something”) and central. The peripheral route can be called the lazy person’s path to thinking. It involves little more than causing people to focus on superficial images, also called cues. In effect, cues say to female consumers, for example, “Look at this beautiful woman. She’s holding our product. You can look like this, too.” It’s pure emotion, a reflex. It makes no sense at all, and it’s not supposed to. As its name suggests, the thinking it produces merely skims the surface of the brain. That thinking is peripheral.
By contrast, central route processing focuses the prospect’s attention on facts, data, and numbers. It says in effect, “Carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent and odorless killer that wipes out 400 U.S. homeowners every year. CO exposure is the number one cause of death by poisoning in the United States. More than 20,000 people visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized because of CO poisoning. It kills you by preventing your body from getting the oxygen it needs. Since it’s colorless, odorless, and tasteless, you don’t know when it’s invading your body.
When you breathe it in, it attaches to hemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen in the blood. As you continue to breathe it in, less and less oxygen is delivered to your tissues, organs, and brain. Soon you feel dizzy, nauseous, weak, tired, confused. And if you’re like many of its victims, you eventually pass out, covered in a blanket of your own vomit. If a CO leak happens at night, your entire family might never wake up. A cheap $29 carbon monoxide detector and a $5 nine-volt battery can save you and your family from what’s sometimes called the sleeping, creeping death.”
Which product do you think consumers are likely to think more deeply about: the 19-cent doorstop or the carbon monoxide detector and their family dying in the night? The CO detector, of course, because its purpose is more important; not having one could result in loss of life. More specifically, our sales presentation is chock full of reason, facts, and data that make the prospect think more deeply. We throw in a bit of emotion to shake the prospect up a bit.
Fact is, many people go through their days in a sort of functional stupor. They’re not compelled to think deeply about anything. It’s just too difficult, requiring too much work. As Richard Bandler, the cofounder of Neuro-Linguistic Programming, told me, “You need to shake people out of their own trances and get them into yours.”
That’s precisely why you can’t expect people to do more than the minimum to understand what you’re selling. Your presentation must be to the point and crystal clear no matter what your product is or how intelligent your prospects are.
According to consumer psychologists, people are dramatically more motivated to think deeply about something that has high personal relevance, something that’s very important to them. Although price might not always be the deciding factor in which type of thinking they’ll use while considering the purchase—peripheral or central route—it often plays a major role.
Remember the two products mentioned at the start of this section: a rubber doorstop and a Bugatti Veyron. It’s an extreme example that clearly demonstrates the idea of different methods of prepurchase consumer deliberation.
Let’s consider what might be two more commonplace consumer events: buying a pack of chewing gum (faced with a selection of many) and deciding which preschool would be best for your two-year old son.
Which of these decisions requires more thinking power? If choosing gum doesn’t pose much of an issue for you, you probably said, “The school, of course.” Even though the gum buy is pretty low on the scale of what matters most in life, your brain still goes through a process of consideration that’s wicked more complex than you could ever imagine, with millions of synapses firing: “What gum do I want? I like Dentyne. Oh, two sizes? I want the big one.”
Despite the biological complexities of making such an easy decision, that’s about all the consideration it entails. The school choice, by contrast, brings your beloved child into the picture and a myriad of questions and concerns: “Which local school is best for him? Is it safe? What are the teachers like? Are they qualified? Experienced? Can they perform basic lifesaving techniques in an emergency? Is the school clean? What kind of foods do they serve? How many other students will be in the classroom? Where do they play outdoors? Is it completely gated? If not, what prevents some deranged creep from walking in off the street and just plucking my child from the playground and pushing him into his filthy creep-car, never to be seen again? (As a matter of fact, I didn’t see any guards there. That skinny kid at the front desk couldn’t stop my toothless granny from barging past him with a water pistol.) What about sick kids? Do they send them home right away or just let them stay all day with their noses running like faucets, infecting everyone in their wake?” The mental chatter goes on and on.
That’s a perfect example of central route processing: deep thoughts, active thoughts, not casual contemplation. Central route processing is the kind of thinking that’s real work because for this type of buying decision, the end result has real consequences.
By contrast, if you don’t like the gum you just bought, you simply return it, trash it, or spit out each piece after 20 chews. Deciding which gum to buy was inconsequential, and therefore, so is the thinking that produced the decision. Knowing this, you’ll expend as little effort as possible while looking at dozens of brands. However, let’s add an element of significance to the gum-buying scenario and see if you’d switch from your superficial peripheral thinking style to the more critical central route processing method.
Imagine that your spouse sends you shopping to pick up a few things at the grocery store: milk, eggs, bread, and a few packs of chewing gum to relieve ear pain during an upcoming flight to Atlanta for job training. (Commercial airlines can only replicate the air pressure that exists at 7,000 feet, and so flying above that can cause intense inner ear pain. Chewing gum stimulates the production of saliva, which causes you to swallow. Swallowing helps the tube that leads to your inner ear, the Eustachian, to open, which releases the air pressure, helping reduce the pain.)
But it’s not that easy. Your spouse was recently diagnosed with PKU— phenylketonuria—a genetic metabolic disorder that leaves its victims without the enzyme necessary to metabolize the amino acid phenylalanine, an ingredient found in many brands of chewing gum as part of the artificial sweetener aspartame, which is branded as Equal and NutraSweet. What can happen if they ingest it? Mental retardation, brain damage, seizures, and other life-destroying problems, to name a few.
What was the epitome of peripheral route processing of a completely inconsequential decision when you were buying the gum for yourself is a matter of life and death when you’re buying it for your spouse.
Question: Would you spend more time reading those gum-package labels now? Or would you throw caution to the wind and just grab whatever pack looks fun and colorful and hope for the best when your spouse pushes a stick of it into his or her mouth? I assure you that central route processing would take over and you’d read every package on the shelf until you found one that didn’t contain a chemical that could cause seizures and brain damage.
But that’s a pretty unusual situation, isn’t it? Manufacturers of chewing gum couldn’t possibly be concerned enough about such a small percentage of the population who suffer from phenylketonuria to do anything more than show the legally requiring warning: “Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine.” We can’t expect them to change their advertising because of those who might suffer from their inclusion of the ingredient. Besides, those with PKU know to look for ingredients that might be harmful.
What they do instead, just like thousands of other product manufacturers that sell goods that don’t require significant thought before purchase, is use cues—images and/or emotions—to move their stuff. Cues are powerful bits of persuasion that sell hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services every day around the world. Cues are things like the scantily clad women who advertise the “hardly there” fashions they’re modeling, the romantic imagery shown in almost every perfume ad, the tough and athletic guys featured in men’s cologne commercials (few of them have ever used the stuff), and the Marlboro man on giant billboards cueing people to buy that brand of smokes while being completely unaware that the three original Marlboro men models, David McLean, Wayne McLaren, and Dick Hammer, all dropped dead of lung cancer.
Heck, if cues can change society’s attitude about smoking “girly” filter cigarettes from, “Filtered cigarettes? No way; they’re for women,” to, “Only rugged men smoke Marlboro” in only a few short months (within one year, Marlboro’s market share shot up from under 1 percent to it being the fourth best-selling brand), imagine what cues can do for your product when used properly.
The script for this technique is more like a prescription. If your product is complex, sophisticated, new, and unfamiliar or just plain expensive (regardless of product category), you’ll be best served by focusing on using hard data as the bulk of your selling approach and adding an emotional tweak to help propel the sell. In referring to data, I don’t just mean numbers. I’m also referring to facts and nonnumeric details, primarily benefits of ownership presented in a wholly logical fashion. It’s what advertising master Claude Hopkins called the reason-why approach to stimulating desire for a product. Instead of simply telling people that your product is wonderful, you shift your focus to giving them reasons why they should buy it.
“Huh? I don’t get the difference, Drew. Isn’t all selling telling people reasons for buying something?” No, and I’ll give you an example to clarify this.
If you sell printing, for example, don’t say, “Our high-quality commercial presses make you look better on paper than our competitors can because we print at far greater resolution with our new digital presses and we print on better paper, too.”
This script doesn’t tell your prospects why to choose you. Sure, it says that you do a better job because you can print at higher resolution and use better paper. But that’s all it says, and it requires your prospects to translate those bland words into an engaging-enough reason why they should be compelled to do business with you.
It’s your job to do the translating because you’re the one who wants their business. Besides, everyone says, “We do a better job.” It’s what I call the curse of generality. Your reasons why can’t just be a spoken list of emotionless bullet points. Such reasons are too generic and offer very little believability. You want to fire the reasons at them like a machine gun gone berserk and load each one with an emotional zinger that drives the point home like a hammer slamming a nail.
Your job isn’t to simply inform. You’re not a news reporter. You don’t win awards for sales productivity with the philosophy “I’m a consultant, not a salesperson per se. See my company name tag? It says ‘Product Consultant.’ I provide my prospects the data and let intelligent people make up their own minds; that’s how the best salespeople do it. None of that influence stuff is necessary as long as you really know your product.”
Behold the thinking of a customer service rep who probably has a microscopic bank account that reflects his factually bankrupt philosophy. Sales is sales. It’s not just information distribution. If it were, sticking flyers on people’s cars would also be sales, and so would putting stacks of business cards on top of vending machines in local supermarkets. Neither of these two things is sales. They’re simply the distribution of advertising literature. When someone picks up the phone to discuss your flyers or business card, that’s when the selling can begin. Never mistake informing for sales. Informing is only part of the sales process, just as browsing is part of the buying process. When I’m standing on the sidewalk looking in a retail store window, you can’t—no matter how much you Frankenstein the definition of sales—say I’m buying. Until I walk in and plunk money in the cashier’s hands, the purchase hasn’t happened.
All truly great salespeople know that a successful salesperson is a communication master who by strategically informing in an influential manner closes deals through a persuasive give-and-take that leaves the prospect feeling good about his or her decision to buy.
Remember: buying is driven primarily by emotion and then—so that people will feel responsible and adult about their emotionally driven decisions—justified by reason or a well-constructed, thoroughly believable rationalization.
The following table shows which communication style is appropriate for which types of products.
For example, how ridiculous would it be to hear a cologne manufacturer say, “Phooey! We’re not going to show sexy women in our commercial for our new cologne; we’re taking a fresh new approach. We’re going to run a commercial showing a scientist in white lab coat, shirt, and tie standing beside a chalkboard detailing all the chemical compounds that the cologne contains and providing all the data concerning its precise evaporative rate, its molecular weight, and the speed of diffusion of its alcohol-carrier component when worn in different-temperature environments.”
Ridiculous, right? Well it would be equally nuts to try to sell an adjustable-rate mortgage by showing imagery similar to that used in a cologne commercial: a closeup of a woman’s hand caressing a man’s bare tanned chest, her head stretched backward and her long silky hair hanging in his face, with the following words tattooed on his back: “No application fee, no doc-prep fee, no wire-transfer fee, no underwriting fee. Adjustable-rate 15- and 30-year mortgages available. We’ll even pay all your closing costs!”
The point is that it’s important to decide which type of sell your product or service requires on the basis of the complexity of thought required to flip most consumers’ “I’ll buy it” switch and then construct your pitch accordingly.
Of course, not all buyers think the same way. One might purchase a $950,000 house with little more thought than, “Can I afford it? Do I like the kitchen and bathrooms?” whereas another might agonize over every little architectural detail— including the crown molding in the third guest bathroom or the lack of it—until someone more decisive steals the house from under his nose. That speed buyer is a consumer outlier, though, because for the most part, it’s far more logical to assume that such a purchase requires deeper, more thorough and considered thought. If you know your product well, you should also know what kind of mental lifting it takes to move from, “Do I need this?” to, “Here’s my credit card.”
People often protect their opinions as if their lives were at stake. This is especially true when they’ve worked hard to arrive at their current position. When you encourage consumers to think deeply about a product and arrive at a conclusion that’s bulletproof enough to cause them to part with their money, that mental position becomes a mental fixture.
Sit back and watch them vigorously defend it as if the attacker—the person with the opposing position—has a knife to their throat. Win over enough people with the central route processing form of thinking and you’ll have a virtual cult of zealots who talk about your product as if they were paid employees.
Cues, by contrast, are mental shortcuts that, if used correctly, can convey your sales message without requiring a prospect to engage in deep thought. It’s perhaps counterintuitive, but this is sometimes preferable. That’s because being less dependent on facts and figures, this persuasive strategy can often influence buyers to pull out their credit cards or print purchase orders without your having to directly compete with your competitor’s possibly more impressive numbers.
Back to our printing example. Here’s how to transform the previous “don’t say” nonselling script into a strong, reason-why-packed version that uses palpable persuasion—encouraging central route processing—to help close the deal.
“Look at the difference between our standard print quality and our competitors’ work. Look at the sharpness of our characters; look how bright and full our colors are compared with theirs. [focus directors] Here’s a brochure we printed versus a similar full-color brochure they recently made. [involvement device: handing prospect brochure] Look; you can see the difference immediately. And if you can see it, that means your prospects can see it, too. [complex equivalence: “this means that”] Cheap-looking printing makes you look cheap. [emotionally charged assertion] And the fact is, quality is also judged at an unconscious level. [unverifiable scientific assertion] That means that even if prospects aren’t consciously aware of it, they still unconsciously perceive quality —or the lack of it. And that difference is used in part to judge your company. [complex equivalence] [closing the assertion loop]
“The reason our print quality is noticeably better is that our competitors use older-model equipment. [dissatisfaction generator] They don’t want to—or simply can’t—invest in the better, more expensive presses that have recently come out. [Negative-speculation generator. Result: “Hmmm, the older, lowerquality equipment must be good enough for them or they aren’t doing well enough to buy the good machinery.”] That’s why they can’t give you the same crisp, high-resolution digital printing that we offer. [dissatisfaction generator]
“Next, let’s talk paper. But first let’s do a quick test. [involvement device: sensory demonstration] Close your eyes. I’m going to hand you two sheets of printed letterhead one at a time. Here’s number one. Feel it. Bend it. Snap the corners. Get a sense of its grain and finish. Now here’s number two. Which one feels like the letterhead from the more successful company? The first one, hands down, right? Without even seeing it, your sense of feel alone suggests higher quality because it’s printed on a much finer-quality paper. It’s crisper, snappier, firmer. Guess what? That’s our standard stock. Number two—the cheap-feeling one—that’s the standard stock most of our competitors use. [dissatisfaction generator] Do you think your customers notice? Well, you noticed, didn’t you? [affirmation generator/statement of reasonableness] But don’t expect our competition to mention a word about any of this. [consumer-advocate appeal] Of course, you could always go with the thinner, cheaper paper if you really wanted. [power grant] But you can get far better reproduction and better paper quality so your company looks better in everything you print. This helps your company convey an image of success, quality, and stability, and you can actually do it for the same or less money [benefit string] because our new equipment is more efficient than their old machines. [statement of difference/dissatisfaction generator] Why wouldn’t you do it?” [statement of reasonableness/appeal to commonsense]
Now, having spent a good amount of time on ways to get your prospects and customers to think deeply about your offers and provide the details they need to make a good decision.