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Another one of Cialdini’s six pillars of persuasion is authority. The idea that 99% of the world is waiting to be told what to do by someone who knows more than they do.

Here’s some of the toffee we read to bring you this stuff:

Pedestrians violated the prohibition of an automatic traffic signal more often in the presence of an experimenter’s model who violated the prohibition than when the latter conformed or was absent. Significantly more violations occurred among pedestrians when the nonconforming model was dressed to represent high social status than when his attire suggested lower status.

In other words – we believe other folks doing something makes it OK for us to do it too; especially when they look like they know what they’re doing…

Authority makes us do strange things. The guy cited in the experiment above was able to increase the number of people by 350% following him across the crossing by simply wearing the (then) symbols of authority – a suit and tie.

Images of people in white coats next to natural remedies are designed to tie into our cultural belief that Doctors are always right about things (even though I’ve never seen a GP wear a white coat).

We tend to comply more with people or organisations that are perceived experts in their field. We assume that such a person/thing is cleverer than we are, so if we do what they say, life will be good. It’s another brain shortcut.

The classic example quoted for this phenomenon is Milgram, although after 30+ years his work has been thoroughly critiqued. (It’s the one where students were convinced to electrocute a test subject because someone in authority told them too.)

In direct mail we often receive momentary heart-stopping brown envelopes designed to look like wrongly timed government notifications, yet containing a simple offer for funding. I would suspect they get exceptionally high open rates, with much lower keep/respond rates.

The cultivation of Authority often revolves around these types of activity:

  • Content marketing – particularly “featured in”, “as seen on”
  • Social marketing – likes and follows as an authority indicator
  • Speaking engagements
  • Event ownership
  • Authority testimony or endorsement
  • Awards – there’s a reason companies pay to win awards that mean little
  • Trustmarks
  • Professional memberships
  • Address

These are generally easily pulled into your direct mail tests with methods such as “as seen on”, “an article in the..”, “recently our CEO spoke at”, “winner of best new..” etc. The comparative ease of validating “trust facts” helps us here.

Trustmarks, however,  need to be tested. Research is conflicting in their efficacy. Trustmarks are most successful when they are a central part of the evaluation process and are recognised.

The giant shoulders we stand upon:

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