part 2 of a 2-part article
In the first part of this article, I told you an incredible story about the Rule of Authority, how titles, clothing, and trappings can help you get to “Yes.”
Now I’d like to suggest that you go one more step.
Instead of just giving the “appearance” of authority, why not establish actual authority?
I’m talking about credibility. Real credibility. And what does it take to establish credibility? According to a mountain of psychological research, there are four basic elements:
- Physical Attractiveness
The first two are most important, but they all play a part.
Expertise – Having relevant knowledge is the key to expertise. What special education do you have? What kind of experience? Have you demonstrated unusual competence in a relevant area? What are your big successes? What about awards or public recognition? People look for clues about what you know and what you’ve done.
However, these clues must be relevant to the subject at hand. If you’re selling accounting software, the fact that you graduated from Harvard may show you’re smart — but the fact that you’re an experienced and successful accountant is far better.
Trustworthiness – Perhaps even more important than expertise is trustworthiness. Do people feel they can trust you? The answer is based on what people perceive your intentions to be. People want to know why you take the position you do.
Among the reasons for people rating you low on the trustworthiness scale are a knowledge bias or reporting bias.
If your prospect thinks your background or particular experience prevents you from being objective, there’s a knowledge bias. That means there’s always more persuasion when you take a position that people don’t expect you to take. (If you’re writing a letter to raise funds for a conservative cause, imagine how powerful it could be to have a liberal delivering the message. If a liberal buys into the idea, it must be convincing!)
If your prospect thinks you are just saying what people want to hear, there’s a reporting bias. So, you’ll be more persuasive when it seems you are saying what you really believe. That often means admitting that there are two sides to an issue or acknowledging flaws before presenting your position.
Similarity – While Expertise and Trustworthiness are most important, Similarity can also figure into Credibility. We tend to pay more attention to those who are like us.
Deep down in our minds, we ask: Do you think like me? Are your ideals like mine? Are you from the same social class as I am? Do you look like me? And the more yeses we come up with, more likely we are to like that person and grant his or her requests.
Of course, Similarity is based on relevance. For example, if you’re selling computers, you’ll be more effective if you agree with your prospect that programs are hard to learn than if you reveal you belong to the same political party.
Physical Attractiveness – The final Credibility key is one most of us won’t want to admit to: physical attractiveness. There’s no way around it, you and I are more likely to pay attention to attractive people. This is for a variety of reasons.
Attractiveness produces the halo effect – the pleasant feeling we get from an attractive person is associated with the message that person delivers. And according to various studies, attractive people are seen as better communicators and more fluent.
In addition, liking and identification play a part, since people like and identify with attractive people, thinking, “I can be like that person if I believe what she believes, says what she says, or does what she does.”
One caveat: extreme attractiveness can be distracting and may reduce persuasion. This isn’t rocket science, you just have to remember that the level of attractiveness must meet a prospect’s expectations. You must have beautiful hair to sell shampoo, for example, but you don’t have to be a model to give medical advice as a doctor.
Putting Credibility to Work
Remember, the only reason that direct marketing works is that it gives people a more convenient and exclusive way to buy things, get information, donate to their favorite causes, and perform other transactions.
However, basic human instincts are still at work. Most people prefer to see, feel, and shake something before they buy it. Some people never shop by mail because they can’t touch the merchandise first.
Therefore, Credibility is essential. How do you get it? Keep it? Like this:
Establish your expertise with plenty of information. Display your know-how and experience. Show your credentials before presenting your argument. Better still, allow people to discover your expertise indirectly, so it seems more natural and not part of a sales pitch. And make sure all the symbols of Authority are in place.
Create trustworthiness by avoiding any appearance of bias. Take a position that people don’t expect you to take. Say what you truly believe and say it with conviction.
One technique is to mention weaknesses or drawbacks in what you’re saying. This will appear to be contrary to your own interests, and therefore, you will appear more trustworthy. If you do mention weaknesses, bring them up before you list strengths – this generates greater belief in your position and lowers resistance to your arguments.
Try the Convert Effect. Imagine you’re selling an investment course that teaches how to trade commodities. If your spokesperson has been wildly successful with commodity trading, prospects will expect that person to promote such investments. But if you present a timid soul who previously invested in nothing more dangerous than CDs, yet found success buying and selling sugar, potatoes, and silver on the open market, THAT is persuasive.
Someone who has converted to another lifestyle – to something opposite – is always more credible. The Convert Effect plays on the feelings of similarity between the convert and the prospect. The convert seems to have overcome a knowledge bias. And the convert has made a voluntary decision to do something different and has not been forced into the decision by circumstances.
Show similarities between you and your prospect, customer, or donor. Show that your thoughts, ideals, social class, and appearance are alike. Demonstrate similarities that are relevant to the selling situation.
Take advantage of your spokesperson’s attractiveness. Whether it’s an insert in a direct mail package or a spokesperson on TV, make sure the look is attractive but not wildly beautiful. And be sure that the look is relevant to the situation and matches people’s expectations.
Use all the standard credibility techniques. Don’t forget the basics like using the most credible spokesperson, giving a strong guarantee, and presenting testimonials of satisfied customers who are similar to your target audience.