So far in this six-part article, we’ve covered three of Dr. Robert Cialdini’s six “weapons of influence”Reciprocity, Commitment/Consistency, and Social Proof. The next weapon is, in my opinion, the most powerful and psychologically interesting, and ties right back into our conversation on status and motivation.

Mark McGwire’s wife Stephanie, a former pharmaceuticals sales rep. Sigh…

Weapon number four: “Liking,” The Friendly Thief

The “Liking Rule” is the reason why there are only two types of sales representatives in the pharmaceuticals industry: extremely attractive women, and extremely schmoozy dudes who come with extremely generous expense accounts. It occurs to me that I’m in the wrong industry…

When Cialdini wrote Influence, Tupperware parties were very popular. When Tupperware was first introduced, it was promoted through a model similar to Amway, where people would receive a financial reward from selling to their friends.

In this case, women would throw a “Tupperware party,” an event where a Tupperware sales rep would ask a hostess to invite several of her friends for a get-together. There would be door prizes, munchies, whatnot…and then the Tupperware rep would lead a discussion on the awesomeness of her product. Attendees would usually make a Tupperware purchase at the party, and the sales rep would give a commission to the hostess. (For more info, see “Party Plan” marketing.)

The human female, engaged in an 80’s social ritual known to anthropologists at the “Tupperware Party.”

Cialdini points out that when attendees made their on-the-spot purchases, it wasn’t because they especially wanted the product, and it wasn’t because the sales rep was particularly convincing. It was because they knew and liked the hostess, and felt obligated to make a purchase because of it.

“There’s Just Something About You…”

We are more influenced by those people we like. Just this week, my wife received a fundraising letter from one of our college friends, who was raising money for the mission activities of his church. But for him being as good a friend as he is, the solicitation would have fallen on deaf ears.

Making a sale is always easier after you’ve given a customer some reasons to like you. In addition, the “liking” rule is the mechanism of customer referral. If you let a potential customer know that a friend of theirs is so satisfied with your product that he gave a pro-active referral, the new customer will be much more receptive to you.

Cialdini lists some factors that cause the liking rule to take effect:

  • Physical Attractiveness – “Research has shown that we automatically assign to good-looking individuals such favorable traits as talent, kindness, honesty, and intelligence.”
  • Similarity – “We like people who are similar to us. This fact seems to hold true whether the similarity is in the area of opinions, personality traits, background, or life-style.”
  • Compliments – “…we tend, as a rule, to believe praise and to like those who provide it, oftentimes when it is clearly false.”
  • Contact and Cooperation – “…becoming familiar with something through repeated contact doesn’t necessarily cause greater liking. […we must be] working for the same goals…we must ‘pull together’ for mutual benefit.”
  • Conditioning and Association – “[Compliance professionals are] incessantly trying to connect themselves or their products with the things we like. Did you ever wonder what all those good-looking models are doing standing around in those automobile ads?”

We tend to be influenced by likability, or those people and things to which we are attracted.

Cialdini calls this weapon “liking,” but it could just as easily have been called “attraction.” Professional dating experts advise men to spark attraction by leveraging some of these ideas: associating with high-status and fun personality traits, putting effort into looking attractive, meeting people with shared commonalities, etc. We “like,” that is to say, we are attracted to, that which is of high social value and that we can easily associate with ourselves. If we perceive someone or something as high-status, we will like him/her/it, particularly if some of that status can easily transfer over to us in the process.

Put The Coffee Down! Coffee’s For The Very Likable.

Salesmen who tend to spend a lot of time in the small-talk stage of the relationship are fishing for ways they can express similarity. There is one particularly obnoxious print services vendor who found out that I was a Cubs fan, and for years has subjected me to excruciating, time-wasting calls to do nothing but chit-chat about the Cubs, and the quality of the tickets he could potentially score for me.

As a side-note, I have discovered an inverse relationship between the quality of a vendor’s services, and the degree to which they will try and compensate for this lack by trying to buddy-up to me.

Here are some more blogs that speak on likability and influence:

  • Strategy Insight has excellent summaries on all of Cialdini’s “weapons.”
  • Conversion Agent, by Valeria Maltoni, has a great entry on harnessing influence, and concentrates on the identity of the message sender.
  • The Hardest Science has an incredible article on status and power. This blog comes at status from a scientific perspective. Very interesting stuff! I need to examine it further…

You cannot talk about the Liking Rule without talking about the status transaction. When a Compliance Professional (Cialdini’s term for anyone who employs influence professionally) engages the Liking Rule, he is trying to say two things: 1) I am a high-status person, and 2) your status can be raised through me, because you can identify with me and because I give you validation.

Take a car salesman: to the first point, he might dress well and wear an expensive watch, make himself seem conspicuously attractive, so as to communicate status and worth. To the second point, he will find points of similarity with the potential customer, flatter them, chit-chat with them, feed them refreshments, bond with them over some common point of identity like a sports team.

Both elements must be present for this kind of attraction to happen.  There has to be a status-level equal to or higher than ours, or else we will not be interested. But they also need points of similarity to relate to, or the person in question will seem foreign and aloof.

I talk more about identification in a recent post about personal dreams and secret ideals. A man does nothing lest it gets him closer to his dream, in one way or another. The Liking Rule applies to people or things we believe will get us higher in status, and closer to our secret dream.

THAT’S Your Favorite James Bond?!”

Actors and directors need to pay close attention to this. This is the secret of why some hero characters are beloved and some fall flat. This is why people have strong preferences as to their favorite James Bond actors. We, the audience need to see ourselves in the protagonist. Not just ourselves, but a high-status or elite version of ourselves.

Heroes characters fail to capture our imaginations for one of two reasons: 1) they are not relatable (too indestructible, too priggish, too aloof, too god-like, challenges are too easy, too few apparent flaws, too “campy,” etc.), or 2) they do not display appropriately high status (appearing to try too hard, overly concerned, chronically unsure, habitually whiny, too many apparent flaws etc.)

James Bond fans typically cite Sean Connery, and now more recently Daniel Craig, as their favorite actor in the role. The actor they choose has a lot to do with which actor they can most easily identify (the one they believe has the right mix of high-status traits and points of relation). Roger Moore often gets hit with accusations of “camp,” which interferes with idealization. The danger he faces seems less real as a result.

Dalton, by contrast, got hit with criticism of being “too serious.” People erroneously assumed that meant a lack of jokes. It didn’t. It meant that the hero seemed to be taking too much emotional effort to overcome the danger. James Bond’s humor does not exist for its own sake, but a reflection of his status as a hero who can look at danger with a sardonic twinkle.

Why Would You Want a Beer With That Guy?

Politicians fall into the sway of the same principle. They strive to be “liked,” which is to say they want to foster attraction so that we associate our identity with them the way we do with a product or sports team. During elections, we see them striving to relate to voters, to be the kind of person “we’d like to have a beer with.”

But that’s only half of the equation. We like having beers with our poker buddies, but would not necessarily push them to become President. They also need to be high-status, or elite individuals. Where politicians fail to inspire the electorate, they either seem too elite and unrelatable (John Kerry, Michael Dukakis), or too common (Sarah Palin).

We want politicians to be heroes because we want to identify with them in the same way we do with our heroes: to see not just a reflection of ourselves, but a symbol of our more ideal selves. We either want to see ourselves more ideal in terms of wealth and security (Republicans), or more ideal in terms of humanity and intellect (Democrats).

“I See a Little ‘You’ In Me…”

Leveraging the Liking Rule is an exercise in encouraging someone to mentally plaster their own face on your image or next to your product. This the entire mission of the advertising industry. In my opinion, this rule powers and influences all the other weapons of influence. None of the weapons work effectively without the power of the Liking Rule.

What do you think? Have you ever gone out of your way for someone because you liked something about them, or found yourself attracted to them. Guys especially, I know each and every one of you has done this!

Also, did you ever figure out a way to present yourself as more likable, attractive, or high-status in order to get something you wanted?

Continue on to Part 5: Authority…

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  • Learn what makes a business fragile, so you can avoid pitfalls that sink most founders.
  • Discover how to set up your business to use setback and stressors as fuel for growth.
  • Build an unstoppable business that uses resistance to grow like muscle!