Cool Thing #36: If motivational posters actually work, WHAT ELSE COULD I BE WRONG ABOUT?

A look at the science of “pre-suasion.”

I don’t know about you, but when I see a “motivational poster” — something like a photo of a rowing crew above “Teamwork” — I sigh a bit,
thinking that the organization ought to try working at getting better, not just letting some poster yammer about it. But, hey, I just learned how
wrong I’ve been. The story is below…

Dr. Robert Cialdini is an old friend with a new book. He’s the author of the classic text Influence, which has indeed influenced a generation of
thinking about decision making, and now has created a new term for a new science and a new book:


The full title of Cialdini’s new book is Pre-suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade.

It’s the science of what happens before your “ask.”

Cialdini discusses studies like these…

  • People going to a sofa retailer’s website reached one of two landing pages: one had background visuals of fluffy clouds in a blue sky, while the
    other had a background of pennies. The folks who saw the clouds were more likely to search for sofas that promoted comfort, and yes, the folks who
    got the pennies were more likely to hunt for bargains.
  • Some items in a grocery store were marked “Only x per customer.” Sales of those items doubled.

Then, improbably, there’s this:

  • Employees in a call center were given “tip sheets” with ideas for soliciting donations to a university. Some of the tip sheets included a photo of
    a runner winning a race, while the others were plain paper, sans photo. The callers who got the photo collected 60% more donations. Whaaat?

That’s “pre-suasion.” And if motivational pictures actually work, then what else have I been missing. Like most of us, I’ve been focused on the event – the presentation, the meeting, the pitch – and haven’t spent nearly enough time on what leads up to it.


One of the themes is to figure out the key benefit that you or your organization is offering, and to create the unconscious emphasis on that benefit, setting the stage. That means you must rethink – no, “pre-think” interactions with customers, internal or external. That thinking consists of one word: BEFORE.

For instance, when customers come to your store, what’s the first thing they see? I hope it’s not some nagging sign like Use Other Door or No Drinks Allowed. I hope it’s a smiling clerk offering your customers a free sample. (One fast food outlet did the latter and the average order went up 24%.)

Or, say you’re a teacher who’s trying to get female students to get higher scores on math tests. If, before the exam, you “expose them to instances of successful women in science and math-related fields,” the number of problems solved significantly increases.

Said another way…

If you want people to be in the “right frame of mind” to agree with you,

you have to first build the right frame and then put them in it.


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