Beware of Influence Tactics That Make You Overspend

It's holiday time—time to shop for others and for ourselves. It's also the perfect time to brush up on influence ploys that compliance professionals bank on to get you to open your wallet.

Lisa B. Marshall
3-minute read

Holiday time is a great time to brush up on your understanding of influence and persuasion. Why? Because we are all strongly influenced by fundamental sociological and psychological principles that often unconsciously pull at us—frequently causing us to spend more. No one is immune, but you can protect yourself from exploitative strategies by better understanding what is really driving you to say, "Yes!"

Want to Maximize Your Impact?

Free sample anyone?

The rule of reciprocity is a deeply ingrained instinct that makes us feel obligated to return a favor, kindness, or invitation. It's why at this time of year many of us receive charitable donation requests with address labels inside, or why the local sweets shop offers free samples of expensive chocolate, or why your server leaves a mint with the bill. When you accept these free gifts, it will trigger an unconscious urge to repay the debt—even if you didn't really want it, even if the gift was very small or invaluable, and even if the gift giver says they gave it to you without any obligation. Even worse, our response or return gesture often outweighs the freebie. So, in a sense, we end up "paying" for the freebie and may even give money for something we didn't really want in the first place.

How do you protect yourself from the pull of reciprocity? You can refuse free samples or accept the small gift, but take a break before making any purchasing decisions because the feeling of obligation is strongest at the moment you receive the gift. Recognize the "gift" for what it is—an attempt at influence.

No more than three per customer

The rule of scarcity demonstrates that items that are perceived as scarce are then considered more valuable. Also, when there is competition for scarce resources, it makes them even more valuable. For example, I'm sure you've been in a store ready to pick up your item when you see the sign that reads, "No more than four per customer." This is how retailers create false scarcity. They want for you to think, "Well, if I can only have four, this must be a really good deal" or "I better get a few more, since this is such a good deal and I might not be able to get it again at this price." I guarantee you'll see this principle throughout the holiday season from restricted quantities to "limited seasonal editions"  to deals that are only on one day (Black Friday) or only available for a limited time (doorbuster deals). To protect yourself from the influence of scarcity, it is important to ask why you want the item (or why you really need four of them). Most importantly, it is critical to remember that scarcity will NOT make an item BETTER (even though research tells us that is our normal response).

Remember, a product won't taste better and it won't feel better, it won't sound or it won't work better, simply due to it's limited availability.

What deals are you shopping for?

If you've ever purchased an item or visited a restaurant based on online reviews, or you waited in line behind the velvet rope at a nightclub, or bought something online based on a case study or customer testimonial, you've experienced the power of social proof. Social proof is psychological phenomenon where people assume the actions of others reflect the correct behavior for a given situation. Social proof helps to ease the mind of a worried customer. So tomorrow when you see your family break out the Black Friday ads looking for deals, or on Friday when you see a line of people waiting to get into a store, don't be surprised if you suddenly have the urge to join the crowd and go shopping! How do you protect yourself? You need to ask yourself: could this have been falsified? (Is the nightclub really full? Is this online review from a verified purchaser? Is this deal really a deal and worth fighting the crowds?)

Today, I only briefly covered three of the primary drivers of influence. If you'd like to learn more about the six fundamental social and psychological principles that are the key drivers of influence and persuasion, I invite you to check out my new online video course, Influence: Maximize Your Influence.  In this course, I explain what influence is and how it's different from manipulation. I explain the principles of persuasion, and I also include practical strategies for using these principles to authentically (and ethically) influence others at work and at home.

This is Lisa B. Marshall helping you to lead and influence.  If you'd like to learn more about compelling communication, I invite you to read my bestselling books, Smart Talk and Ace Your Interview and listen to my other podcast, Smart Talk. As always, your success is my business

About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.