Inside Influence Report

By:  Steve Martin, CMCTSutton Place Hotel

In 1979, noted psychiatrist Dr. Alexander Schauss conducted a series of studies designed to measure the mental and physical strength of one hundred and fifty young men. Arriving at the laboratory, each man was invited into a small room where one of two cardboard signs was held up in front of them. After looking directly at the card for one minute they were invited to take part in a series of physical strength tests. Sometimes they were asked to raise their arms directly in front of their bodies while downward pressure was applied. On other occasions, a dynamometer test was used to give a more accurate measurement. Regardless of the test employed, it quickly became apparent that the cardboard signs each man was asked to gaze at first had a remarkable influence over their subsequent physical performance. There were no words on these cardboard signs. Nor were there images on them either. They differed only in color.

One was blue, the other pink.

It’s easy to dismiss the results of Schauss’ experiments as fluke. And given the weakening effect the pink card had on the men’s physical strength it’s even easier to label them a crude demonstration of a widely held stereotype. But to do so would be a mistake. In the thirty or so years since these experiments were conducted, behavioral scientists have developed increasingly sophisticated ways of studying how our environment shapes decisions and behaviors. Their results leave little room for doubt. While we’d like to think that our decisions are always the result of effortful cognition, the reality is somewhat different. Much of our behavior is driven by unconscious cues present in our environment. One of these cues is color, influencing a wide array of decisions and behaviors from how competitive or creative we are, to who we find attractive on dating sites and even if we’ll say ‘Yes’ to the offer of a second helping at next weekend’s dinner party.

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iStock_000015867912SmallBy:  Steve Martin, CMCT

Recognizing the Chicago Bulls managing partner’s reputation as a ruthless negotiator, in 1996 Michael Jordan’s agent made a decision to ‘take the Bulls by the horns’ and table an audacious $52 million salary request. The parties settled at $33.14 million, a record that remains the single highest annual salary in NBA history. For Jordan and his agent, making the opening offer was a strategy that clearly paid dividends.

By way of contrast when the sportswear manufacturer Lacoste adopted a similar strategy in their negotiations with tennis star Andy Roddick the result was disastrous. They tabled an opening offer which included a clause reducing the value of the contract by 75 per cent if Roddick were to fall below 15th in the world rankings. Unbeknownst to Lacoste, Roddick had already made the decision to retire if he fell in the world standings and so Roddick’s agent ‘reluctantly agreed’ to Lacoste’s terms in return for a larger annual guaranteed sum. In this example submitting the first offer did nothing to help the Lacoste bottom line.

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By:  Steve Martin,

In the introduction of Influence, Robert Cialdini recounts the story of a friend who, in an attempt to sell off a consignment of slow moving turquoise jewelry, left a hand-written note for one of her sales staff to mark down the stock at “x ½” price before leaving for an out-of-town trip. On her return, she wasn’t surprised to learn that the stock had sold out, BUT she was surprised that due to her bad penmanship, the saleswoman mistakenly reading the “x ½” on her note as “x 2”, and everything had sold for twice the original price. The story illustrates nicely how, in the absence of other information, the price of an item can often serve as an effective decision trigger—in this case if something is expensive then it must be good.

Such an effect doesn’t just apply to high-end keepsakes like jewelry. It can also sway our evaluations of consumables too.  For example, studies have shown that people’s evaluations of wine are significantly higher if they’re told it is expensive before tasting. Similarly, learning the quality brand name of a food before sampling often leads to improved perceptions of taste and satisfaction. 

In each case the information, be it about the price or the brand, is presented prior to sampling the product at hand. But what happens if that same information is presented after, rather than immediately before, sampling? And what are the implications for your business when it comes to presenting information to your clients and customers? 

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 By Steve MartinStrength

For nearly seventy years scientists who study the persuasion process have consistently revealed a simple, yet remarkable truth; when it comes to effectively influencing others, small changes can make a big difference.

Examples abound, from the subtle adjustments made to a meeting room environment that lead to improved business outcomes to the addition of an extra option that spawns disproportionate responses to an offer. In the case of adding an extra option, it is interesting to note new research that suggests, in certain contexts, the additional option to an offer doesn’t even have to be substantive.

Simply offering people the option to ‘do nothing’ can have a surprising influence on how committed they subsequently become to that choice over time.

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by Steve Martin


Recent research has found that around 7 in 10 Americans will consult the online reviews of other consumers before making a purchase. I have to admit to being surprised by this. I would have guessed it would have been more. 

Numbers aside though, when making a decision, word-of-mouth communications are valuable for one very important reason; people presume them to be less biased than the carefully crafted communications created by marketers who clearly have a vested interest in influencing our decisions.

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By Steve Martin, CMCT


Benjamin Franklin famously once attempted to win favor with a political adversary by writing him a letter requesting to borrow a rare and valuable book that he owned. A short time afterwards, Franklin reported that this usually stubborn, often hostile gentleman sought him out in the House and spoke to him for the first time. It seems Franklin recognized that, in certain circumstances, asking for assistance can be an effective means of reducing conflict.

But what if you’re not Benjamin Franklin? What about us ordinary folks who ponder the pros and cons of soliciting assistance on a project from an icy-faced colleague, or requesting the help of a grumpy neighbor? Moreover, what about situations where there is no conflict, yet the thought of asking still raises anxiety levels? For example, think about that cute guy or girl on the bus that you admire from a distance but have yet to pluck up the courage to ask out on a date.

Asking can be daunting. Fortunately reassurance is at hand—and from an unlikely source.

If you are the kind of person who views asking as a risky business—one laced with the fear of rejection, embarrassment and a bruised ego—then here are three reasons why you might want to think again, each informed from scientific studies.

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"If the President had to have one advisor with him at all times my nomination would be Bob Cialdini, the world’s most practical social psychologist, and the master of "influence."
Richard Thaler, author of Nudge

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