Persuasion & Influence for Modern Marketers – #4 Authority

In the last post, I talked about social proof and how humans look to their peers for cues about how to act.  The sister principle of persuasion to social proof is ‘authority’.  In other words, people who are viewed as experts are able to persuade and influence because of their perceived expertise.  Note that I said ‘perceived’ expertise.  We tend to judge expertise on things like documents hanging on the wall stating a certain level of education.  We also tend to judge expertise based on what people tell us about themselves.  Those of us who are a bit more skeptical may watch and observe a self-proclaimed expert to determine if the expertise is genuine.  In the end, expertise is a perception and nothing more.

Expertise may also be ingrained in the culture.  For example, my generation was raised to believe that a person with a degree in medicine (MD) is automatically an expert, no questions asked.  Certain professions or levels of education may imply expertise.  Suppose you walk in to a law office and one attorney has a degree from Suffolk County Law School on the wall and another has a degree from Harvard Law School.  You may naturally assume the lawyer with the Harvard degree is more of an expert; a perception that is ingrained in our culture.

How could the Modern Marketer use expertise to exert influence on her target audience?  Promote your internal experts.  Every company has a few experts tucked away.  Find your experts and get them to write a paper, teach a seminar, broadcast a podcast or teach a webinar.  By promoting your experts, you are better able to persuade your target audience to place credibility with your firm over a similar firm that is not perceived to have expertise.  Expertise = credibility = premium pricing.

Consider the 1970’s advertising example from Trident sugarless gum;  “4 out of 5 dentists surveyed recommend sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum“.  Well, dentists are experts right? Certainly if 80% say chew sugarless gum, then I’ll chew it too, by gum.  (sorry I couldn’t resist).

How many times have we seen so-called ‘experts’ appear on the news talk shows when there is some type of political crisis?  Expertise persuades and experts are better able to  influence.  As a marketer, it’s your job to make sure  your target audience perceives people in your firm as experts.

In the next blog, I’ll talk about the 5th principle,  ‘Consistency’.

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