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How to Be Persuasive: The Authority Principle

We’re nearing the end of a conversation about persuasion. We’ve been examining Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: Science and Practice,” and his six principles (based on psychology) for being persuasive. We’ve already discussed Reciprocation, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, and Liking. While you don’t need to have read about those to begin this one, I would recommend going back and reading them when you are finished.

The next principle is Authority, which is somewhat similar to the previous principle of Liking. While Liking says that we’re more likely to be influenced by people or brands who are like us, authority says that we trust and feel a sense of duty to people and brands that are in positions of authority.

A classic example of this is the brand Furmano’s, which makes Italian-inspired canned tomatoes and tomato sauces. The family that founded the company was actually the Furman family. They added the “o” to the end of their name to make it sound more Italian because their research showed that Italian families were believed to be authorities on tomato products.

The change to the name had nothing to do with the product, only the perception that customers had of the company’s authority. Today, they are still a leader in the tomato product industry.

As with the principle of Liking, this principle is important when you are thinking about which people are going to represent your product, brand, or idea. This could be sales representatives, or spokespeople, or a company’s CEO, or the models in your ads. Do the members of your audience believe these people are authority figures? Do they trust them?

Think about famous spokespeople. Michael Jordan for Nike. Jennifer Hudson for Weight Watchers. Michael Jackson for Pepsi. These endorsements were so successful because these people are perceived to be experts on athletic performance, living a healthy lifestyle, and well, being the King of Pop. (Get it, “pop”?)

The companies chose these individuals because they were considered authorities in their specific fields. By associating their authority with these products, audiences are led to feel a sense of trust toward the products also.

If you want to be influential or persuasive, you might consider if you are an authority figure for your cause. If you are a college senior and you are going to talk to incoming college freshmen, you will probably be considered an authority. But if you are a college senior applying for a job after school, you probably aren’t an authority. This is why one might ask their college advisor to write them a recommendation and lend her authority to your cause of finding employment.

Have you experienced or used this principle? We’d love to hear about it in the comment section below. The last principle we’re going to look at is Scarcity.