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How to Be Persuasive: The Scarcity Principle

This is the end of a conversation about persuasion. We’ve been examining Robert Cialdini’s book, “Influence: Science and Practice,” and his six principles for being persuasive. We’ve already discussed Reciprocation, Commitment and Consistency, Social Proof, Liking, and Authority.

We started this journey because we all possess knowledge that others need. Or put another way, no single person possesses all the knowledge they need to make decisions in our modern, market economy. This basic insight called “the knowledge problem,” helped win F.A. Hayek a Nobel Prize.

Whatever the knowledge, if you have ever tried to share what you know, or to convince someone of your position, you might have realized something important: Arguments rarely win arguments.

We need to be able to present information in a way that persuades others. Whether you are trying to explain the ideas of free enterprise, share the Gospel, or help others find their vocation, we all need to know a thing or two about how to be persuasive.

The last principle for being persuasive is Scarcity, which says that things are more attractive when their availability is limited. Scarcity is a word we know from economics. One economist friend of ours, Dr. Anne Bradley, has defined scarcity this way:

None of us can have everything we want when we want it. We live in a world where scarcity is our reality. It doesn’t matter how smart you are, what college you went to, or how organized you are. You still face scarcity. All of your choices bring costs and tradeoffs. Nothing is free.

While this is absolutely true, we often don’t feel the effects of scarcity. If our local store doesn’t have the product we need, the next one probably will or we could order it online. If the restaurant at which we are eating is out of the specific meal we ordered, they still probably have plenty of food so we could order our second choice meal.

Because of this, scarcity is often artificially created. You’ve received those emails—50 percent off everything until midnight! Buy one get one free while supplies last! First 50 orders get a free thingamabob!

This artificial scarcity tends to encourage people to make decisions rather than continue thinking about them. I could think about which car I want to buy for months, but if there is a special sale going on, I’ll probably hurry up and make a choice to capitalize on the savings.

This brings to light another important facet of persuasion that is true in all of these principles, but is particularly relevant here. Persuasion is not manipulation. The latter devalues human dignity.

As another economist friend of ours, Dr. Art Carden, says, trade is made of win. Persuasion likewise, facilitates win-win situations. If I’m in the market to buy a car, the artificial scarcity of a sale may persuade me to make a decision sooner than I would have otherwise, but I win by getting a car and saving money and the car dealer wins by selling me a car.

If I’m in the grocery store wanting to buy a product, as in the example from the first blog in this series, the encounter that is created when the salespersons offers me a free sample of their product might have persuaded me to buy their brand, but it didn’t force me against my will to buy that product.

Many of these examples come from the world of marketing, but these principles of persuasion can absolutely be applied in a variety of circumstances in which you might find yourself. Think about them when you are blogging, giving a presentation, or interviewing for a job.

I bet you’ve experienced many of these in your life already, and maybe even used them without thinking about it. Keep us posted if you use any of these techniques in the comment section below, or on Twitter at @ValuesandCap and @Jacque_Isaacs.