Persuasion & Startups

This video was a nice reminder of what motivates people in life. I dig the animation, but I did think that the examples were kind of naff. In the spirit of de-naffing – I thought I’d list out the 6 key motivators, and then give an example of how a startup can employ it in a cool way that makes sense.

According to the science these are the key drivers that persuade people to take action.

  1. Reciprocity
  2. Scarcity
  3. Authority
  4. Consistency
  5. Liking
  6. Consensus

Reciprocity: Be the resource first. Give to an audience something valuable, without asking for anything in return. Advice, information, news, utility. When I think of this, I think about the freemium model. I think about Google serving data points and monetizing later. How can your startup help in the first instance?

Scarcity: One of my favourite marketing strategies is when brands who know they have something cool and limit the distribution of their thing. Invites to Google+ and Pinterest come to mind, as does the retail strategy of many premium goods. This also has an important impact on our ability to price more profitably.

Authority: People want to deal with experts. One thing smart startups can do these days is build credentials in related spheres to what they sell. Smart brands do thought pieces on their industry, share intimate knowledge they have learned, and even give away perceived trade secrets. This is a smart way to fast track reputation and gain authority. A company blog is a great start. Talking at relevant industry conferences, getting articles published and mini doco’s are also great ways of developing a brand as an authority. Another old school method is gaining borrowed interest via sponsorships.

Consistency: In a world of exponential change and category fragmentation, it would be easy to think we desire unique and changeable experiences. But the opposite is true. While our tastes are becoming more niche, every niche experience we have we want to be consistent with our expectations. In technology Apple does it extremely well with their interface. But the true master would have to be McDonalds. When it comes to homogeneity of experience, they are the true masters. A simple question we can ask ourselves is this: How will the system we are building facilitate a ritual? Humans are creatures of habit and certainty – brands that serve this, have a chance at generating loyalty.

Liking: While this doesn’t appear in many strategy documents, people do business with people they like. The science says we like people and companies that are similar to us, and co-operate with us. When it comes to startups, a fast track to doing this is to personify the brand. Have a set of values that people can relate to, to stand for something politically and environmentally. The days of corporate fence sitting and both party political donations are over. The best way to be likable is to take a stand and find the people who value what we do. The others are irrelevant.

Consensus: With humans being social animals, we look for decision validation within our reference group. This doesn’t mean that the wisdom of crowds is right. In fact, it might mean the wisdom of a closed group of people we trust. My best current example is that the popularity of Facebook and its ever growing user base assures me that it isn’t right for me.

While it is hard to do all of these, it’s a nice reminder of the type of activity we need to undertake to inspire people to take action.

What are some of the methods that you’ve used?


Don't do your homework

I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the most important thing I have ever not done, is my homework at school. Most of grade school and high school, I basically didn’t do my homework. I knew it was due the next day. I worried a little, but not enough to actually do it.

While other kids were doing their homework after school, I was out playing with the other kids, getting up to mischief. Riding my BMX, playing games (footy, cricket, building tree houses etc). I can home late, often. Mum would yell at me and I had to think of an excuse as to why I was late. I would have to provide at least some kind of creative response. Then after dinner I’d be too tired to do my homework. So I’d promise myself I’d get up early and do it in the morning. When morning arrived I’d be too tired to do it then either… In short the homework would rarely get done. Almost never. When I got to school, the same charade would occur. That is, me thinking of creative reasons why my homework was not getting done. Firstly to the teachers to try and avoid an after school detention. Again later, explaining to my mother why I ‘had’ an after school detention. In hindsight it was all a little stressful. Thinking on my feet for answer. Answers I didn’t have at such a young age, with little fast thinking experience.

Turns out this was a pretty good career move, or even ‘life skill’.

In the end, years of being naughty, taught me how to do something far more valuable than having high grades in senior school. It taught me how to think on my feet and how to present to an audience that wants answers. But it also did a lot more than that. Eventually it showed me how to read the play on different peoples reactions to bad news, that rules could be broken if you could sell an alternative.

It even goes a little deeper when I think it through….

I wasn’t just watching TV when I wasn’t doing said homework. I was out in the street playing. Building things with other kids. Under taking projects, playing games and interacting. Doing real things with real people. Operating in ‘live’ human environments, where the results, in this case the ‘fun’, was based on my ability to motivate other kids and organize them. All this, rather than spending my after school day light hours memorizing a bunch I’ve crap that someone had deemed it important for me to regurgitate in some test.

And now as the years have passed I’m reasonably certain that the key to any success I’ve had in life has been due to my ability to influence people. I’m also pretty sure that not doing my homework was where it all started.


What drives people

I had an interesting discussion with a child psychologist yesterday. He was telling me that one theory says there are three main motivators for all human behaviour. I am sure there are a zillion counter theories, but I really think this can be useful for anyone working in the ‘influence’ arena.

The three motivators are based around the desire for:




The theory states that 2 of the 3 will be very important to us, while 1 of them will be very low on impacting our behaviour. It also says that this operates at a very deep subconscious level. Without knowing too much about, I already think I could pick what motivates many people I deal with in business. It might also be worth thinking about next time you’re negotiating something or working on a project with others.