Persuasive design according to Cialdini’s 6 principles – pt2
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Persuasive design according to Cialdini’s 6 principles – pt2

on / by Guido Jansen

Persuasion is an attempt to change attitude or behavior (or both) without using coercion or deception
—BJ Fogg, 2003

This is my second post on the persuasive selling techniques of Cialdini, design, and user-testing. I talked about the first three principles in my first post in detail, and will talk about the last three principles here. Last time I wrote:

If you’re into website testing, you may have read about psychological persuasion techniques and maybe even read the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion from Robert Cialdini. Cialdini is professor in Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and in his meta-research he found six very persuasive selling techniques or Weapons of Influence, as he calls them.

The research from Cialdini is about human behavior in general, but human behavior is found to be very consistent across different media. Therefore we can apply these phenomena to websites and can test these principles with Usabilla.

Let’s get on with the final principles of persuasive design!


When an authority (institution or person) says something, people are more open to what they have to say, compared to when someone unknown would say the same thing.

Where Social Proof is more about the quantity of people promoting a product (‘how many’), with Authority it’s more about the quality (‘who’).

Offline applications

Commercials using famous people (movie or TV celebrities, political figures, sportsmen) call on this principle. You already know those people, so the product or service that they are promoting should be ok right? We also (usually) show more respect to people wearing a uniform or a white coat because that implies authority or high level of education.

Online applications

All trustmarks like ‘McAfee Secure’, ‘PayPal Verified’ or ‘Verisign’ apply to this principle. And just like offline, you can use well-known people to promote your products. These can be famous people, but mostly they won’t have such a strong link to the product. You can also use people that are well known in your industry en get them to promote your product.

Some often used and recognized rust logo’s
Some often used and recognized rust logo’s

Remote testing ideas

You can test ‘persuasion through authority’ the same way as you can test social proof. Place some elements that present authority around your call to action and see what happens.

Also play around with versions that have authoritative elements and those who don’t have these items. Authoritative elements can be video’s, testimonials, pictures, etc. If all else fails, use a picture of someone with a suit (or a white coat if you’re into healthcare products), and see what that does.

Actualinsights did an amazing remote test on trust and logo’s which is also inspirational.


We’d rather buy something from someone we like and know, than from a stranger or someone who isn’t that likeable.

Offline applications

Ever gone to an exhibition or conference? Take a look at the people around a big stand. You will see that the company hired some (good looking) people (mostly women) to get people interested. Once they succeed, the customer gets to talk with the actual businessmen that know about the product or service being sold.

When you like someone you’re more likely to listen to what they have to say. ‘Liking’ can be that they are generally good looking, but can also mean that you have a lot in common. You like your friends so when they recommend stuff you’ll be very likely to at least listen carefully to what they have to say. The whole Tupperware party concept is based on this principle.

Online applications

Granted: getting people to like you through just a computer screen is quite difficult. You can try pictures/video’s of likeable people in your company talking about your product or getting people to like you using humour in you communications.

Mailchimp has a funny monkey mascot talking to you
Mailchimp has a funny monkey mascot talking to you

What would work even better is using the friendships of the customers you already have and let them promote the product among their friends. Letting customers share their purchases with their friends on Facebook is a great example.

Remote testing ideas

Start off with a brainstorming over elements that make you more likable on your website. Implement them en compare the general perception your users have of your site before and after the implementation. Also, try including some humorous phrases or images on your pages to see how it affects how people perceive your brand.


If everyone has access and can buy as many items as they like, it’s not that interesting. If you limit access and have a limited number of items, people start getting interested.

Offline applications

In the Social Proof section I told you about the long lines outside Apple stores when they launch a new product. What enhances the buzz even further, is that Apple always produces less products than the immediate demand. There is always a shortage of their products in the weeks after the product launch!

Apple tell us this is because of unexpected demands and issues with production, but it actually is a great marketing trick. In order to launch successfully, you will need to sell your product to the majority of people wanting it. But if there is a real chance that the customer can’t get a product because it’s sold out for weeks, that customer will gladly stand in that line!

Online applications

You can create scarcity in a variety of ways. Scarcity in stock is probably the obvious one, but also think about limitations in time (daily deals like Groupon) or access (private sales). Limiting the customers access to your products might seem scary to merchants but for many it works like a charm. You can also setup a second shop to try this principle.

Remote testing ideas

See if you can get more attention when you include scarcity items in your page. Ask ‘What grabs your attention?’ or ‘What product would interest you?’.


Cialdini mentioned ‘only’ 6 psychological phenomena that he found as the most persuasive in his meta-research. But there are many (many!) more of these psychological phenomena you can integrate in your website and test with Usabilla. Think about the Choice paralysis, the power of ‘because’, perceptual contrast (framing), the aesthetic usability effect… Well, I could go on for a while.

If you like this article, let us know in the comments and you might persuade me to write some follow-up articles around this subject ;)

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Article by

Guido Jansen

Guido Jansen is Senior Conversion Consultant at Online Dialogue. Trained as a cognitive psychologist, Guido enables e-commerce companies worldwide to sell more by improving the customer's experience and the company's optimization process in a more scientific way.

Share your thoughts

  • Gavin

    Loved this article and part 1. I would really like to see part 3.

  • Guido Jansen

    Thx Gavin, I’ll see what I can do for you… ;)

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