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The Science of Influence: Applying Cialdini's Principles to Business Strategy

How Cialdini's Principles Can Set Your Business Apart from the Competition


When Robert Cialdini's book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion was first published in 1984, it received significant acclaim and had a profound impact on the fields of psychology, marketing, and sales.

Influence was full of groundbreaking research and compelling examples illustrating how people can be influenced to comply with requests or make certain decisions.

Ahead of our Influence at Work masterclass with Steve Martin on June 21, co-author with Robert Cialdini of Yes! 50 Secrets from the Science of Persuasion, let’s revisit Cialdini's influence principles and consider how they might be integrated into business strategies for increased influence, customer satisfaction, and overall success.

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Overarching idea behind “Influence”

Cialdini's "Influence" explores the psychology behind persuasion. It uncovers six universal principles—reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity —that shape human decision-making.

By understanding these principles, we can become more aware of how we ourselves are influenced, and learn to use them ethically to persuade others to behave in certain ways. 

The Principle of Reciprocity

If someone buys us dinner, gives us a present, or invites us to a party, we immediately feel that we should try to repay, in kind, what the other person has given us.

In fact, we feel so obliged to do so, Robert Cialdini points out that the term “much obliged” is a way of saying thank you.

As a marketing technique, reciprocity is highly popular. Businesses regularly offer free samples of everything from food to skin care, and many of us have received small gifts from charities in the mail.

Each time we are triggered to reciprocate. Cialdini says there is strong cultural pressure (that goes back to our earliest ancestors) to pay back the debt – whether we wanted the gift or not. 

Ideas for action to include more reciprocity

Use your strategic thinking time to brainstorm ways you can ethically include the principle of reciprocity in your business.

·       Provide value-added resources. such as eBooks, whitepapers, guides, or tools. By providing valuable content without expecting an immediate return, you establish goodwill and reciprocity.

·       Personalised customer service. Go above and beyond in customer service interactions. By demonstrating genuine care and helpfulness, you can foster reciprocity.

·       Exclusive Offers and Rewards. Implement loyalty programs or exclusive offers for repeat customers. By rewarding their loyalty, you create a sense of reciprocity.

·       Thoughtful Gifting and Samples. Surprise customers with unexpected gifts or samples related to their interests or past purchases.

·       Social Responsibility Initiatives. Engage in socially responsible initiatives, such as supporting charitable causes or environmental sustainability efforts. By demonstrating a commitment to making a positive impact, you can elicit reciprocity from customers who share similar values.

The Principle of Commitment and Consistency

Inconsistency is commonly thought to be an undesirable personality trait, says Cialdini. Good personal consistency is highly valued in our culture.

We use consistency to shortcut our decision-making. Once we have made up our minds about an issue, we can go about our business without having to think too much.

So, if you can get someone to make a commitment, they will have a natural tendency to be consistent with that commitment.

They become “the kind of person who does this sort of thing” and they will stick to it. 

Ideas for action to include more commitment and consistency

·       Consistent Brand Messaging: It reinforces their initial commitment to your brand and strengthens their connection with it.

·       Opt-in and Subscription Models: Once they commit to a trial or subscription, they are more likely to continue using the product or service.

·       Reviews and Endorsements: Encourage customers to publicly endorse your brand or product. By making their support visible, they are more likely to remain consistent with their endorsement and actively promote your business to others.

The Principle of Social Proof

In uncertain situations, people tend to “follow the herd” and look to others for guidance. You see this when people join a long queue outside one gelato shop and ignore the nearly empty ice-cream shop next door.

This is “social proof” and it holds significant implications for businesses seeking to grow their customer base and influence consumer behaviour.

Online reviews, ratings, and testimonials serving as powerful forms of social proof. And Cialdini points out that social proof works more powerfully when we are observing the behaviour of people just like us.

Ideas for action to include more social proof

  • Case Studies and Success Stories: Showcasing stories of customers who have achieved remarkable results or benefits from using your product or service is a compelling social proof strategy.
  • Industry Recognition and Awards: External accolades act as social proof, validating the quality and credibility of your offerings.
  • Social Media Followers and Engagement: Large social media followings demonstrate social proof, indicating that many people trust and engage with your brand.
  • Influencer Marketing: By partnering with these individuals, you tap into their credibility and leverage their social proof to promote your products or services.

The Principle of Liking

People are more likely to comply with requests and engage in business transactions with individuals they like and perceive as similar to themselves.

In a business context, building likability can lead to increased customer loyalty, referrals, and overall business growth.

When customers perceive your staff as friendly, relatable, and trustworthy, they are more likely to engage positively with your brand.

Ideas for action to include more liking

  • Personalised Customer Interactions: Establish genuine connections with customers by showing empathy, active listening, and personalised attention.
  • Brand Storytelling: Use storytelling to humanise your brand and create an emotional connection with customers.
  • Employee Advocacy: Employees who genuinely like and believe in the brand can help cultivate a positive perception and likability among customers.
  • Show How You’re Similar to Them: Highlight commonalities and shared interests between your brand and your target audience.

The Principle of Authority

The principle of authority, as described by Robert Cialdini, suggests people have a natural inclination to obey and respect those perceived as authority figures.

“We are trained from birth that obedience to proper authority is right and disobedience is wrong.”

In a business context, leveraging authority can significantly impact credibility, influence, and ultimately, business growth.

One way to utilise the principle of authority is by establishing thought leadership in your industry.

Ideas for action to include more authority

  • Media Mentions and Public Relations: Seek opportunities to be featured or quoted in industry publications, online media, or news outlets.
  • Thought Leadership: Publish informative content such as articles, blog posts, whitepapers, or videos that demonstrate your authority in the field.
  • Industry Partnerships and Collaborations: Engage in joint ventures, co-marketing efforts, or strategic partnerships that enhance your brand’s authority by association.

The Principle of Scarcity

“Limited Time Offer!” According to Cialdini, people perceive limited availability or exclusivity as more valuable and desirable.

For instance, a luxury fashion brand may release a collection of handbags with only a limited number available for purchase.

This heightens excitement and a sense of urgency in customers as businesses tap into their desire to possess something rare or exclusive.

Ideas for action to include more authority

  • Limited-Time Offers and Promotions: Tell customers of a product or service’s limited availability, motivating them to make a purchase or take advantage of the deal before it expires.
  • Exclusive or Limited-Edition Products: Highlight the uniqueness, rarity, or special features of these offerings to generate a sense of scarcity and desirability.
  • Waitlists and Pre-Orders: Builds anticipation and you create a sense of exclusivity and scarcity.
  • VIP or Membership Programs: Limit access to certain perks to a select group of customers to foster a sense of exclusivity and scarcity.


The Cialdini principles of influence provide valuable insights into human behaviour.

They are also powerful tools that can be used by businesses to shape customer decisions, drive engagement, and ultimately grow their businesses.

In a specially developed 90-minute session for Growth Faculty, international bestselling author and influence researcher Steve Martin will take you on a journey to the science of effective and ethical influence.

Book now for Steve Martin – Influence At Work: How to Persuade People in Effective, Ethical and Sustainable Ways.

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