Would you like to be more persuasive?

I suppose that’s a given.

But let me ask you this:

Do you have time to learn the principles of persuasion?

Because as entrepreneurs and small business owners, our day is hijacked by endless tasks. It’s hard to fit any non-urgent activities in… even if they’re important.

That’s why I wrote this article; to help time-strapped small business owners learn these principles in minimal time (and actually remember them).

What you’re about to learn is inspired by a man, so well-respected in the field of psychology and influence, that he’s regarded as the “Godfather of Influence”.

And I’ll show you how to apply the Godfather’s persuasive techniques in advertising, specifically.

Robert Cialidini, The Godfather of Influence

Unless your profession is related to marketing, psychology, or copywriting, you probably haven’t heard of Robert Cialdini.

So let’s change that now. In a nutshell:

Dr. Robert Cialdini is the Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University, an award-winning psychological researcher, and New York Times best-selling author (among other distinguished things).

His classic book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion is where the 6 principles mentioned in this article come from.

Cialidini spent years thoroughly researching and testing each of these principles, which have been proven time and time again.

RC’s 6 Principles of Persuasion

Robert Cialdini's Principles of Persuasion

The 6 Principles of Persuasion are:

  • Reciprocity
  • Social Proof
  • Authority
  • Consistency
  • Liking
  • Scarcity

WAIT a minute… that’s a lot to throw at you at once, I know. And I said you’d remember them after reading this.

Was I nuts?

Let me make good on my promise – and tell you how I’ve burned all this into my brain. Ever since I discovered this little trick, I’ve never forgotten them. 

Admittedly, it’s kind of silly. But I don’t care that it’s silly; I only care that it works.

And in this case, what works is the acronym “R-CLASS”.






(S)ocial Proof.

See, just as you might say a fancy basketball dunk is “Lebron-esque”…

… or a certain set of dance moves are Gangnam “style”

… so it is that certain persuasive techniques in advertising are “R-Class”.

The “R” stands for Reciprocity, but for the purposes of recalling the acronym, you can conceive of the “R” as standing for “Robert” (Dr. Cialdini’s first name).

So if you see effective advertising that uses any of these persuasive techniques, you can think to yourself “that’s R-Class”.

Locked 'N Loaded Insight

A simple tool to help you recall Robert Cialdini’s 6 Principles of Persuasion is the acronym “RCLASS” (Reciprocity, Consistency, Liking, Authority, Scarcity, Social Proof).

Are you following me? Good.

Let’s move on to the first principle.

The Godfather’s Persuasion Principle #1: Reciprocity

Handshake with money in background

The principle of reciprocity says that we feel the need to return favours

Think about it – have you ever unexpectedly received a gift or favour from someone, which instantly created a feeling of goodwill towards them? And after receiving that favour, did you want to do something for them in return?

I have. You probably have as well – unless you’re a robot (or so unfortunate that you’ve never received any favours over the course of your life).

Of course, reciprocity can – and should – be used in advertising too. Free offers and giveaways are tools which encourage reciprocation.

Here’s some examples of such freebies (sometimes referred to as lead magnets) you can offer.

But here’s the key: the freebie must have high-perceived value… and truly deliver on that expectation. 

When it comes to persuasion in advertising, offering something free only evokes reciprocity if the giveaway provides meaningful value.

If you consider offering something free, but don’t know with absolute certainty that your prospect will benefit from it, don’t bother. If they don’t receive the value that’s promised (or expected), you risk annoying them and destroying your credibility.

Locked 'N Loaded Insight

Offering something free in your advertising is a good way to leverage the principle of reciprocity – so long as your freebie provides undeniable value (otherwise it could hurt your credibility).

The Godfather’s Persuasion Principle #2: Consistency

Hundreds of identical chairs showing consistency

The principle of consistency says that once we take a position on something, we stick to it.

People who flip-flop on their opinions or decisions are considered by others as “flaky”. Scatterbrained, even. These are, of course, traits that most people don’t want to be associated with.

To avoid these negative associations (in effect striving for consistency), we tend to trumpet evidence which supports a position we’ve taken… while downplaying anything that challenges it.

So, how can you incorporate this need for consistency into your small business advertising strategy?

One way is the “incremental close”. This means throughout your ad copy, you touch on problems that you know for certain your audience has (or ideas they agree with). This way, as they read your ad, they’re identifying with what you’re saying and feeling understood.

For example, take these questions and statements you might see in an ad for a weight loss product:

  • Do you have an important event coming up, and want to look your best?
  • Are you tired trying new diets, watching your weight go up and down like a yo-yo?
  • Put an end to the frustration that comes with every failed diet – and actually keep the weight off once and for all…
  • Imagine opening your closet and being able to wear anything you see – without trying 101 things on

…do you see how these kinds of questions or statements might resonate with people who are struggling with their weight?

Drayton Bird – a legend in direct marketing – refers to this as the “nod factor”. See, you want your reader to be nodding along all the way through to the end of your ad, thinking: “yeah, I am experiencing that” or “that sounds like me”. 

Of course, your ad should end with a Call to Action (CTA). This is where you ask your reader to do something; make a purchase, give their email address, contact you etc…

But the key here (if you’ve done things right) is that your CTA should prompt them to act in a way that’s consistent with what you’ve been saying – and with which they’ve been in repeated agreement throughout your ad.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s a good practice to present your CTA in the 1st person perspective… as if the words are coming out of their own mouth (or from the inner voice in their head).

This is quite effective. ContentVerve observed a 90% increase when a CTA was changed from “Start your free 30 day trial” to “Start my free 30 day trial”.

With that in mind, a good way to write your CTA is to simply fill in this blank:

“Yes, I want to _________________________”

For example, if you are selling a natural hair growth product, your CTA might be “Grow thicker hair without drugs or chemicals”.

Sometimes you may want to add a self-reference in your CTA as well… so instead of just “Grow thicker hair without drugs or chemicals”, you might expand it to “YES! I want to grow thicker hair without drugs or chemicals”.

Locked 'N Loaded Insight

A good way to leverage the principle of consistency in your advertisements is by getting your audience to “nod” in agreement all the way through to the end, then present your Call To Action (CTA) in the first person perspective.

The Godfather’s Persuasion Principle #3: Liking

Person giving a thumbs up

The principle of liking says that we are more likely to comply with the requests of those whom we like

This is hardly a shocker. Nevertheless it’s true – and you should leverage it (ethically, of course).

There are many ways to evoke liking in advertising. The key thing to keep in mind is that you’re never selling to a faceless consumer, or just a name on a list.


You’re selling to another human being. So be real. Show some personality.

I don’t care if you’re selling to another business. Write like you talk – not like a university white paper. No one finds prim, big-worded, “professional” business-speak charming.

That’s why I advocate for humour in advertising, when appropriate. Let me illustrate this with a first-hand example.

Several months ago I drove by a sandwich board, outside a pub near my house. Now, had the sign read something like “Afternoon Special: Beer and Burger – Only $10.00”, I wouldn’t be talking about this right now. I probably wouldn’t even remember what it said a day or two later.

What the sign actually read was much more interesting:

“Husband Daycare: Drop off your husband between 1-4pm for a beer and burger – only $10.00”.

Now isn’t that a heck of a lot more memorable? I don’t know about you, but I appreciated the humour. And I automatically found myself liking these people.

Given the choice between this pub and another with bland advertising, you can bet your bottom dollar I’d have my wife drop me off at “daycare”.

Here are some helpful considerations for using humour as part of your small business marketing strategy.

Locked 'N Loaded Insight

A good way to leverage the principle of liking in your advertising is by injecting some personality into your message. Humour can work wonders (but only use it if you’re certain no one will get offended).

The Godfather’s Persuasion Principle #4: Authority

Judge's gavel

The principle of authority says that we unquestionably trust those who appear to know what they’re doing.

A perfect example of this is in the fitness industry. Many of the top fitness “gurus” parade around their washboard abs and jaw-dropping figures, earning them major endorsement deals. When we see these people touting a product, we believe we too can look like them if we use that product.

What these gurus don’t mention is all the other stuff they do (or take) to achieve their look. Stuff that’s not all that flattering, appealing, or even legal in some cases.

We don’t usually take the time to critically consider these other factors; our B.S. radar is seemingly disabled by the magic of authority.

It’s important to note that authority can come from sources other than celebrities or well-known public figures. In an ad for a wellness product for example, the mention of the word “Doctor” automatically lends some degree of authority.

Take the title/headline of this very blog post for instance:

Persuasive Advertising Techniques from the Godfather of Influence

It’s no accident that I mention the “Godfather of Influence”. I included it to convey authority (surely anyone with that title knows a thing or two about influencing people, right?).

This leads me to the next insight:

Locked 'N Loaded Insight

A great way to leverage authority in your advertising is to use it as early as possible – in your headline!

Do you want to become more authoritative yourself? Here’s the surprising key to becoming an authority.

The Godfather’s Persuasion Principle #5: Scarcity

Single red flower amongst hundreds of yellow ones

The principle of scarcity says that our desire to acquire something increases when it’s hard to come by.

Imagine your flatscreen TV just died (and you can’t even turn the darn thing on anymore!).

You need a new one. So you do some research and zero in on a sleek 60” Samsung model that has great reviews. You plan to go to a few electronics stores to check out their selection and see the TV firsthand. 

First stop: Best Buy.

You get there and tell the 19 year-old sales clerk loitering in the TV section the model you’re interested in. She replies “oh yeah, that’s a very popular tv. Those are selling out fast – just let me check if we even have any left in stock”.

Already you’re starting to feel pressure to buy this Samsung model right now.

After two anxious minutes, she returns and says “Looks like you’re in luck. We’re down to our last unit… would you like to have it?”

Succumbing to the pull of scarcity, you have little choice in the matter. You want this TV, and you feel as though you should get it now – or have to wait longer for it (or risk missing out altogether).

“I’ll take it” you say, satisfied with your impeccable timing. The sales clerk – pleased at the ease of the sale – joyously leads you to the checkout to relieve you of your money…


Scarcity like this can work like magic in your advertisements and webpages. You may introduce scarcity by saying things like:

  • Only “x” units available (limited stock)
  • Offer expires at “y” date (limited buying window)
  • Only “z” clients accepted (limited capacity)

For more instances of scarcity in use, here are 34 clever scarcity examples to skyrocket your conversions

Now, ALWAYS keep this in mind: the scarcity must be legitimate. Don’t fake it. Doing so is not only unethical; it’s bad business.

People aren’t stupid – they’ll catch on quick if you’re creating fake scarcity and exploiting them. Word travels fast, and you’ll branded a fraud for the rest of your days if you’re dishonest.

Ok, you’ve been warned. Let’s move on.

Assuming the scarcity is genuine, is there a way to increase its power?

You bet! To multiply the pull of scarcity, simply do this:

Give a reason why your offer is scarce.

For example:

If you can only take on 10 clients at a time due to your bandwidth, then say it. 

If you’ve only produced X # of units because of production constraints, then mention so.

If you’re making this offer one last time because you’re retiring it to focus on other things, explain just that.

The truth always makes for the best reason why, because it’s believable. As the great advertiser Charles E. Browser once said: 

“Honesty is not only the best policy, it is rare enough today to make you pleasantly conspicuous”.

Locked 'N Loaded Insight

Use scarcity in your advertising whenever you can – but only if it’s legitimate (and explain the reason why the scarcity exists, whenever possible).

The Godfather’s Persuasion Principle #6: Social Proof

Social Proof (icons)

The principle of social proof says that we are influenced (and validate decisions) by what we observe others doing.

Testimonials are a common social proof element used in advertising. But they’re also commonly sub-optimized.

What do I mean? Well, there’s really two things of note.

The first is that many testimonials are vague. This calls their credibility into question. 

When testimonials include specifics, they’re much more believable.

Take these (fictitious) customer testimonials from a company that specializes in fruit distribution:

Weak (non-specific) testimony:

“I always receive my shipment on time, and am very pleased with the taste and quality”

Now compare that with a stronger (more specific) example:

“I’ve been ordering twice a month since 2014 – and not once has the shipment been late. The quality and taste is spot on every time. In fact, I recently convinced my kids (who’ve always hated grapefruits) to try them. I now have to double my order!”

The second way in which testimonials are sub-optimized is when the contact’s identifying information is sparse.

Some testimonials give just the name of the person. Worse yet, some testimonials are accompanied by no identifying information whatsoever! I call those orphan testimonials.

Again, this lack of detail affects the credibility.

As copywriting legend Claude Hopkins wrote in his book Scientific Advertising, “Platitudes and generalities roll off the human understanding like water from a duck. They leave no impression whatever.”

A quick rule of thumb for testimonials: the more detail there is about the person giving it, the better.

Ideally, the person should give their full name, occupation (or position), company name (if applicable), and – to really give it more power – their picture. 

Yes, their picture.

Many businesses feel uncomfortable asking their customers to provide a picture along with their testimonial. However this discomfort is largely unfounded, as satisfied customers are much more agreeable to this than you may think.

It also gives them an opportunity to share a flattering picture they’re proud of (most of us have at least one of those!).

And it’s worth the ask, because a picture adds that final “human” touch that makes their words even more profound… more personal… more real.

For other effective types of social proof, check this out.

Locked 'N Loaded Insight

To make the most out of your testimonials (a common social proof element), ask your customer to be very specific about how you helped them – and also ask for identifying details beyond their name (photos are a BIG advantage).

Ready… Aim… FIRE!

Now that you’re “Locked ‘N Loaded” with new insights, it’s time to pull the trigger.

Start by implementing one – just one – of these persuasive techniques in your advertising efforts. After that you can focus on the next. And so on.

And remember: if you can recall the acronym “R-CLASS”, you can take these principles with you everywhere you go.

Need some help writing persuasive ads? If you’d like to boost your sales with professional copywriting services, get in touch with Double-O Evan.