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Marketing Psychology: The Power of Persuasion

Persuasion is a communications technique which is used by businesses to convince consumers that they should take action to complete a purchasing process. It is a skill worth digging into.


Annika Konttinen

lehtori, matkailuliiketoiminta
Senior Lecturer, tourism business
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Anu Seppänen

lehtori, markkinointi ja viestintä
Haaga-Helia ammattikorkeakoulu

Published : 22.09.2022

Have you ever wondered how you desire and buy things that you did not even realise you needed? Or have you been browsing travel sites and suddenly seen a message saying that other people are looking at the same hotel right now, instantly being afraid that you will miss out, unless you act and book the hotel room immediately? Have you seen someone share a recipe for a delicious dish on Instagram and offering a discount code to buy her entire cookbook – and you faithfully following the next steps on the buyer journey?

The power of persuasion at work

The Cambridge dictionary defines the verb persuade as follows: to make someone do or believe something by giving them a good reason to do it or by talking to that person and making them believe it.

Persuasion is a communications technique which is used to convince consumers that they should take action to complete the purchasing process. In persuasion, businesses influence both the actions and attitude of the consumers. Persuasion is about influencing consumers in such a way that they feel as making the decision to buy on their own, although they are being consciously controlled by the marketer.

Being persuaded can mean positive things for the consumer as well. This, in contrast to being manipulated, which is associated with marketers being malign and misleading, consumers being taken advantage of and pressured to do something that does not benefit them.

Being persuasive means that the marketer takes control and knows how to make the customer act in ways that will make him/her ultimately convert and make a purchase. It requires knowing about the motives and values, beliefs and lifestyles of the customer, the target audience. But something more is needed in persuasion.

Give and you will receive

The rule of reciprocity is widely used in marketing, with the purpose to build a bond between a marketer and a consumer. Reciprocity is our human tendency to do a favour – that is, offer something back – after we have received something. This works in many ways.

Consumers are more likely to make a purchase when they are presented with a freebie (for example a cup of coffee or a free trial) or offered coupons for the holidays. Businesses also use reciprocity in lead generation, for example offering a free e-book, free cosmetics samples or a webinar in exchange for a consumer’s email.

When businesses make consumers feel special by personalised service, even in small ways, the customer experience is lifted to another level and becomes more memorable. When the customers like what they get, they become hungry for more. This makes the business relationship durable in the longer run, increasing customer loyalty. As they say, we tend to stick to what we have already chosen, Thus, we rarely change our habits or brands.

Fear of missing out

The cookie jar experiment showed that cookies in scarce supply were considered more desirable than cookies in abundant supply. Furthermore, cookies that were scarce because of high demand were rated higher than cookies that were scarce because of an accident.

Consumers tend to see a scarce product more valuable as it is possible to sell out soon and will often leave the consumer feeling anxious for not buying the product in a limited time. This uneasy feeling of not grabbing the awesome offer is called FOMO – fear of missing out.

Marketers use different techniques to trigger our minds with FOMO feelings. Offers will expire after a certain time and some ads even have included a clock that shows time ticking away. There may also be other people interested in the same product. Others looking at the same hotel at the same time boosts the feeling of scarcity and promotes competition among consumers. If the decision to buy takes too long, you may end up being late. A missed opportunity is often highlighted with You missed it! messages.

Trust at work

Trust is of immense importance in persuasion. We tend to trust the opinions and recommendations of the people we know, like or admire. That is why there is great interest in influencer marketing. If products or services are endorsed by celebrities or powerful influencers – be they mega, macro, micro or nano influencers – we may be persuaded to buy.

We also trust other users and our peers, which is why there is such a buzz around review sites like TripAdvisor when people are making travel plans. We also tend to believe experts and figures of authority as they look like they know what they are doing. For example, if a Formula One driver is endorsing a certain brand of tires or sunglasses, we may easily be persuaded to get a set for ourselves, too, to let some of that stardust and expertise shine on us as well.

When influencers offer us discount codes on top of their authority, likeability and know-how, a double dose of persuasion is directed towards us.

Persuasion is always subtle, but ever so powerful

For businesses, it is a vital skill to sell products and build brands. However, for consumers, living in a media saturated world is quite overwhelming at times. It is good to build marketing knowledge to understand and cope with persuasion.

Next time you notice yourself considering a purchase, stop. Then ask yourself whether you are being influenced by the marketer and if so, are you willing to receive the message?