7 Paths of Persuasion: How to Easily Generate the Buying Impulse


Have you ever been swayed by a good email, landing page, or pop-up?

Do you ever unconsciously take out your wallet because of an enticing offer?

All of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are submitted to marketing and propaganda on a daily basis. It’s estimated that the average adult is exposed to 285-305 forms of advertising a day, 76 of which we notice. It’s also estimated that city dwellers are exposed to an astounding average of 5,000 ads per day and that billboards reach 93% of all Americans.

All of these advertisements are forms of persuasion; they’re a mix of a persuasive copy, imagery, and signals that we inevitably become prey to. The majority of these ads are based on the principals of classical conditioning, where a one-second glance is enough time to associate two things (an attractive person and a product, for example).

We’ve been conditioned—like the animals we are—to keep making these associations until they finally stick. The next time we want to become more attractive we buy that product because it’s top of mind.

coke ad

“People are happy when they drink coke? I want to be happy, I’m going to drink coke.” ~your brain

But when we have more time to invest in advertisements, such as commercials, video pre-loaders, and dedicated landing pages, we can utilize more tactful forms of persuasion.

As marketers, the topic of persuasion is naturally enticing and ends up being our answer to the topic “how are we going to do ‘X’” or “how are we going to increase ‘X’” questions. While there are definitely more than a handful of persuasion tactics, we’re going to take a look at seven in this article.

These ‘paths of persuasion’ work well in both digital and physical marketing formats, making them useful for almost any strategic communication or conversion professional. Below are descriptions of each method, examples of how they work, and advice on how to realistically implement them.

1. Altercasting

Think of your ideal target client — what social role would he or she like to be seen as playing?

Altercasting makes use of people’s natural tendencies to want to live up to others’ expectations.

For instance, if you are attempting to obtain donations for a children’s hospital, you might want to create an emotional headline that essentially encourages readers to adopt a role. Such a headline might say:

You care about children’s health. Make a donation to our hospital today and save a child’s life.”

Using this technique, you’re casting a role (in this case, the caring Good Samaritan role) onto your audience. Psychology tells us that the audience will want to live up to these expectations. Thus, they’ll feel more inclined to agree with the altercasted persona we’ve developed and ‘fulfill’ that role by taking action — making a donation.

Altercasting can be broken into two types:

Manded altercasting – is when a new or existing role is made more prominent and told directly to people. Examples would include “You as a Marketer should…” or “You’re the type of person who values…”

Tact altercasting – is a more passive way of forcing people to accept certain roles through subtle triggers. A good example of tact altercasting would be an advertisement that first depicts an opposite; the people who don’t use our product/service, and then transitions into a message supporting those who do use our product/service.

The KISSmetrics slogan is actually a good example of very subtle tact altercasting: “Google Analytics tells you what’s happening, KISSmetrics tells you who’s doing it.” This instills the benefit of being in a position (role) where we have access to better data reporting on our websites and we might think, “Hey, that would be something we could really use.”

Below is an ad illustrating the altercasting method:

smell like a man


Below is an ad showing how altercasting with reflection can catalyze user behavior:

altercasting reflection


Flaws with altercasting – while inherently good causes are supported well by altercasting, the ‘attractiveness’ of roles can be less effective when the goal and message is not inherently dramatic, profound, or important.

To account for a reduction in importance , the goals and benefits should be toned down accordingly. An app that helps with organization should promise just that; become a more organized person, rather than glorified carpe-diem copy.

2. AAB Pattern

The AAB Pattern takes your readers on a journey through irony. Essentially, you make one statement, make another statement that agrees with the first statement and then add a final statement that contradicts the first two. It’s surprising and, from a marketing standpoint, sticky.

The general flow of the AAB Pattern is kept to a predictable rhythm. Think of it like poetry in motion:

“I love xyz. I find xyz wonderful. But I never buy xyz because they cost too much.”

It sets up your next paragraph nicely, and individuals will tend to read on to find out why you’re being so inconsistent. We’re already predicting ‘B’ to be a continuation of the ‘A’ messages, so this sets the stage for a somewhat dramatic turn of events.

This method is often used in humor and witty ads, where the subject is built up only to have their expectations blown away. Also, the repetition of ‘A’ can be made more than twice to amplify the effect of ‘B,’ along with an ABA Pattern that still uses ‘B’ as the mental tangent but ‘A’ becomes the true goal.

Below is an ad illustrating the ABA Pattern method:

aab example crabs


Flaws with the AAB Pattern method Using repetition to solidify a variant can backfire due to confusion, overload of messages, and unclear call to action. Even if we solidify the ‘B,’ we can still fall short of persuading behavior.

3. Golden Handcuffs

When you’re fearful a potential buyer or user will leave partway through your pitch, ad, or video, make them a middle-term offer that would be difficult to refuse.

For instance, on a landing page for a retailer, you might tell readers that if they sign up for your email newsletter, they will get a valuable coupon of 25 percent off their first order. This encourages them to take the next step and give you their email address, even if they are unsure. You’ve essentially persuaded them through another part of the sales funnel.

The reason this works is because it’s difficult for people to say no to rewards they deem significant. Conceptualized and often associated with the benefits and pay rates one receives at their company, golden handcuffs are the positive enforcers limiting and/or influencing behavior.

Think about what happens when you enter a typical grocery store. You have a general list of items you need, but along your path to get them, you are consistently exposed to deals — and sometimes they are put near the handlebars of shopping carts for us to take immediate notice. Our journey through the aisles is accompanied by savings, discounts, free-samples, and more.

Managers often use this tactic if they feel they might lose key personnel due to a merger or other change. Instead of having a mass exodus, lucrative bonuses are offered to supervisors in return for longer contracts. It’s a bit like dangling a carrot on a stick.

Here is an example of the golden handcuffs method:

123shrink example


Flaws with the golden handcuffs method – Some people associate discounts with lower quality. For instance, the example above could cause skepticism as well as instilling thoughts of it being a poor product. Additionally, by devaluing our services, we can easily lose revenue by offering too much of an incentive or not putting a limit on the number of discounts/golden handcuffs we offer.

4. Isolation

Isolation may have a negative connotation in a social sense because it can easily come off as manipulative. But if you can isolate a target in your marketing, you have a much better chance of turning him or her over to your way of thinking.

In the physical world, isolation is a technique that can be useful in swaying groups of people. When they are isolated from others who might have contrary positions, they tend to adopt “group think.”

In marketing, isolation is a bit more challenging because, well, you can’t control the sites people visit. Also, it takes a deft hand to instill exclusivity, subtle guilt, desperation, and even uncertainty without becoming obvious. These are manipulative tactics that can turn your prospects off, if noticed.

That said, they can really influenced the attitude and behavior of prospects. For example:

  • black-and-white thinking: “There is no ‘maybe’; you’re either with us or against us.”
  • information control: You only show content reminding visitors of an ‘unfortunate’ situation and content enforcing the benefits of the product/service.
  • emotions and doubt: “The people, facts, and figures you trusted are no longer relevant or true — you may have been lied to; this new information will help you though.”

Here is an example of the isolation method:

isolation ppc

Flaws with the isolation method – A few things can happen if the doubt you create or new information you provide is weak or poorly planned. People might flat-out ignore/not believe your ad, people might see the ‘maybe’ we tried to hide, and people may even call us out on it.

5. Higher Purpose

Just about every person has a natural desire to work toward a purpose higher than him- or herself. Whether the purpose is spiritual, political or social, it drives people to do things they might not otherwise want to do. This can include making substantial donations toward causes or funding start-ups.

If you have a product or service, think about the higher purpose it is serving. Then create a marketing campaign around the higher purpose, a la this campaign to conserve H2O:

Here is an example of the higher purpose method:

save water save life example


Some of the most enjoyed commercials — yes, sometimes people actually enjoy commercials — are forms of dramatic ‘higher purpose’ advertisements that heavily play on our emotions/heartstrings. The goal is to leave viewers with a spark of inspiration to do something. Here’s a great example from Bell:

Flaws with the higher purpose method – The only real flaw with the higher purpose method is in delivery. People can be persuaded just as easily in the opposite direction, especially if our content has mixed messages, controversial topics, and overly dramatic imagery.

6. Thought-Stopping

Distraction is not just just a counter to productivity. It’s a tool, and our ability to be distracted is in our nature. When something new enters our vision it immediately starts seeding attention. However, this only lasts as long as it takes us to figure out if the new subject is actually worth our attention.

This is the reason it’s essential to get prospects to stop all their dissuading thoughts and focus on your marketing. To do this, you need to employ reasons for them to stay on your page, read your content or listen to your video.

Your words and images have to be riveting, and you may also want to add some kind of rewards into the mix.

By giving your audience a reason to stop doing what comes naturally to them, you’re giving your marketing a better chance of success. Consider how Thought-Stopping is used by this marketing advertisement:

Here is an example of the thought-stopping method:

thought  stopping


Flaws with the thought-stopping method – Temporal people place a value on their time; it can be spent and wasted. Spatial people are more ‘in the moment’ and view time as more of an experience. It’s the temporal people who are quick to ward off attempts to disrupt their thoroughly planned days and can easily defend themselves against most types of marketing.

7. Special Language

There’s a reason the word “selfie” has been added to Webster’s dictionary: it’s new, it’s evocative and it’s powerful. The term “selfie” is a brilliant concoction, and it’s changed the way we refer to photographs, as well as the act of taking them and their style. This is a prime example of how a piece of “special language” can take hold and build buzz.

Brands may try to combine phrases and keywords in their industry to entice viewers. Our curiosity to learn more about a new term can easily drive clickthrough traffic. One form of special language many of you may be familiar with is hashtags. They’re essentially mashups of keywords for events, trends, and promotions.

Not sure you have what it takes to create a new word? Try this word generator to spark some ideas.

Here are a few examples of the special language method:

special language examples

Flaws with the special language method – Large brands have the convenience of trend-setting with much more ease than small- or medium-sized businesses. Attempts to create fun or funky phrases can cause confusion and disrupt messages meant to convert visitors into customers.

Final Thoughts

Depending on your industry, business size, and audience, different manifestations of these methods may be best suited to your situation. Look at your competitors and pay attention to the marketing and advertising tactics they use to engage.

Most importantly, for any method you implement in a digital setting, always create at least two versions. Testing with tools such as eye-tracking and monitoring performance in your preferred analytics software will ensure you have better insights to act on.

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Jesse Aaron.

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