Cialdini's 6 Weapons of Persuasion (and how to use them in Web Marketing)

In 1989 it was published with Giunti The weapons of persuasion. How and why you end up saying yes, by Professor Robert (Bob) Cialdini (whose bio can be found on Wikipedia:

Since then, this manual, which can be considered one of the most influential texts on the subject of persuasion, has undergone numerous reprints and revisions by the same writer, who is considered today one of the world's leading experts in social psychology.

Those who work in the field of communication, offline or online, or are salespeople, should devote themselves to reading it at least once, but also all those who want to know the six levers of persuasion to use them to their advantage or simply, understand the motivation for certain decisions. 

In fact, we often don't realize (or don't want to) how we are influenced, convinced, persuaded to take actions that, without the right emotional drive, we would never even consider.

Have you ever happened, at least once in your life, to buy a product you didn't want at all from a door-to-door salesman, just because you let yourself be convinced by some more or less sensible argument? And how many times in the street have you signed a petition in support of a noble cause, and then found yourself unwilling to give money?

In his book, Cialdini explains which are the six levers used not only by merchants, but also by many associations, beggars or simple friends who have every interest in making us perform a certain action.

So let's go over the 6 laws of persuasion and their practical application in Web Marketing.

The 6 laws of persuasion (+ applications in web marketing)


Reciprocity leverages the unconscious need we feel to return a favor received. Cialdini gives several examples in his book to help us better understand the concept. Personally, there were two that struck me in particular. The first is the one concerning the devotees of Krishna.

Their faith leads them to live on the streets begging, dressing and moving in rather eccentric ways, which in most cases annoy passers-by. Krishna devotees live on alms, but they can hardly get anything from people. So at some point, they began to exploit the principle of reciprocity in the simplest way possible. Instead of asking for money, they gave passers-by a flower, who felt obliged to reciprocate (even if against their will) the gesture by giving them a few coins.

The principle of reciprocity is also exploited in many other situations. The other example that Cialdini gives in his manual is that of a girl whose car broke down. A boy her age helped her and she, very grateful, admitted that she would have gladly returned the favour. Said and done, a short while later he showed up at her door asking if he could lend her the car. She reluctantly agreed, but felt she had to return the favor. He didn't have a license or insurance, so he wrecked her car.

The principle of reciprocity should not induce us to return a favour when we have to do it with a much higher currency. It is fine to be grateful, but without exaggerating and above all by considering whether it is not perhaps the case to repay with a much smaller gesture. Did a friend help you when your car got stuck? Offer him a beer or a pizza, that is as far as your possibilities go.

Reciprocity in web marketing

How to apply the principle of reciprocity in web marketing?

For example, by granting free content, ebooks, coupons or discount codesthat make the person who receives them feel obliged to reciprocate, either with a simple social share, a thank you email, or even by purchasing a future product.

Commitment and consistency

The principles of commitment and consistency go hand in hand. The more a person commits to a certain path, such as respecting the environment, the more consistent they will tend to be with their decisions.

Consistency is considered a very valuable skill. No one ever trusts a person who is inconsistent, often changes his mind and fails to carry out a decision.

Those who want to get something from you know this mechanism well and exploit 100% your need to feel consistent with the decisions made in the past, carrying them out with commitment and conviction.

An experiment brought to light in the book " The weapons of persuasion"by Dr. Cialdini, is the one conducted in America. People were asked to place a large sign in their garden, with the words "drive carefully". Needless to say, despite the nobility of the cause, very few people agreed to "plant" something so conspicuous and unsightly.

The same experiment was conducted using the principle of commitment and consistency. Before making the proposal of the sign in the garden, some experimenters asked people if they were willing to put a sign in the garden. a little sign in the window, always telling people to drive safely.

76% of people agreed, deeming it a small gesture. These same individuals began to bring a new pattern of ideas into their lives. They began to see themselves as people who cared about road safety. They had taken a small step, showing that they were sensitive to the subject.

When subsequently the same experimenters came to the door asking to put the flashy sign in the garden, in order to appear consistent with past decisions, they said YES'. In both cases, however, it was a decision made by them, which did not cause second thoughts as it reflected their past commitments, in which they now believed.

Commitment and Consistency in Web Marketing

Two possible applications of the principle of commitment and consistency in web marketing can be upsell and fill out a contact formLet's see how.


Upsell is a technique in which the seller induces the customer to purchase a more expensive version of the product, an upgrade or additions. The application of the commitment and consistency principle is evident by seeing where the Upsell occurs, which is often in the purchase phase, when the customer has added the product to the cart for example, and is in a purchase commitment phase.

How to use engagement and consistency to capture more contact data

Commitment and consistency can also be used for capture multiple contact details of a user in a contact form in a context of Lead Generation.

Let's assume you want to collect a set of data from a user, such as first name, last name, email address, phone number...instead of asking for them all at once, creating an overly long contact form, you can:

  1. ask for only one or two fields, such as name and email address;
  2. On a subsequent screen, ask for more fields.

Essentially it is about divide the contact form in 2, asking for a part of the data in the first screen and the other part in a second, with two obvious advantages:

  • By seeing few fields to fill out, the user will have more incentive to do so, thus increasing the conversion rate;
  • once the initial screen has been filled in, the user, based on commitment and consistency, will be more likely to continue entering missing data, because they have started, committed to a process;
  • even if you don't fill in the second screen, we will still have enough user data (name and email address for example) to contact you later with Lead Nurturing.

Social proof

The lever of social proof (Social Proof) is one of the most widely used. Many studies have been conducted on this subject. It is essentially based on the principle of imitating others when we have absolutely no idea how to behave in a situation.

Laughing at a not particularly brilliant joke only for everyone around to burst into a big laugh, buy a specific product because it is the one most purchased by the average person

There are many companies, online or offline, that exploit social proof to induce people to make a particular gesture. They go to touch the most intimate chords of a person undecided whether to make a particular purchase or not, showing how to all before her, opted to buy it and are now fully satisfied with it.

A person who did not know what to do, will be convinced of the goodness of the purchase only when he will have the certainty that many others before him have already tried it remaining satisfied.

Today, then, that we are in the era of free and accessible communication, those who before buying a product do not look for the reviews of other consumers online? The more positive these are, the more we will feel encouraged to proceed with the purchase.

Social proof in Web Marketing

How to apply the rule of social proof in web marketing? For example by exploiting the persuasiveness of numerical figures.

In the example below, taken from a Groupon coupon page, indicating the number of people who have already purchased the coupon acts as social proof:

social proof groupon web marketing

Facebook and social proof

Other ways to exploit social proof in web marketing? For example, by inserting the Page Plugin (Ex Like Box) of Facebook on your page, which stimulates social proof by indicating the number of likes and showing the faces of our friends (if we are logged in and some of our friends have clicked like on the Page):

page plugins


When you find a nice person, aren't you more willing to listen to them and spend time with them? On the contrary, if you really can't digest someone, don't you try to get rid of them as soon as possible?

Marketers use this weapon of persuasion very well. Their aim is to appear pleasant and likeable, so that they can hold a conversation with us and convince us of the goodness of their intentions (and especially of their products).

Let's take the example of a door-to-door salesman who offers encyclopedias. His income is based on how many products he manages to sell. Once he's managed to make himself welcome in the home of the potential customer, he'll have to make sure he's likable.

One of the ways to establish affinity with a perfect stranger is to find points in common. For the door-to-door salesman it will be quite easy, since he is in the person's house and can understand at a glance if he is for example a fan of paintings, if he has children (maybe from the photos), if he is a collector or prefers certain types of objects.

However, Cialdini identifies many other elements that affect the mechanism of sympathy. Such as the beauty, a physical or moral resemblance, mutual sympathy... etc. In addition, a person who brings us good news rather than bad news will be much more sympathetic.

Sympathy in web marketing

More than "sympathy" we should speak here of empathy. To apply this law of persuasion in web marketing we can make sure to suggest to our potential customer that "we are in the same boat", that we belong to the same environment, social status.

"I've been there."

A technique often used in the landing page is the "I've been there" storytelling. Imagine, for example, that you are selling a slimming product: to exploit the principle of sympathy, you could empathize with the reader, describing how your situation was like his and how, with the same product, you got out of it.

Here is an application example from a landing page...a bit splattery ;):

sympathy web marketing cialdini

"We belong together"

Another possible application of the sympathy principle is to suggest that the customer and the salesperson share the same scope, industry, and therefore values and goals.

For example, you could apply this method by adding to your site some trade association logos.


Among Robert Cialdini's weapons of persuasion, the principle of authority stands out. The professor, through an interesting series of examples, shows us how all we are always more willing to listen to a person of authority, or who appears to be one. Cops, professors, doctors, school administrators...

When an authoritative person gives advice or expresses an opinion, we are always more inclined to listen and, if necessary, take their words seriously. This respect towards authorities has been imposed on us since childhood. It is normal to recognize some people as authorities, but unfortunately this principle is often exploited to the detriment of others.

Companies and freelancers aim to establish themselves as authoritative voices in their field. When they are actually professionals who know how to do their jobs, it certainly doesn't do anyone any harm and the principle laid out by Cialdini is exploited in the right way.

The problem is when the principle of authority is used by people who do not have the qualification and skills to do so.

A very interesting experiment was conducted by Stanley Milgram at Yale University. He placed an ad claiming to be looking for volunteers for a memory experiment.

One student had to play the role of the teacher, the other always represented a student, who had to memorize different pairs of words within a sheet of paper in a defined time frame. The student was actually an assistant.

During the experiment, when the student/assistant made a mistake in pronouncing one of the words in pairs, the teacher/student had to release a shock with the machine strapped to the partner's arm (they were in two separate rooms and could not see each other). As he/she made mistakes, the shock increased in intensity.

As the tremors increased, a recorded tape sent screams of pain that were heard by the teacher/student. But the real teacher would ask them to continue. People's 65%, even with obvious signs of discomfort, would give a potentially deadly shock just because a college professor commanded them to do so.

A university professor clearly has no power to order such a thing, appure, by the authority he possessed within the Institute, the student was unable to rebel against the wrong order and carried it out anyway.

It is essential, therefore, to defend ourselves against the principle of authority, recognizing when the person in front of us really has the power to command us a certain thing or not.

Authority in web marketing

An important point to make is that "authority" in web marketing means an authority perceived as such: To exploit this principle we can for example insert perceived authority figures in our industry. 

And if we lack testimonials? We can still apply the principle of authority with a small stratagem: inserting, for example, a quotation from an important source not on our product, but on the benefits it brings or on one of its components.

Let's assume again that we are selling a slimming product based on an herb, which we will call with a fancy name "Abre" (acronym of "grass"). There it is we could include on our site a quote from Dr. OZ (perceived authority on weight loss) stating that "Abre grass is the modern solution to overweight problems" or an excerpt from a study in a major medical journal.


The last of Robert Cialdini's weapons of persuasion is the principle of scarcity. Have you ever been in a hurry to buy an item just because you were told it was the last one available in the store? Merchants use the scarcity principle to sell a product immediately, without giving the buyer time to think too much.

They appeal to our need to get what we want, but more importantly, to the afraid of losing him. Cialdini demonstrates how we all tend to place a vastly higher value on things that are unavailable. Just take a look at collectors. The rarer and more unobtainable an item is, the more they are willing to spend to get it.

Traders use this leverage to their advantage, perhaps to sell a particularly expensive item or one of the last remaining models.

Scarcity in web marketing

Let's pick up the coupon from earlier ( did you get hungry?;-) ).

scarcity cialdini web marketing

As you can see, there is a scarcity of time. There can be 3 types of scarcity:

  1. scarcity of time: there is little time left to make the purchase (as in the case of Groupon);
  2. shortageThis is the case of the few remaining pieces (such as in;
  3. lack of access: the product is not for everyone, but for example only for registered users (such as


How do you apply Cialdini's rules of persuasion? Let's talk about it in the comments. And remember, if you haven't read it yet, read Robert Cialdini's The Weapons of Persuasion!

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