Berger: Recognize and use the invisible influence we have to persuade

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Jonah Berger speaks at 2017 MMA Annual MeetingThe behavior of others subtly and constantly influences our own, and can compel us to act, Wharton School marketing professor Jonah Berger told local officials during the keynote session of the MMA’s Annual Meeting on Jan. 20.
 
The key is learning to recognize influence – both in others and ourselves – and understanding how to leverage it to persuade others, Berger said.
 
The author of the bestsellers “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” and “Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior” said influence can be used to build consensus, negotiate for better results, and introduce new ideas without making them so different that people fear them.
 
Berger showed a video he shot for the show “Brain Games,” where a woman sitting in a waiting room is surrounded by actors who stand whenever a beep goes off. Rather than ask why, she quickly begins following the others, and continues the behavior even after all the actors have left the room. She then spreads the behavior to new people (non-actors) who arrive, saying she believes it’s what one is supposed to do in that particular waiting room.
 
“Others provide a useful source of information,” Berger said, pointing out that standing ovations start with people in the front of the room, or that people choose where to eat in a foreign city based on which restaurant is crowded.
 
“Want to build consensus?” he asked. “Speak first. If you speak first, other people are much more likely to follow you.
 
“Make sure that if there is consensus, that consensus is visible. If most of the group supports something, have there be a vote in the beginning so that everyone else can see that most people support something. Or maybe you’re in the minority but you want to build consensus. Well, then go out and find people that support you and use them to get other people support to you.”
 
To avoid groupthink and bad group decisions, Berger said, voting privately can reduce the influence on others. He suggested having a “designated dissenter” during public discussions to poke holes in arguments, which not only helps avoid groupthink, but signals to other people that it’s OK to share their own opinions.
 
Mimicking others is another way to influence people we are speaking with, Berger said.
 
Researchers found that negotiators who mimicked the body language of the person across from the table, such as leaning back in their chair or crossing their legs, were five times as successful. Similarly, Berger said, waiters who repeat dinner orders to the guest word for word consistently receive higher tips.
 
“It turns strangers into friends,” he said. “It makes us feel like we’re on the same team.”
 
Berger recommended that local officials “think like Goldilocks” when introducing new proposals or ideas in their communities. New ideas shouldn’t be too different or too similar – they need to be “just right,” or somewhere in the middle.
 
Fage brand Greek yogurt, the most popular brand in Greece, came to the United States about eight years before Chobani did, but it didn’t catch on because people weren’t familiar with Greek yogurt sold in large containers. Chobani took Greek yogurt and made it more familiar, packaging it in single serving containers and adding flavors and fruit on the bottom, like the products people were already used to.
 
On the other hand, Apple reinvented the iMac by taking almost the same computer and putting it out in different color cases – the reverse of what Chobani did but with the same successful result.
 
“We can learn something from Goldilocks here,” Berger said. “Too different? Well it’s scary, unfamiliar, I’m not going to do it. Exactly the same as what we’re doing today? No reason to change. But in the middle? Similar but different? That’s just right.”