Mastering Persuasion in Sales, Advertising and PR

December 14, 2014 Content Marketing, Social Influence 2 comments

Master Persuader Zig Ziglar
Sales guru Zig Ziglar was a master in persuasion (courtesy of Attitudes 4 Innovation)

Persuasion is a huge part of our every day lives. It is a major aspect of human-to-human interactions at work, play or school.

Without it, we are unable to get what we want in our interactions with people.  And that certainly sucks.

According to, persuasion can be defined as…

“a symbolic process in which communicators try to convince other people to change their attitudes or behaviors regarding an issue through the transmission of a message in an atmosphere of free choice.”

Breaking this down further, we can see that the art and science of persuasion can be broken down into the following components:

  1. It is symbolic and uses words, images, sounds and other elements.
  2. It involves a deliberate attempt to influence others.
  3. It is not forced on others. In other words, people are not coerced, but are free to choose.
  4. It comprises both verbal and nonverbal messages.
  5. It can be transmitted through various media channels – television, radio, newspapers, Internet, and face-to-face.

As you’d imagine, persuasion is a huge part of our work in the communications triumvirate of sales, advertising and Public Relations (PR).

Persuasive Sales

The best sales persons are often the most persuasive ones. They know when to push the right buttons to convince their prospects to become customers.

A good example is seen in Derek Halpern’s recent experience in skiing. The author of Social Triggers revealed how the operator of a ski equipment outfit used various techniques to convince him to upgrade his purchases. These were broken down into key lessons as follows:

  1. Show concern for your customers. In Derek’s case, the guy implied that he needed a helmet not because of his poor skiing technique, but because he needed to be protected from the person who came after him on the ski slopes.
  2. Offer a free bonus. In Derek’s case, the shop owner offered a fresh code of ski wax for his equipment.
  3. Find ways to understand and overcome objections. A good salesman never stops at a “soft no” but only does so with a “hard no”.
  4. Ensure that you never let your customer lose face in front of friends and strangers. A great salesman puts his customer on a pedestal. He never makes them feel awkward.
  5. Finally, one has to do the ask. If your customer gives you an objection, you should use that to convert into a sale.

In short, as Derek eloquently shared…

“Its never about you, but about your customers. Add bonuses into the mix that people would want. If your customer says “no”, there is a reason for it. You should try to find that reason at all costs. Uncover the real reason and don’t take everything they say at face value.”

Persuasive Advertisements

Unlike sales, advertising is often conducted through a medium like a newspaper, television, radio, website or outdoor space. As such, it lacks that human-to-human interaction of direct sales.

ReadWriteThink offers an interesting way to look at advertising using three Greek philosophies: pathos, logos and ethos. These are described as follows:

Pathos: an appeal to emotion

By now, we ought to know that emotions are powerful triggers for purchase. To persuade potential customers, an advertisement would use pathos to evoke an emotional response. The gamut of emotions triggered range from happiness to anger to sadness to fear.

Examples of advertisements which uses pathos include those which show people enjoying themselves while drinking a Coke, an elderly couple assured that their future is taken care of by Great Eastern (an insurance company), or an angst-ridden teenager needing a quick fix for her acne problem (Clearasil).

Logos: an appeal to logic or reason

Appealing to the “thinking consumer”, an advertisement using logos presents the facts and figures you need to make an informed decision.

Here, infomercials that highlight the superiority of product features like kitchen gadgets or exercise equipment rule. Other good examples include makers of health supplements which quote leading research, and of course toothbrush makers like Oral B.

Ethos: an appeal to credibility or character

In a slight variation from logos, the third factor ethos involves convincing the customer that the company is more reliable, honest and credible than its competitors. Here, trust becomes an important facet of persuasion.

Examples of ethos includes using statistics from third party sources (eg “More dentists brush their teeth with Oral B toothbrush”), or using celebrity and expert endorsements. Just ask any entrepreneur whose product or service was featured on the Oprah Winfrey or Ellen DeGeneres’ shows!

Persuasive Public Relations

Finally, we come to the last but certainly not least function in the communications triumvirate – Public Relations (PR). While sales and advertising works on persuading a potential customer, the key person PR practitioners need to convince are the kingpins of public opinion. Namely, the media.

There are tonnes of tips on generating publicity. From the point of persuasion, however, I found this article by Bull Dog Media pretty useful when dealing with a journalist or a blogger. Here are the steps involved:

  1. Begin with the end in mind by asking the journalist or blogger what the headline for his story is.
  2. Understand the editor or journalist’s history and job focus. If you’re working with beat reporters, narrow down to the slant of her by-lined stories.
  3. Know who the target audiences of the media outlet are.
  4. Work towards fulfilling not just an immediate story, but the long-term story needs of the media outlet and the journalist. This could mean triggering potential leads for future stories, or offering “soundbites” that are useful for other pieces.
  5. Knock out the details of interviews that can satisfy both your client/internal customer and the journalist.
  6. Prepare the right pitch to get the journalist interested in your story, and always remember to check back with her to ensure that she has adequate “ammo” to run a good story.

The key thing here is what we consider the Golden Rule of PR – i.e. what would work for both the journalist and your client when developing the story. I think Stephen Covey’s habit of “seek ye first to understand, and then to be understood” works extremely well here. After all, our role as publicists is to bridge the gap between what the media (and its readers, viewers and listeners) want and what our clients or colleagues desire.

Are there other tips on persuasion in sales, advertising and PR? Share them in the box below!

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


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