Why 4 of Cialdini’s 6 principles of influence can make or break your loyalty program

Dr. Robert B. Cialdini wrote a classic book called “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” After analyzing his 6 principles of influence, I can see how 4 are key to a valuable loyalty program (the other 2 are a bit of a stretch).

Here are a few thoughts on why:

  1. Reciprocity

This is based on the notion that as humans “we are wired to return favours”. We feel compelled to return the kindness and giving by others. Reciprocity – ‘Give-back to Get-back’ (also the title of my book on loyalty) is at the core of a loyalty program….rewards for purchase. Sometime they are overt eg points for purchase and sometime they are ‘surprise and delight’, a reward without a purchase. The latter are arguably the most motivating to drive a response as they are unexpected. The former are expected ie part of the value exchange of being a member of a program. In both cases, reciprocity is a key influence.

  1. Social proof

Cialdini defined social proof as people doing what they observe other people doing. Communities and clubs (just like crowded cafés) are powerful magnets of attraction based on the gathering of many members. A key element of a loyalty program is the “gathering of members”, whether designed with exclusivity or by packaging benefits that only members get. Being part of that exclusive group or membership is what social proof is all about.

  1. Scarcity

This is the most commonly applied principle and arguably the most powerful. We all want what we cannot get (it started from birth). When it is limited or there is a fear of missing out (known to many as FOMO), then we are driven to act. Loyalty programs use ‘scarcity’ both in their structure – you only get the benefits when you are member and in their activity – for a limited time earn bonus points on purchases. Member’s only pricing is another program proof of scarcity.

  1. Commitment (and consistency)

The principle of commitment (and consistency, too) identifies that we have a deep need to be seen as consistent. As such, once we publicly agree to something such as join a loyalty program, then we are more likely to go through and deliver on that commitment…hence consistency. Obviously the loyalty program needs to deliver on its commitment to reward us for the behaviours they want.

The other 2 principle that are not as clearly linked to a valuable loyalty program are:

  1. Liking

This is based on the attraction to people (individuals) we like and or share something similar with. If we know and like people who are part of a loyalty program, then this could be an enticement to join…. your thoughts?

  1. Authority

People tend to obey people of authority (think police, nurse etc). Unless the loyalty program has an ambassador with credibility and authority to be part of the program or advocating for it, there is little place for authority as a principle of influence in a loyalty program …your thoughts?

So, to make your loyalty program even more valuable, check that you have at least the 4 principles of influence covered.


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