Behavioral Science: Trump’s Most Powerful Persuasion Tactics (Explained): Part 1

Attorney & Sales Consultant: Trump’s Twitter is a Persuasion Nuke

As a professional sales consultant and attorney, I’ve learned this much… if your job requires any kind of “selling,” there’s only one required skill: the ability to get attention. If you can’t get your audience to look up from their phones long enough to hear your pitch, how will you ever close them?

But getting attention is difficult, especially in today’s changing digital landscape. As salespeople, we must compete to more attention-hogging distractions than ever. Bright flashing screens populate you target’s desk, their wall, and even their wrist. Devices buzz, whirr, and chime non-stop. If you can’t get targets to concentrate on you, it’s over — no matter how revolutionary your product or idea.

Moreover, even if you can convince someone to listen, think of the mental effort they’re using. If you’re not immediately entertaining — or if you don’t know how to build suspense — they’ll drift off. Fast.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a template for seizing and holding attention in 2018? Thankfully, you do. And its results speak for themselves. I’m talking, of course, about the twitter feed of President Trump. No matter what else people say about him, Donald Trump is a master of attention. From the moment he enters a room or appears on a TV screen, all eyes are on him for as long as he wishes. He wipes out every other presence around him. He directs all eyes and ears onto whatever or whomever he pleases. And he controls the tone of almost any conversation he’s having. Things only return to “normal” once he’s said what he had to say, accomplished his goal, and exited stage right. His tweets have the same effect.

A trap into which many fall is to discount them as impulsive. As a trained persuader, I can tell you: they’re anything but. And by the end of this series you’ll see that, while everyone can play the Attention Game, there’s a game inside game, where few play — and the rules don’t matter.

In light of recent events, I’ve shuffled around this series. Now, the very first Trump Tactic we’ll examine is…

The Priming Effect

Yesterday, President Trump tweeted that he was “like, really smart.” News outlets couldn’t pounce on the prima facia contradictory statement fast enough. After all, aren’t Valley girls the only people interject their sentences with “like”… and aren’t Valley Girls, like, really dumb?

So, you may be asking yourself: Why would I use that tweet, of all tweets, to kick off a series about Trump’s most powerful sales tactics?

Here’s why: as I’ve pointed out in previous posts, the more we see two things together, the more our brains connect them. This is thanks to a very powerful psychological effect known as Priming.

Discovered in the 1980s, priming maintains that mere exposure to a word or idea — even unconsciously — can influence the way we think, feel, and act. The classic example is an experiment conducted at New York University 1996, which found that reading words related to elderliness (e.g., “Florida”, “Bingo”) caused subjects to walk slower (i.e., act more elderly). It’s also the reason we perceive people as warmer when we’re holding a hot cup of coffee, and colder when we’re sipping an iced one. And it’s why companies like McDonalds pay big money for popular athletes to star in their ads — even though we all know they’d never touch the stuff.

Now, with this concept in mind, it’s easy to see why it doesn’t matter that a newspaper’s headline says: “Trump is Not a Genius.” Or if a pundit reads Trump’s tweet on air, rolling their eyes with sarcasm. The only thing that matters is: you (the target) see the words “Trump” and “Genius” in proximity. Your brain will do the rest: i.e., think “Trump is a genius.”

Which, in this instance, he is. After all, how much more press did his self-serving tweet get by adding one four-letter word: “Like.” According to my BuzzSumo account, a lot…

So, how can you as a future Master of the Universe use Priming in your own life? Here’s some pointers:

  • Even if it’s forced, associate yourself with “high-status” concepts. Think of Beyonce’s Pepsi ads. We all know Pepsi paid Beyonce for her time, but the effect still works.
  • Only use self-serving words. Consider the priming effect of Trump’s tweet if he’d said “I’m not crazy.” What would it have been? “Trump = Crazy.”

Don’t miss the next installment in this series. Hit the “Follow” button to get notified once it’s published. Coming up: Framing, Contrast, Mirroring & Much More…

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