What marketing can learn from judo about influence

This post is by Nathan HodgesTrinityP3‘s General Manager. Nathan applies his knowledge and creativity to the specific challenges of marketing management, with a particular focus on team dynamics and behavioural change.

Our judo teacher at school wasn’t a large man, nor was he the fittest. But he could throw far taller, far stronger people across the mat and into the floor with regularity, ease and a sly smile.

Including me.

As he always explained to us, the secret was never to battle with your opponent head on – never meet strength with strength (because then strength will win). Instead use your opponent’s momentum and lack of balance against him or her.

We’ve been working with several large marketing departments this year, helping to re-engineer their processes and ensure that structure follows purpose.

And towards the end of each project, the question often arises as to how best to ‘launch’ the new way of working to the rest of the company – especially to the sales or product divisions or to the vertical business units.

In marketing, we like to convince and persuade.

We use data and research to help substantiate our arguments and make them more compelling. We still love to be working with a ‘big idea’ (even if lots of agencies can only present them in the one medium) or even lots of small ideas.

We prefer to ‘launch’ and ‘reveal’ and ‘present’ and ‘unveil’.

We spend hours on our vision and mission statements.

We speak the language of conversion.

The trouble is, this is just the way that many sales teams like to work too. And product departments. And most business units as well.

So we all end up presenting to each other, trying to convince each other, meeting strength with strength, and getting nowhere.

Perhaps all this is the opposite of what we should be doing. Maybe we should be thinking more like a judo master.

Influence – like judo – doesn’t try to confront or oppose. It’s not just an abstract noun – it’s a recognised set of techniques that can, like everything in life (and like judo) be learned and practised. It’s constantly confused with persuasion, of course – usually by the very people who love to persuade.

But the real beauty of influence is that it isn’t concerned with changing beliefs or even attitudes. It’s all about what everybody claims to be about at the moment: changing behaviour.

Influence acts just at the moment before that behaviour takes place, and it can work powerfully for people, organisations and brands.

If you’ve never come across the work of Dr Robert Cialdini, then treat yourself. Google him.

Cialdini’s argument (briefly and brutally summarised for a short blog piece) runs like this:

People are much more likely to do what you’re asking them to do if they:

1) like you

2) owe you

3) believe that people like them are doing the same thing

4) believe that you have some degree of authority

5) feel they are being consistent with a decision they have taken before

6) believe that the chances of doing this at some other time are limited

Nothing in there, by the way, about being convinced, or converted, or people agreeing with you and everything you stand for and believe.

Cialdini’s thinking is disarmingly simple, but the practical implications can be profound.

Suddenly you don’t need agreement, you don’t need to convince everyone of your argument. You simply need to influence behaviour.

So here’s a good way to kick off 2013 – get yourself properly across Cialdini’s thinking, and in particular take a good look at his six psychological cues of influence.

Work out which ones you use already, which ones work most powerfully on you and which ones could be most easily employed to improve the way you work – either as a marketing department with the rest of your company, or as an agency with your clients.

Then – the fun bit – work out which ones to apply to your communications and the brands you’re working with next year.

Our judo teacher was also our physics teacher. I wonder if Cialdini ever thought about teaching judo. I bet he’d be amazing.

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About Nathan Hodges

As TrinityP3′s General Manager, Nathan applies his knowledge and creativity to the specific challenges of marketing management, with a particular focus on team dynamics and behavioural change. He is an HBDI Practitioner and an experienced facilitator and coach. Read Nathan's bio here or email nathan@trinityp3.com
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2 Responses to What marketing can learn from judo about influence

  1. St John Craner says:

    Nice post and agree with head on approach not the best option. Also think Prof Cialdini's Influence book is one of the best I've read in a long time (apart from Zag by Marty Neumeier).
    I like the concept of "Marketing Jujitsu" Nathan. Have a look at this sporting example of a ramp shot – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BRsaW52XIb8 just a shame NZ cricket isn't using it to its advantage at the mo! Hope all going well w TP3 and best regards to the D Man. Let me know when you're next in NZ. St John

    • TrinityP3 says:

      Hi StJohn. Great to hear from you. Nathan is on leave at the mo until the end of January. I agree on Zag. Possibly one of the best business book written. Cheers.

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