We’re still talking about Robert Cialdini’s principles of influence from his book, ‘Influence’ that was published in 1984.

We’re going to be talking about the fourth principle of influence – which is authority.

This is probably one of the most disturbing of all the principles. It has clearly demonstrated that someone will actually go to if they feel that someone that’s in a position of authority is giving them direction, they will bypass all of their innate beliefs about what they should be doing or shouldn’t be doing – to the extent that it forces them to go beyond what they would normally do.

From a marketing perspective, it becomes very powerful if you can be perceived as someone with authority and that you are providing valuable information or a valuable product, based on your status or your perceived level of authority. This can be applied to a variety of different situations.

You want to give the impression that you are in a position of authority. You can contrast that with someone who’s wearing a Hawaiian t-shirt and Bermuda shorts, showing up to a business meeting. It’s going to be harder for you to look past that and to establish that this individual is a figure of authority – unless you have other things to go on. But on a side-by-side comparison, without any other information, your presentation of how you are looking, your demeanour, the professionalism that you are presenting, they all have an impact on whether or not you are being perceived as an authority figure.

Business meeting

Give the impression that you are in a position of authority. Photo credit: www.huffingtonpost.com

If a request has been made by someone perceived as an authority, they will go so far as to violate their personal beliefs to follow that request. One of the key experiments that I find the most disturbing is the experiment that was conducted by Stanley Milgram. His shock experiment was setup to test to see how far someone would go beyond their personal beliefs if they were given directions by someone who was perceived in a position of authority.

Let me try to briefly explain the experiment.

There was someone brought in. The idea was, they were supposed to help educate this other individual who would be shocked if they gave an incorrect answer when asked a question. The shocks were progressively worse as more questions were answered incorrectly. They would start with a very low level and with each incorrect answer, the person would get a higher shock. However, the person that is giving the shock didn’t realize that the person being perceived to receive the shock was actually part of an experiment and they were actors. They weren’t physically receiving a shock, but they were pretending to receive a shock. And they were acting in accordance. The person who was activing to receive the shock was expressing concern over the shock, expressing concern that they had health conditions and that they have a heart condition. There were various objections that would stop someone from thinking that they should be giving this person a shock. But in the experiment, the person with authority kept directing the person to administer the shock in increasing doses. In the original experiment, all of the participants went as high as administering a shock at 300 volts. 2/3rd of the participants of the experiment went all the way up to 450 volts, which is actually the highest volts that they could give. Watching these videos on YouTube, it’s extremely disturbing because the person is acting as if they are in pain and they are concerned with their health. Yet the experiment continues, and the person administering the shock continues despite the pleas from the other person for them to stop.



If you want someone to change their behavior, you are going to be wanting that to come from someone who with authority. Photo credit: www.notredameonline.com

It’s extremely disturbing. This demonstrates that being perceived as someone with authority is extremely powerful. Powerful to the extent that it would motivate someone to bypass all their personal beliefs about what they should and should not be doing in a given situation.

From a marketing perspective of helping someone change their behaviour, if you are going to encourage someone to change their behaviour in a positive manner, you are going to be wanting that coming from someone who is perceived as having authority – authority over that other person. Perhaps it could be a supervisor of an employee, someone from upper management, or someone who is considered to be some level of an authority figure than those recommendations on wearing a personal protective equipment or that they are going to change their behaviour.

That is going to have a greater impact than if that request was coming from someone who was not perceived to be in an authority figure.