The Social Psychology for Marketing Series (part 3)

Using Authority to subordinate your less than effective email marketing strategies

As soon as we abandon our own reason and are content to rely upon authority there is no end to our troubles.

— Bertrand Russell

Imprisoned for opposing the First World War, lauded for supporting World War II, and accredited, along with Einstein, for criticizing the Cold War -Betrand Russell was an authority on many subjects.  He was a philosopher, mathematician, logician, writer, historian, social critic and yes, even a Nobel Laureate for his writings on freedom of thought.  So what does this Philosomathorianogician have to do with email marketing? We will come back to the socialist aristocratic a little later in the article and find out.

In Part 2 of this series found here Applying Scarcity with Abundance for better Email Marketing -we continued to build on the work of Robert Cialdini.  We explored in depth how persuasion principle #6, from Cialdidn’s seminal work, Influence: the Psychology of Persuasion, can be leveraged to affect better outcomes in email marketing.

The article discussed the two general types of Scarcity: 1) Supply related and; 2) Time related; and provided examples of how this principle can be used for both nefarious and ethical purposes.

The article concluded with the following:

These concepts are proven.  For example,

according to the World Health Organization,

people are paying$10 for a 2c paper mask

that doesn’t even work  for the purpose for

which they are being purchased -all based

on scarcity.  

Now are you convinced?  If so, you may

have been influenced by the tactic that will

be covered in Part 3 of  The Social Psychology

for Marketing Series; hint…it was used abundantly

throughout this article on scarcity.

The tactic used abundantly in the article about scarcity was Authority and is the subject of this installment.

Merriam-Webster defines Authority as..

1   a power to influence or command thought, opinion, or behavior

4   c an individual cited or appealed to as an expert

In social psychology terms, Cilaidini’s work reveals that human beings have a natural tendency to obey without question when authority factors are present. Cialdini describes the brain as a “short cut machine” which essentially means humans make decisions based only on a subset of information and not on all of the information and details available.

This is an example of judgment heuristics which essentially means that humans are inclined to take the easiest decision available rather than the one that is more effort filled, informed one.

These Authority factors are described as “symbols of authority” that influence behavior.  The symbols that Cialdini refers to are titles, clothes, and trappings.

In summary the Authority principle operates on the presupposition that those in positions of authority wield greater wisdom and power, and therefore complying with those individuals leads to the best course of action in any given circumstance.

Let’s take a look at the “Symbols of Authority”  one by one and discuss how they translate to email marketing.

1) Titles – Doctor MD, Prof., Ph.D., President, Chairman, Founder, CEO, Minister of XYZ, Attorney at Law, etc: Professional designations that convey wisdom, power and authority.

More often than not, the credibility of any given message directly relates to the individual delivering the same message.  And the fastest and most effective way to communicate credibility is by citing the title of the individual communicating.

For example, would you rather take complicated tax advice from a Chartered Public Accountant (CPA) or a middle school teacher?

How to use this in email marketing:

Whenever possible, support all of your assertions, arguments for a call to action, quotes and evidence by citing a source with a credible title who is legitimately in a position of authority on the subject.

For example we advise one of our clients, a pickle manufacturer, to access an untapped vein of customers by designing a campaign targeted towards athletes – both the professional set and the weekend warrior.  Pickle juice is a proven way to instantly combat the effects of dehydration. Don’t believe us? Just ask Doctor Pickle Juice. AKA Dr  Rick Ganzi, an anesthesiologist from Holland, Mich., who has long been singing the praises of pickle juice as a wonder treatment for marathon-induced muscle cramps.  Not only is he a doctor, he is also a marathoner.

In short – credible source with credible title = credible message.

2) Clothes – Suits, Uniforms, Medical Scrubs, a Mechanic’s Overalls, an Athlete’s Jersey: Superficial cues that signal authority

Research shows that people form a first impression automatically and almost instantly by using what they see immediately in front of them, including the clothes being worn by the subject about whom a conclusion is being drawn.  Don’t believe us? Just think of the last time you were waived through a red light in traffic by a Uniformed police officer. Did you hesitate even though you were being told to go through a red light?  

How to use this in email marketing:

So how do you communicate Authority as effectively as a police officer’s uniform in traffic?

Start by considering how you are dressing your emails.

Email marketing correspondence  should look professional and relevant to your industry.

Special attention should be given to layout, typography, images, consistency  and more. The visual design should match the purpose for which you are sending the email.  If you are selling skateboards…maybe include an image of a slightly banged up millennial skater and not a banker in a business suit.

In short – look credible to be credible.

3) Trappings – Framed university degrees, luxury cars, expensive & relevant jewelry, logos etc.  Accessories and other indirect cues that accompany authoritative roles

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The third symbol of authority Cialidini refers to is “Trappings”

Trappings are accessories that help to inform others of a certain role and its inherent authority. A  gun and badge are the trappings of a police officer, a $15,000 Rolex and expensive cufflinks might be the trappings of a successful investment banker, and medical degrees hung on the wall near the reception desk could be the trappings of a  sought after dentist.

Trappings carry a perception of status, position and authority.

Have you ever gone out new home shopping with a realtor?  I bet they didn’t take you out in a Fiat.

How to use this in email marketing

So how do you communicate Authority as effectively as an Investment Banker’s watch?

Start by looking at the website to which all of your calls to action point.  Does it look like it was designed in 1996? Does it accurately convey the authority your company holds in the market? Does it list the logos of all the prestigious organizations who are your customers?

Also consider with what other organizations your company aligns.  Are you a local business and member of the Better Business Bureau?  A restaurant chain and a member of Restaurant’s Canada, an award winning member of the Homestars Network with an outstanding rating?  These are all trappings of your particular industry and their logos should feature prominently on your website and in all outbound correspondence.

Come to think of it, email marketer, you prominently display the logo of the Canadian Marketing Association, of which you are a member, everywhere you can, right?  

In short – Use small credible details for credibility at large


Like all of the secrets, tips and best practices listed in all of the articles in this series Wired Messenger is happy to extend these to you at now charge. Which leads us to our next subject in the series…..

Until then

As soon as we abandon our own reason and are content to rely upon authority there is no end to our troubles.

— Bertrand Russell


As soon as we reasonably abandon troubled content and rely upon Authority there is no end to our opportunity

–A savvy EMail MArketer