Choice overload is a cognitive process in which a person has a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. If it sounds familiar, it’s because it’s a universal problem. There are few industries left that are not hyper-competitive and crowded with options. Couple this with the fact that we are all bombarded practically non-stop with advertisements in-person, on television, radio, podcasts, and online and it’s easy to wonder how any of us is able to make a purchasing decision at all!

Fortunately, the brain has some favorite ways of helping us to overcome the issue of choice overload and when properly understood, smart video marketers can leverage these common cognitive shortcuts to better-serve their audience. Today, we’ll review the six principles of persuasion, taken from Dr. Robert B. Cialdini’s book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion”. We’ll take a look at the psychology behind each principle and share examples of how each can be effectively incorporated into your marketing videos.


Very early on in life, we are taught to listen to authority mainly in order to ensure our safety but also as a sign of respect. After all, parents and teachers know more than children not to mention they’re the ones controlling the rewards and punishments. As we get older, the authority figures we listen to may change (from parents and teachers to employers, police, and political leaders for example) but the societal stability and setting of expectations it affords us generally continues on and so we carry on in respecting authority figures.

We want to feel confident when we are choosing between different options. When we’re making a decision about something we don’t know very much about, we’re usually willing to listen to someone who does in order to bolster our decision-making confidence. This is true in any industry and you’ll often see it employed in fields like medicine and law where the stakes can be quite high if the wrong decision is made. There are three common ways you’ll see authority incorporated into brand messaging: Position of power, clothing, and trappings. Take a look at the following video to see how each can be incorporated:

In this video, Dr. Nichols immediately introduces herself using her various titles and sharing her professional experience. As a video marketer, simply including titles and experience as text overlays or directly in your script signals to your viewers that they can trust the knowledge and experience you offer, making them feel confident in the decision to purchase your services.

Additionally, Dr. Nichols presents herself extremely professionally – It’s no accident that she’s wearing a crisp white doctors coat or that in the shots of her working on patients, the coat is buttoned up so that you can see her name and title.

Perhaps the most subtle of the three ways to show authority is trappings but if you know what you’re looking for, you’ll notice it in this video: the b-roll shots of the beautiful, bright office and the subtle mention of her previous work experience in the high-end Upper East Side neighborhood. In just under one minute, Dr. Nichols has established that she is an authority in the practice of dermatology.


Here’s a shocker for you: We are more likely to say yes to something when the person making the request (or pitch) is someone we like. Therefore when creating a video, the important question to ask yourself is “How do we make our audience like us?” Luckily for advertisers, social scientists have been on the case for decades and getting people to like you (or your brand) breaks down like this:

  1. Physical Attractiveness: Good looks suggest other favorable traits such as integrity, humor, and dependability
  2. Similarity: We like people we can relate to in terms of interests, opinions, personality, and background
  3. Compliments: Receiving praises makes us feel good so we tend to like those who give it to us
  4. Contact & Cooperation: There is a sense of commonality and community when we’re working to fulfill a common goal
  5. Conditioning & Association: We like to support values and ideals that are similar to our own

The American bohemian apparel and lifestyle company Free People knows what makes their audience like them and their “Love What You Do” series proves it (without selling anything in particular in the videos). Instead, the brand features personable people who echo the interests, values, and aspirations of their customers. And yes, the featured people are good-looking.


When we are offered something free first, we tend to feel a sense of indebtedness which leads to a specific action. In his book, Cialdini quotes cultural anthropologists Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox by including that “this ‘web of indebtedness’ (ie reciprocity) is a unique adaptive mechanism of human beings, allowing for the division of labor, the exchange of diverse forms of goods, the exchange of different services, and the creation of a cluster of interdependencies that bind individuals into highly efficient units.”

In short, it’s practically innate for humans to feel obligated to repay favors or freebies given to them and this is how we’ve gotten to where we are today.

Just like the other five principles of persuasion, once you know what to look for you begin to see this tactic being used everywhere in marketing by brands large and small. Free resources like e-books and webinars, free trials, and free samples are just some examples.

Incorporating reciprocity into your video marketing is as simple as including a call-to-action that encourages your viewer to download your insight-packed free e-book or, like the Netflix example above, to sign up to receive a free trial. Like Netflix does here, if you are requiring payment information from the video viewer, be upfront about it if and how you will use it so there is no confusion.


Generally speaking, human beings prefer consistency. There are two explanations for this: We don’t have to think hard about an issue anymore in order to make a decision or we can avoid answers we’d prefer not to have to face by remaining consistent in our previous decision.

It’s easy to imagine how remaining consistent for consistency’s sake could go wrong but automatic consistency is useful in allowing us an economical and appropriate way of behaving most of the time. While some may use shady tactics such as “throwing a lowball”, there are ways in which honest marketers and salespeople can leverage the principle of consistency.

For instance, whenever a person takes a stand that is visible to others, there arises a drive to maintain that stand in order to look like a consistent person. Testimonials, already one of the most effective types of marketing videos, are a great vehicle for this. Even if the video doesn’t help to bring in a single new customer, the featured customer in the video is more likely to remain loyal to your brand once they have shared their support for your brand so publicly (and even more so if they share that video with friends and family on their own online channels!)

Another way to leverage the consistency principle in your video marketing efforts is to simply ask people to share your videos or to create videos about your brand, perhaps as part of a contest. Again, by publicly aligning themselves with your brand, people are likely to want to remain consistent in that public support (even if they don’t win the contest).  

Social Proof

The social proof principle states that we tend to have more trust in things that are popular or endorsed by people we trust. Social proof is an especially powerful motivator for people who are uncertain or unfamiliar with a product or service because instead of having to learn more about it, they can take their cue to purchase (or not) from those they see.

Some of the most popular ways to incorporate social proof into your marketing videos are to include approval from credible experts in the field, approval from large groups of other people (especially your viewers’ peers), approval from celebrities, and approval from past or present customers. These can come in the form of testimonials or, as the above example from is, a customer stories.  


Last but not least is the principle of scarcity and perhaps the easiest way to think of this principle is in terms of “quality versus quantity”. That is, people tend to assume things that are difficult to obtain are better than those things that are easily available. The idea of missing out on something deemed “exclusive” or “limited” is enough to inspire action from many people.

So how can this be utilized in your video marketing efforts? Incorporate “limited number”, “limited time”, “exclusive” and “one-of-a-kind” language into your scripts, include the same information as text overlay on your videos and emphasize it when your call-to-action appears in the video. The goal is to create a sense of urgency and excitement so that your viewer feels moved to act. If you’re running a competition, use video to regularly update your audience of how many people have entered and how many days are left for them to enter; not only will this help to generate buzz but people have an inclination to want things more simply because other people also want them.

If getting people to say yes to what you’re offering was easy, we’d all be out of the job. As new technologies emerge, marketers have enormous opportunity to reach buyers in interesting and effective ways. However, competition is intense and buyers are inundated with offers. So what is a video marketer to do? Our advice: Keep up with evolving technologies but always trust the fundamentals of marketing to speak to your audience.

How do you use the six principles of persuasion in your video marketing? Is there a principle or two you find especially effective? Please share with us in the comments below or on Twitter @sproutvideo!