Published 84 years ago, Dale Carnegie’s seminal book How to Win Friends and Influence People has only become more relevant with time. Its universal lessons on empathy and human nature are well worth revisiting in the context of today’s fast-moving and often polarized online world.
The third section of the book – How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking – is aimed at helping readers convey ideas effectively and persuasively. Carnegie considers 12 distinct principles to guide readers forward on this subject. Given our perspective as a leading creative agency in Bangkok, we will focus on the three that are especially helpful for digital marketers.
But first, some background on how people process interactions.
It’s not you, it’s me
“People are not interested in you,” Carnegie writes. “They are interested in themselves – morning, noon and after dinner.”
This was true in 1936, and it’s arguably even truer today. Nowadays, when people talk, about 30-40% of that speech is about themselves. But when they post on social media, that percentage shoots up to 80.
This isn’t to say that people are more narcissistic today than they were in Carnegie’s time – even though you could make a pretty strong case for that claim. The point is that many brands squander important opportunities to connect with their online audience.
When ordinary people post on social media, they’re engaging in self-expression and self-presentation. All too often, brands interrupt those actions with their messaging. They should instead be looking for ways to become part of their audience’s self-expression.
In order to do that though, you have to first convince people of your value – no easy feat. Fortunately, Carnegie’s book contains some valuable insights on this front.
How to Win People to Your Way of Thinking
Principle 7: Let the other person feel that the idea is his or hers
Most of us believe we know what’s best for ourselves, and are reluctant to take advice even when it’s well-intentioned. When trying to persuade someone on a given course of action, flanking them is often better than taking the direct approach. Rather than openly pushing for a particular path forward, Carnegie recommends offering various options, and letting them reach their own conclusions. If you can frame the possibilities artfully enough, it might even be possible to steer the person towards the course of action you intended for them all along.
Woodrow Wilson’s most influential advisor, Colonel Edward M. House, found a lot of success using this tactic. Carnegie’s book relates House’s story:
After I got to know the President, I learned the best way to convert him to an idea was to plant it in his mind casually, but so as to interest him in it – so as to get him thinking about it on his own account. The first time this worked it was an accident. I had been visiting him at the White House and urged a policy on him which he appeared to disapprove. But several days later, at the dinner table, I was amazed to hear him trot out my suggestion as his own.
House could have easily admonished the president for taking credit for his idea. But, as Carnegie describes it, “He didn’t care about credit. He wanted results.” By letting the President believe that House’s ideas were his own, House was able to have a much greater effect on policy.
To further illustrate the point, Carnegie shows how marketers can apply the same lesson during the course of their work. He tells a story about an X-ray manufacturer who managed to sell his machine to one of the biggest hospitals in New York City. Instead of merely singing the praises of his company’s equipment like the other sales representatives were doing, he wrote a letter inviting the doctor in charge of the X-ray department to come inspect his new machine. He admitted the machine wasn’t perfect, but asked the doctor for suggestions on how to improve it. The doctor felt both surprised and complimented to be given this opportunity, and he accepted the offer. The more he inspected the machine, the more he liked it. When the time came to a make purchase, the choice was easy.
“Nobody had tried to sell it to me,” the doctor said. “I felt that the idea of buying that equipment for the hospital was my own. I sold myself on its superior qualities and ordered it installed.”
A modern example of this marketing strategy was undertaken by LEGO in 2004. The company launched a crowdsourcing platform that allowed fans to make product suggestions and vote on their favorite ideas. By 2018, LEGO had received ideas from more than 1 million people. The campaign led to the launch of 23 new LEGO sets, which have been wildly popular with customers and helped to significantly boost revenues.
Whether you’re selling X-ray machines, toys, or accounting services, it’s important to realize that you can often sell more of your products or services if you stop pitching to your audience and get them involved in the process instead.
The takeaway message: Encourage your customers to provide input, and compliment them when they do. You might get some valuable ideas out of it, and they’ll be much more likely to buy your products or services if you let them come to the decision on their own.
Principle 8: Try to honestly see things from the other person’s point of view
In life, as in marketing, people are bound to get upset with you once in a while. While the temptation to downplay their concerns or defend your own position may be strong, it isn’t particularly useful – especially if you want to win them over to your point of view. A far better approach is to try to understand them.
As Carnegie says: “There is a reason why the other man thinks and acts as he does. Ferret out that reason – and you have the key to his actions, perhaps to his personality.”
This principle is particularly useful when dealing with angry customers – both face-to-face and on social media. If a customer lodges a complaint, try to figure out where it’s coming from instead of simply defending yourself. Ask yourself, “How would I react if I were in their shoes?”
In 2015, a JetBlue passenger’s seatback TV was malfunctioning, showing only static while all the other passengers’ TVs were working normally. He complained via Twitter. Instead of making excuses, the company saw things from his point of view.
The airline’s response was quick, and conveyed the right amount of concern: “Oh no! That’s not what we like to hear! Are all the TVs out on the plane or is it just yours?”
Once the customer confirmed that his TV was the only one malfunctioning, JetBlue followed up with this response: “We always hate it when that happens. Send us a DM with your confirmation code to get you a credit for the non-working TV.”
Within minutes the customer tweeted out his appreciation for JetBlue’s excellent service.
Of course, this customer’s complaint was entirely valid and he was perfectly polite throughout the exchange. But it’s possible that he could have gotten much more upset had JetBlue not bothered to see things from his perspective.
Even in cases where customer complaints are unreasonable, it’s still best to take the empathetic approach – especially on social media, where others may be watching.
The takeaway message: When dealing with customer complaints, try to see things from their point of view. More often than not, they’ll appreciate your efforts, and any onlookers will respect how you dealt with the situation.
Principle 11: Dramatize your ideas
In this section, Carnegie tells the story of the National Cash Register salesman who visited a grocery store and noticed they were using outdated registers. He approached the owner and told him, “You are literally throwing away pennies every time a customer goes through your line.” And with that statement, he proceeded to throw a handful of pennies on the floor. That got the owner’s attention. After a bit more conversation, the owner put in an order to replace all his old registers.
Of course, we’re not advocating going around throwing change at potential customers. But a flair for the dramatic can often go a long way.
“This is the day of dramatization,” writes Carnegie. “Merely stating a truth isn’t enough. The truth has to be made vivid, interesting, dramatic. You have to use showmanship. The movies do it. Television does it. And you will have to do it if you want attention.”
If that’s how he felt in 1936, one can only imagine how Carnegie would describe this need in our current, spectacle-filled era.
Of course, the principle remains as relevant as ever. It just isn’t enough to rattle off facts and figures about your products or services. If you want to win attention in today’s noisy and ultra-competitive world, the right marketing strategy boils down to a simple formula: Show, don’t tell.
A prime example of this concept in action comes from Blendtec’s Will It Blend? series. The episodes feature founder Tom Dickson using the company’s blender to successfully blend various ostensibly un-blendable objects – golf balls, marbles, and even an iPhone, just to name a few.
The videos demonstrate the durability and power of the blender, while also showing the lighter side of the company’s founder. By adding in some intentionally cheesy sound effects and graphics, they ended up with the recipe for one of the most successful viral marketing campaigns in modern history. As of this writing, the videos have amassed a total of 289,505,727 views on YouTube.
Regardless of whether you’re communicating though visual, audio, or written means, the principle can be equally effective. As a leading digital marketing agency in Bangkok, we’re always espousing the power of storytelling: Remember to go beyond the plain facts about your product or service, and don’t be afraid to get dramatic.
The takeaway message: Attention is hard to come by – especially in the sensory overload that is today’s online world. But with the right flair for the dramatic, you can grab people’s attention and show them how you can add value to their lives.
Powers of persuasion
People can be very attached to their worldviews and opinions. Persuading them to change can be a massive challenge, requiring high levels of awareness and finesse. Make the wrong move, and you risk upsetting them – and in the worst cases, even making an enemy. But if you go about things with a keen sense of how instincts and intuitions shape people’s decision-making, you can win over those most important to you.
The same lessons hold for any brand trying to convince people to buy a given product or service through digital marketing. Bombard potential customers with annoying content that merely interrupts their online activities, and you risk alienating them. Provide them with something that actually adds value to their lives, and you can gain loyal customers, and even champions for your brand.
Involve your customers in product development. Provide them with useful information so they can make informed decisions. Put yourself in their shoes – both to deal with any potential complaints, and to determine how best to fulfill their needs. Finally, dramatize your ideas when you really want to drive a point home.
Under the right circumstances, doors that cannot be forced will swing open as if by magic. The above marketing strategies take time, effort, and skill to perform optimally, but the potential payoff is huge.
The right approach will help establish trust, letting you get behind people’s natural defenses – and show how valuable your brand can be. In turn, if you deliver on that promise, your audience will invite you to become part of their own story. From there, you can use your shared interests and values to build a satisfying and long-lasting relationship.
In Part 4 of our series, as we continue our exploration of the lessons in How to Win Friends and Influence People, we’ll look at how to change people’s behavior. Prepare yourself, though: You may need to admit some of your own faults, to effectively spur others toward success.