Do people listen to what you have to say?
Persuasion in marketing and business is often thought of as a way to bring people around to your way of thinking. And the persuasion books included on this list will help you do that.
But on a more fundamental, persuasion begins by making sure people listen to you. It begins when you craft a message that connects with people.
The word “persuasion” sometimes has some negative connotations, so let’s start by defining what persuasion actually is.
What is persuasion?
The definition of persuade, according to Merriam-Webster, is “to move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position, or course of action.”
Effective persuasion takes a strong understanding of human psychology and motivation (and several of the books on this list are by psychologists).
For small business owners and marketers, understanding persuasion is important because it helps you put together products, deals, and messages that people care about.
If you want to get more people to care about what you have to offer, these books on persuasion can help.
Here are the best 15 books on persuasion for small business.
- Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury
- Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
- Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz
- Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini
- Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion by Elliot Aronson and Anthony Pratkanis
- Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins
- The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro
- Trust Me, I’m Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator by Ryan Holiday
- The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently by Richard Nisbett
- How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
- The 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
- Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz
1. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini
This may be the most influential (no pun intended) book on persuasion and marketing ever written.
Drawing on decades of experience as a social psychologist, Robert Cialdini lays out the “six universal principles of influence.”
Why do people make decisions? Where do beliefs come from? How are those beliefs formed and altered based on our circumstances and surroundings?
These are questions Cialdini tackles in this seminal work. Boiling down a vast body of research into actionable insights, he leaves us with these six principles of persuasion:
- Reciprocity: People are more likely to help those who have helped them in the past
- Commitment/Consistency: People are likely to act in ways consistent with their previous behavior—whether those courses of action still make sense or not
- Authority: People are more willing to believe and trust experts and authoritative figures
- Social Proof: People are more easily persuaded to a position when they can see that those around them believe that position
- Scarcity: People are more attracted to opportunities that seem rare or exclusive
- Liking: People are more likely to be persuaded by those they like
These six principles have helped copywriters, marketers, and business owners create more compelling communications since Influence was first published. It may very well be the best book on persuasion ever written.
2. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Why do some ideas seem to stick in your brain?
Small businesses are faced with a simple yet massive challenge—how do you get people to remember you?
Made to Stick is an exploration of what makes things memorable. Why, for example, does the idea of a razor blade in your Halloween candy persist—despite the fact that there are no recorded stories of it actually happening?
Brothers and business experts Chip and Dan Heath explore what makes some ideas memorable and persuasive. They identify six factors, which conveniently and memorably spell out the word “SUCCESs:”
- Simple: Sticky ideas are simple and easy to understand
- Unexpected: Ideas that surprise us stick in our memory more easily
- Concrete: Ideas that are easy to imagine and picture in our heads are easy to remember
- Credible: Ideas coming from credible sources are more believable and accepted as truth
- Emotional: Emotionally charged ideas stick in our heads more clearly
- Stories: Stories are easier to remember than abstract ideas or concepts
Following these steps to “SUCCESs” can help you be more persuasive in your marketing—and prevent you from being forgotten.
3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury
Persuading people in your marketing is one thing. How can you be more persuasive in your negotiations?
Negotiating agreements is a huge piece of business, and becoming a more effective negotiator is one of the more powerful steps you can take in a small business.
In Getting to Yes, Roger Fisher and William Ury challenge the conventional wisdom around negotiation. Rather than adopting firm positions and refusing to budge, the authors argue that more persuasive and effective negotiation follows these four principles:
- Separate the people from the problem: Instead of viewing negotiation as a competition, look for ways to work together and solve the mutual problem that brings you to the negotiating table
- Focus on interests, not positions: Instead of adopting ironclad negotiating positions, identify the most important interests of each side—and find ways to satisfy everyone’s primary goals
- Generate options for mutual gain: Some interests are more important than others. Understand which less important interests can be sacrificed to find situations that fulfill each side’s most important goals.
- Insist on using objective criteria: Present your case using third party experts or statistics. Use a mutually accepted standard to reach an agreement.
The full text goes into detail on each principle, covering how to respond to negotiation attacks, how to negotiate in situations with lopsided power, and how to deal with a wide variety of specific negotiation scenarios.
4. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein
Why do people make decisions? In some cases, the explanations might be simpler than you expect.
In Nudge, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein examine how seemingly small changes can cause large differences in behavior. By examining “choice architecture,” or how decisions are presented to people, they show how to help people make decisions.
Thaler (who recently won the Nobel Prize in Economics) and Sunstein run through a range of different decision making tools, but two of the most important principles they cover are:
- People do what is easy: If it is difficult to choose one path and easy to take the other, people are more likely to choose the easy path. Removing barriers to a particular decision can help people choose that option.
- People do what they are already doing: If there is a default option to take, more people will take that option—because switching away from a default is harder than sticking with it.
Removing doubts and difficulties related to a purchase is one of the jobs of marketing—and an essential part of improving sales and growing a business. Understanding how ethical nudges can affect behavior is a powerful asset in the marketer’s toolbox.
5. Words That Work: It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear by Frank Luntz
Does it ever feel like people aren’t really getting what you say? That they aren’t picking up what you’re putting down?
You might be saying it wrong.
In Words That Work, political strategist Frank Luntz teaches you how to craft a message that people pay attention to—one that they remember and have an emotional reaction to.
The book contains 10 rules for successful communication, provides background research and examples, and even highlights specific words that make a message more compelling.
The 10 rules for successful communication are:
- Sound and texture
- Speak aspirationally
- Ask questions
- Give context
Use these rules when you craft your message. You’ll be amazed by the results.
6. Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini
Persuasion begins before the first word of the first conversation.
That’s the thesis of Pre-Suasion, Robert Cialdini’s second contribution to this list. In Pre-Suasion, Cialdini argues that the moments before a message is presented—before any conversation or argument begins—can actually have a profound impact on decisions.
The reason? Attention.
Psychologically, people assume that what they pay attention to is important—regardless of how important it actually is.
That means that a clever persuader can make their argument more compelling just by changing the focus of attention.
Cialdini covers a variety of ways this might happen—as well as the elements of a message that can draw and keep attention. He also recaps his famous six factors of persuasion—and adds a seventh.
7. Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion by Elliot Aronson and Anthony Pratkanis