guiding or manipulating? the spectrum of influence.

I once read a book about the “theory of influence”. to be honest, I struggled to reach the end as it kept on providing tips, tricks and examples about techniques that felt more to me like manipulation than the sort of influence I was hoping to learn about. all of it seemed to be about making money. selling things. short-term-minded strategies that we don’t care much for at the make sense academy.

it got me thinking though. what makes influence good or bad? are there different sorts of influence? what differentiates one from the other? that’s how I got to writing this article.

first, what is influence?
as a good old-school boy, I checked the dictionary.

the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself. – Oxford dictionaries

in the case we want to look at, the important components of this definition are “someone” and “effect”. or more precisely: does the influenced “someone” originally have a need that justifies the influencer’s intervention, and who benefits the most by the effect that the influencer is trying to cause: the influenced, or the influencer? as you might know by now, we at the make sense academy do not really appreciate profit for the sake of profit. so if the influence is not to eventually benefit the customer, we believe that your long-term existence as a business is probably at risk. somehow, we even hope it is.

here is how we look at it.

and here are some more definitions from the Oxford dictionaries:

control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly or unscrupulously.
the key words here are “control” and “unscrupulously”. the latter suggests that one would prioritize their own needs over the ones of others – acting unfairly or dishonestly. this is even easier when abusing the fact that the customer has a need they try to fulfill.

cause (someone) to have a wrong idea or impression.
obviously, “wrong” is what gives it away in this case. and this “wrong” can apply to either which interest you put first, or whether you answer a true customer need or manufacture one.
as you probably know, most markets have laws against misleading.

show or indicate the way to (someone).
“guiding” is about pointing the way to a direction that the customer has selected, and potentially accompanying along. not about controlling the path or defining it as per our preferences, nor choosing the destination.

cause (someone) to have a liking for or interest in something.
very often, when someone gets seduced or attracted by something, it does not fulfil any specific needs. you just want it, whether you need it or not. the big difference between attracting and manipulating is that you will tease the interest of your customer, but not pull them into something that you know they do not need. it can help with awareness for example. making sure that if they ever need your solution, they will think about you. but not pushing it down their throat.

so yes, influencing is a very effective strategy. but not at any cost. and especially if you plan on establishing a long-term relationship with your customers. so be careful about your strategies, and the potential influencers you associate yourself with.
don’t forget… fool me once, shame on you. and most people would make sure it never happens again.

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