Laws of Marketing Power: Work on the Hearts and Minds of Others

“You must seduce others into wanting to move in your direction.”

–Robert Greene, The 48 Laws of Power

The best marketing illustration of Law 43 might be in the classic concept of the “hard sell” vs. the “soft sell.” A hard sell alienates buyers by coercion, where the soft one (as the name suggests) gently lures them in by playing to their previous inclinations. The soft sell—and content marketing—builds trust on an existing foundation, where the hard one works against the grain. When appealing to people’s desires/biases, they are more likely to trust you, so over time the soft sell wins more often than the hard (unless you have a gun to their head, which is generally not sustainable).

wall“Work on the hearts and minds of others” also speaks to the power of careful audience selection. Very few, if any businesses count the entire world as an ideal customer. Maybe a potential customer, but not ideal. The ideal customer, by definition, is going to be limited and distinct. And by selecting an ideal customer to woo, marketers avoid an uphill battle. Strong-arming isn’t necessary when your audience is already sympathetic and receptive. Therefore, by intentionally choosing an audience and playing to their affinities, the smart marketer skips the struggle and wasted time/money of trying to convince the die-hard skeptics or the plain apathetic.

By tuning in to individual psychologies, marketers can better nudge people in the direction they’re already inclined to go—and minimize the pain of costly clashes. The idea of creating personas and mental modelling are popular aspects of content strategy for good reason: Personas and mental models clarify the psychology of the person with whom you’re communicating. In other words, they help you understand your audience. At the risk of stating the obvious, winning people over is easier when you understand them than when you don’t.

Another page from the tried-and-true marketing playbook related to this law is playing to emotion, which in a sense, is working on the heart, or at least doing an end-run around the rational part of the part. Those who study the psychology of persuasion know that fear is among the most powerful motivating triggers. Marketers who appeal to their customers’ fears (e.g., losing time, money, status, a good deal) smartly stand to win their business by bypassing the rational part of the brain and going directly to the limbic system. Now that’s applying a law of biology to marketing! (Hmm … theme for the next blog series?)

Appealing to hearts and minds is a time-tested political philosophy with good reason: To do otherwise is to risk alienation. And to paraphrase Greene, getting through people’s walls is easier by opening a door with a key (the soft sell) than by trying to climb over or break through them.


This post is part of a series in which I explore in-depth how some of Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power relate to marketing.


Image courtesy of John Bunting via Flickr.

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