Unity: Us Against Them

Note: this is part six of a series of psychological marketing techniques based on renowned psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini’s work. If you haven't read the others, you can jump to one, two, threefour, five, or six.

Football players.jpeg

7. Unity

Crossfitters, patriotism, and sports fans.

What do these all have in common?


Dr. Robert Cialdini identifies Unity in his recent best-seller, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade. It’s the 7th and final psychological "weapon of influence" he has written about, and one that master persuaders use every day.

As Cialdini says, “Unity means that we want to say yes to people with whom we share an identity.”

Unity is what creates the “us against them” mentality seen among sports fans, in politics, between nations, and between brand loyalists.

Left vs Right. 

Apple vs Android.

Laurel vs Yanny.

That mentality is known as the in-group and out-group bias, in which the people you see as being part of your group are viewed more positively -- as you focus on how they’re similar to you -- while the opposite is true for those who aren’t part of your group.

But it doesn’t have to be divisive.

The bigger point is that the more we identify with a person or brand, the more influence they will have on us.

Crossfitters flipping tire as a team.jpg

So as entrepreneurs and marketers, we should do what we can to make sure our audience identifies with our brands and ourselves. By using the right words and focusing on the right things -- for example, our customers’ shared interests, backgrounds and experiences -- we can create brand loyalty and make people much more likely to buy from us.

Studies show that even arbitrary, meaningless distinctions such as having the same color of shirt can lead to a bias toward favoring those you identify with.

Here are some examples of how you can use the psychological concept of unity in your marketing:

  • Phrase things in a personal way: we, you, us. For example, the UK’s Charities Aid Foundation reports that they achieve better results from their awareness and fundraising campaigns by using messaging like “people like you”.)

  • Emphasize that you’re building a community. This community effect can be powerful, whether you position it as exclusive or inclusive. And when people share an experience, whether that’s going through bootcamp or playing a game, they’re especially likely to identify with and be loyal to each other.

  • Create slang and acronyms that are only used in your group. For example, Crossfit uses has acronyms like WOD (workout of the day) and AMRAP (as many reps as possible), which give its members a shared language that people outside the group do not use. And the term "Crossfitters" helps members think of the program as an integral part of their identity, making it less likely that they'll quit.

  • Use family associations. Cialdini cites an example of Warren Buffett’s wording in an annual shareholder letter, where he placated investors by writing: “I will tell you what I would say to my family today if they asked me about Berkshire’s future.” That letter has been called the best shareholder letter ever written.

  • When you want opinions or feedback, asking for advice instead will make people feel as though you’re on the same team, making them more likely to respond as well as more likely to buy from you later.

  • Donate some amount of proceeds to a charity that your audience relates to (or would like to see themselves as relating to) -- whether that’s providing technical education to poor children, or saving the whales.

  • In general, simply show that you have similar interests, values, or background as your audience. This is also called the “Granfalloon Technique,” and politicians do it constantly: for example, when Mitt Romney says his favorite meat is “hot dog.”

  • If you’re not sure how to define your community, one trick can be to focus on what you are against, rather than what you are for. (This is also common among politicians.)

So if I wanted to use the principle of Unity to encourage you to subscribe our email newsletter, I might say:

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