In Bram Stoker's Dracula, the unfortunate Dr. Seward expresses a fervent wish to research the motivations of mentally ill patients in his care: "Had I even the secret of one such mind, did I hold the key to the fancy of even one lunatic, I might advance my own branch of science."

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Of course, your clients, customers, and prospects aren't lunatics, but like all people they behave in strange ways now and then. As marketers, understanding why can be invaluable.

Jonah Berger's latest book, Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces That Shape Behavior, seeks to shed some light on the matter. Jonah has researched the unseen factors that influence people and the untold power of social influence in driving purchase behavior and other decisions.

Jonah is the best-selling author of Contagious: Why Things Catch On (featured in this episode of the Marketing Smarts podcast), and an associate professor of marketing at the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania.

Here are just a few highlights from our conversation:

You might influence someone, but they won't necessarily admit it (or even realize it) (02:39): "We think influence is bad. It's a bad word. Being influenced is somehow negative. We want to think of ourselves as unique and special and completely different. But it's not just that. Even in cases where being influenced is a good thing, people still think they're not susceptible, and the reason why is that often we just don't see it. We look for evidence in your behavior, but it happens non-consciously...and the fact that it's non-conscious means that we often don't see it occurring."

Turns out that mimicking people can be a good thing (despite what your parents might have told you when you were little) (04:23): "Some researchers looked at what makes successful negotiators, and really successful persuasive people in general, but they focused on negotiators. They looked at a whole bunch of negotiations, successful ones, failed ones. They found that one simple trick led negotiators to be about five times as successful, and that trick was, really simply, mimicking their negotiating partner. So if you're sitting down in a negotiation and the person you're talking to crosses their legs, subtly you do the same. If they tilt their head sideways once in a while, subtly you do the same. Not obviously, but subtly, mimicking or mirroring their behavior increases influence.

"In a sales context or in a waiter/waitress context, it leads to 70% higher tips. Across a range of situations, not just negotiating and sales, but really any situation where trust or liking is involved, subtly mimicking the mannerisms, the behavior tics, the language of others makes them trust us more, makes them like us more, and facilitates those social interactions. It turns strangers into friends and it turns acquaintances into allies."

Even in online communication, you can use mimicry to influence behavior (05:44): "One person I was speaking to gave me a great example...when someone emails me, I mimic the language they use in their email back. If they say 'dear,' I write back 'dear.' If they say 'hi so and so,' I write back 'hi so and so.' Simply copying the language or the language structures they use makes [you] more persuasive."

To learn more, visit, and follow Jonah on Twitter @j1berger.

Jonah and I talked about much more, including the B2B applications for this kind of research and how you can overcome undesirable influences like "groupthink," so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!

Music credit: Noam Weinstein.

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