News Release

How a question can persuade consumers to buy

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Chicago Press Journals

"How likely are you to buy a Starbuck's coffee today? If in fact by the end of the day, you find yourself ordering a Tall Iced Skim Latte (hold the whipped cream), you might be able to shift some of the blame onto us," begin the authors of an article published in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

It seems that the simple and apparently mundane act of asking a question can lead to a very intentional response by the respondents or consumers. The four studies summarized in the article by Patti Williams, a professor of marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and her colleagues, sought to "test the premise that intention questions can unknowingly influence behavior because they are not perceived to be manipulative or to have persuasive intent."

The results showed that for those participants that considered the deeper meaning and intent of a question could manipulate their response to the question. The authors note that "when persuasive intent is attributed to an intention question, people can adjust their behavior in response to the question, as long as they have sufficient cognitive capacity to permit conscious correction."

Thus, while your mouth may be salivating for that rich, icy flavor of the latte described above, you may know that you're being persuaded and you will be able to adjust your response based on that knowledge. And, the authors conclude, those of us that don't know a persuasive question when we hear one can learn how. The authors explain that their "results demonstrate that consumers can be educated about the potential impact of intention questions on subsequent behavior and that 'change of meaning' can occur."


From: When Consumers Don't Recognize "Benign" Intentions Questions as Persuasion Attempts (PATTI WILLIAMS, GAVAN J. FITZSIMONS, AND LAUREN G. BLOCK).

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