Contrast to Sell

The Contrast Principle


Using contrast to sell is best illustrated by the Contrast Principle.

Cialdini discusses the Contrast Principle at some length in his book “Influence”.

On this site there are some pages on Cialdini’s influence patterns from the book. In fact I have a page that is an influence summary of his principles.




What is the Contrast Principle ?

The contrast principle can be used when you are dealing with price objections to make the cost of your offer look smaller.
The idea is to compare your price to something larger so it doesn’t look so expensive.
You may compare your price to the extra profit the client will make or to your competitors or to the much larger costs inherent in the client’s business.




Let’s explain the contrast principle and see how it works.

The contrast principle affects the way we see the difference between two things that are presented one after another.
Simply put, if the second item is fairly different from the first, we will tend to see it as more different than it actually is.

So if we lift a light object first and then lift a heavy object, we will estimate the second to be heavier than if we had lifted it without first trying the light.

The contrast principle is well established in the field of psychics and applies to all sorts of perceptions besides weight.

If we talking to a beautiful woman at a cocktail party and are then joined by an unattractive one, the second woman will strike us as less attractive than she actually is.

In fact, studies done on the contrast principle at Arizona and Montana State universities suggest that we may be less satisfied with the physical attractiveness of our own lovers because of way the popular media bombard us with examples of unrealistically attractive models.

In one study college students rated a picture of an average-looking member of the opposite sex as less attractive if they had first looked through the ads in some popular magazines.

A nice demonstration of perceptual contrast is sometimes employed in psychophysics laboratories to introduce students to the principle firsthand.

Each student takes a turn sitting in front of three pails of water; one cold, one at room temperature, and one hot.
After placing one hand in the cold water and the other hand in the hot water the student is told to place both in the lukewarm water simultaneously.

The look of amused bewilderment that immediately registers tells the story: 
Even though both hands are in the same bucket, the hand that has been in the cold water feels as if it is now in hot water, while the one that was in the hot water feels as if it in cold water.




The point is that the same thing can be made to seem very different, depending on the nature of the event that precedes it.

Be assured that the nice little weapon of influence provided by contrast principle does not go unexploited.

The great advantage of this principle is not only that it works but also that it is virtually undetectable.

Those who employ it can cash in on its influence without any appearance of having structured the situation in their favour.




Retail clothiers are a good example.

Suppose a man enters a men's store and says that he wants to buy a three-piece and a sweater.
If you were the salesperson, which would you him first to make him likely to spend the most money?

Stores instruct their sales personnel to sell the costly item first.

Common sense might suggest the reverse ?
If a man has just spent a lot of money to purchase a suit, he may be reluctant to spend much more on the purchase of a sweater.

But the clothiers know better.
They behave in accordance with what the contrast principle would suggest:
Sell the suit first, because when it comes to look at sweaters, even expensive ones, their prices will not be as high in comparison.
A man might balk at the idea of paying $95 for a sweater, but if he has just bought a $495 suit, a sweater does not seem excessive.
The same principle applies to buying the accessories (shirt, shoes, belt) to go with his new suit.

Contrary to the common-sense view, the evidence supports the contrast-principle prediction.


Likewise real estate companies have been know to use "setup" properties.

The company maintains a house or two on its lists at inflated prices.
These houses are not intended to be sold to customers but to be shown to them, so that the genuine properties in the company's inventory would benefit from the comparison.

To quote a real estate salesperson, 
"The house I got them spotted for looks really great after they've first looked at a couple of dumps."


Automobile dealers use the contrast principle by waiting until the price for a new car has been negotiated before suggesting one option after another.

Remember, this and other influence principles are covered in my influence summary elsewhere on this site.

In the wake of a fifty thousand-dollar deal, the hundred or so dollars required for a CD stacker seems almost trivial in comparison.
The same will be true of the added expense of accessories like extra air bags.
The trick is to add the extras independently of one another, so that each item seems petty when compared to the already-determined one.

As the veteran car buyer can attest, many a budget price figure has ballooned from the addition of little options.
While the customer stands, signed contract in hand wondering what happened and finding no one to blame but himself the car dealer stands smiling the knowing smile of the master.




When I needed to get through a 5% price increase to an existing customer I would hint to the customer beforehand that the price increase might be quite substantial (e.g. 10%).
Then, later, when I presented a 5% increase the buyer was relieved rather than annoyed at the rise.

Where can you use this principle in your business ?

Here's to YourSalesSuccess.