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Persuasion starts with understanding the lizard inside. The persuader's goal is to get someone to do something they otherwise might not do – or not do something they might otherwise do. And in either case, a rational approach is less likely to succeed than appealing to the unconscious mind, the so-called lizard inside.

James Crimmins has been a professional persuader for 27 years, as chief strategic officer of advertising agency DDB Chicago, where he handled clients like Budweiser and McDonald's, as a professor of marketing at Northwestern University, and now as a consultant. He is fascinated with the lizard and has developed seven secrets of persuasion that he believes can help you to win others over to your product or ideas.

1. Speak the language of the lizard

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The language of our conscious mind is information, logic and reason. For the lizard, it's gaining attention, or mental availability, and powerful associations you can stimulate.

"Emotion is critical," he said in an interview. "We can't decide on our own whether a product is good or bad without exploring what others think. The line outside a restaurant door is a great influencer."

The U.S. presidential election is a prime example of the lizard at work: People choose a candidate that seems right for them, he says, and then try to find reasons to rationalize it.

2. Aim at the act, not the attitude

Usually we aim to change somebody's attitude through persuasion, getting them to take a better view of healthier food choices, for example, or to see the advantages of buying our brand.

"We often choose attitude change as the goal of persuasion because it feels so good when someone else comes to agree with our view of the world," he writes in his new book 7 Secrets of Persuasion. But the real goal is to get them to change their behaviour – to actually buy healthier foods or our brand. He insists, strange as it seems, that it's easier to change actions than attitudes. A buy-one-get-one-free offer for Cheerios may draw us away from our favoured Corn Flakes. A new coffee shop closer to our home can draw us from our traditional haunt.

3. Don't change desires; fulfill them

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Here he falls back on Dale Carnegie's classic advice: "The only way to influence people is to talk about what they want and show them how to get it." In choosing a car, men often look for excitement and females look for safety. That makes men less interested in buying a Volvo. To win them over, he says, don't preach safety but instead show them how Volvo can be the one fun-to-drive car their spouse will be happy with.

4. Never ask; unearth

Don't waste questions in market research that directly ask a respondent what they like or want – or why. They don't really know since the lizard mind is in control. Instead, ask less direct questions and gather data that help you to unearth their true motivations. Deduce, rather than ask. "In the presidential primaries, Republicans said the most important things were experience and track record and they chose the guy with no political experience or track record," he noted in the interview.

5. Focus on feeling

Forget Mr. Spock. You want to zero in on feelings, specifically showing people how they can feel the way they would like to feel by using your product. "Parents can feel better about themselves serving oatmeal to their kids. They feel like the person they want to be," he says. Nike shoes aren't going to make you more athletic than competitors' offerings. But Nike has made you feel more athletic when you buy their gear.

6. Create experience with expectation

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When he researched beer drinkers, he was fascinated that they found some beers gave them headaches – but never their favourite ale.

A beer drinker expects unfavourable effects from going outside his brand and gets them. Tests found people prefer Coca-Cola to an unlabelled cola even when that unlabelled drink is in fact Coca-Cola. You can change experience by changing expectations.

7. Add a little art

Make your message interesting. That includes leaving part of it out, so users can fill in the missing element. Apple's Think Different ads, with a portrait of independently minded, innovative historical figure and a small corporate logo, let you figure out the message.

People can take offence when you put too much into the message and underestimate their capacity to understand.

Think different. Think lizard.

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Web tail Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter

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