Steve Jobs, the iconic co-founder of Apple, was a master of persuasion. His ability to convince billions of people to buy his products at premium prices was no coincidence.
While technical innovations and relentless advertising played a role, the true secret to his success lay in the persuasive techniques that he employed. Techniques that anyone can learn and adopt.
In this post, I share how Steve Jobs managed to sway the world using simple, yet powerful persuasion strategies that you can apply in your own life.
Leveraging the Labor Illusion Effect
One of the most effective tactics Steve Jobs used to instill confidence in Apple products was to emphasize the amount of work and effort he put into their development.
Take his first keynote back at Apple recorded in 1998. He’s been re-hired as interim CEO. While he was away the company started to fail, revenue fell, and profits dwindled.
It was vital for Steve to rebuild confidence in Apple. Here’s what he chose to say.
By highlighting the countless hours, weekends, and years dedicated to perfecting Apple devices, he invoked a psychological principle known as the labor illusion.
The labor illusion suggests that when people witness the effort and labor put into a task, they tend to value the end product more.
This principle has been demonstrated in various contexts, from restaurant-goers appreciating their meals more when they see chefs preparing the food to house buyers valuing properties more when their real estate agents spent hours crafting a list of options.
In fact, a 2022 paper called “Pulling back the curtain” found that going on a brewery tour — and seeing the work that goes into making beer — will make visitors 32% more likely to buy that beer.
It’s something I’ve tried when promoting my podcast Nudge.
Turns out, stating that I’ve spent “480 minutes listening to marketing experts” made people 45% more likely to click my Reddit ad (look at the copy above the image).
By applying the labor illusion to Apple products, Jobs made consumers appreciate and value them more, which ultimately drove sales and customer loyalty. When he launched the iPhone, he noted, "This is a day I’ve been looking forward to for two and a half years."
Harnessing the Halo Effect
Another powerful persuasion technique that Jobs used was the Halo Effect, a cognitive bias in which people's positive associations with one thing influence their perception of other things associated with it.
For example, if someone likes George Clooney, they are more likely to try the coffee he endorses and might even perceive it as tasting better.
I tested the halo effect for myself on my podcast Nudge. I gathered 200 people and asked them if they would listen to my podcast.
However, 50% of participants just saw my podcast logo. And the other half saw my logo next to some very popular British podcasts.
I wanted to see if merely being in the presence of other popular podcasts would boost the likelihood that people would listen to Nudge.
Turns out, people were almost 3X more willing to listen to Nudge when it was pictured alongside other well-known podcasts.
Jobs was well aware of the Halo Effect and expertly applied it to Apple's marketing campaigns, most notably in the iconic "Think Different" campaign.
By associating Apple with groundbreaking figures like Gandhi, Einstein, John Lennon, and Picasso, Jobs created positive associations between these visionary individuals and the Apple brand.
The success of the "Think Different" campaign, which won multiple awards and revived Apple's dwindling market share, can be largely attributed to Jobs' understanding of the Halo Effect.
Making a Lasting Impression with Distinctiveness
Standing out in a crowded market is essential for success, and Steve Jobs knew this all too well.
He understood the Von Restorff effect, a psychological principle that states distinctive items are more memorable than those that blend in.
Von Restorff’s research shows that numbers are 30X more memorable when placed alongside letters in a memory test.
Almost 100 years later, Richard Shotton replicated the research, this time finding that one brand from a unique category (say fast food) is 4X more memorable when placed alongside multiple brands from one category (say automotive).
This principle can be seen across marketing today. It’s why Party Cannon (a death-metal band) are 30X more memorable than their peers.
Jobs applied this principle to Apple's products, making them visually striking and easily recognizable.
One prime example is the 1998 iMac launch. While competing desktop computers at the time were uniformly gray and dull, the iMac was unveiled in an array of vibrant colors, immediately capturing the attention of consumers.
This distinctive design played a crucial role in Apple's resurgence, as the iMac helped return profits to the company after years of decline.
Steve Jobs' ability to persuade and convince people was not a matter of luck or happenstance. He had a deep understanding of the psychological principles that influenced human behavior and expertly applied them to his work at Apple.
Modern Day Persuasion Masters
While Steve Jobs remains an iconic figure in the world of persuasion, there are several other individuals in the startup communities who are just as skilled at winning people over.
Take Arlan Hamilton, founder of Backstage Capital, who broke barriers in the venture capital industry as a black, queer woman. Her persuasive storytelling, relatability, and genuine belief in her mission have garnered her a loyal following and impressive investments.
Or Payal Kadakia, the founder of ClassPass. She has revolutionized the fitness industry through her persuasive skills. Her ability to share personal experiences and connect with her audience has successfully convinced investors, customers, and partners to support her mission.
But Wait … There's One More Thing
But there's one more persuasion technique that Jobs used repeatedly to sell the iPod, pitch the iPhone, and announce the iPad.
To discover this powerful tactic, you'll have to tune in to the next episode of Nudge Podcast, where I unveil the final piece of the puzzle in Steve Jobs' arsenal of persuasion techniques.