A $25 Gas Card or $25 Visa Card – Which Would You Choose?

I’ve been on the road a lot lately leading workshops for people to improve their sales skills and one of the skills we’ve worked on is influence. I’m a firm believer that influence and persuasion come into play almost every time we interact with another human being because quite often we’re making requests of them or trying to convince them of something.

Aristotle defined persuasion this way – the art of getting someone to do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do if you didn’t ask. I would differ from that definition only slightly – it’s not just art, there are scientific studies that tell us the most effective ways to persuade. However, I agree with Aristotle’s basic premise. After all, if someone is doing what you want before you ask, there’s no need to ask.

One aspect of influence that can make a big difference in hearing “Yes” vs. “No” is something called the contrast phenomenon. Simply put, what we compare something to can make all the difference. For example, is paying $20,000 for a car too expensive or a good deal? If you’ve only bought used cars in the past then $20,000 might seem like a lot compared to what you’ve paid in the past. On the other hand, if you’ve always bought new, high end, nice vehicles then $20,000 might seem like a bargain compared to prior purchases. The $20,000 price tag can only be called “too expensive” or “a good deal” compared to something else.

During my training sessions I like to pose this question, “Which is more valuable; a $25 gas card or a $25 Visa card?” Most workshop participants reflexively choose the gas card which is understandable because of the price of gas and fears about rising prices as summer approaches. It’s a classic “compared to what” situation.

But if you think about it for a moment you’ll quickly realize they’re both worth the same amount, $25. When I point that out I still get a few protests, “But if you spend it now you can get more gas, especially if gas prices go up like they say.” It’s true that you might get more gas today than several months down the road but no matter how high prices go you can still get $25 in gas.
Then I raise this question, “Can you spend the $25 Visa card on gas?” Of course you can and you can spend it on a lot of things other than gas. While they’re both worth the same $25 I’d argue the Visa card is actually more valuable because you have many more options on how to use it. When I point this out you can see eyebrows rise as if people are thinking, “I never looked at it that way before.”

Despite the fact that the Visa card is more versatile – dare I say valuable – if I were running an incentive contest I’d offer the gas card for the simple reason that most people think the gas card is more valuable because they’re comparing it to something scarce, something that might go up in price. And that brings me to the takeaway – whenever you try to persuade someone think of the best legitimate comparison you can, the one that will make your request shine brightest, and incorporate that into your presentation or request. Doing so will give the best opportunity for you to hear “Yes!”

Brian, CMCT
Helping You Learn to Hear “Yes”.

2 replies
  1. Cheri Allbritton
    Cheri Allbritton says:

    We are your case in point after the fact. When gas first hit $2 we paired up with a vendor to promote a product line giving out $25 gas cards. Customers clamored to buy the product to get their allotment of cards. Six months later we ran the same type promo. It was successful but people had become use to the climbing gas prices so we switched to the Visa gift cards. Since the third promo was so close to Christmas we had the same results as the original gas card
    promo…people clamoring to buy to get their allotment of Visa cards. Our company received all kinds of feedback about the Visa cards being their preference. Of course by then they were use to climbing gas prices in increments. We are just finishing up right now the same type of promo and are doing well, but who knows if we could have forseen gas prices leaping, not inching toward $4 per gallon and had switched back to the gas cards if we could have generated even more sales?

  2. Brian
    Brian says:

    Interesting Cheri. A friend found the same thing. He emailed me and wrote, "I did a ton of that sort of promotional work – and promotional research, too. The more specific, the higher the take rate. A $12 movie ticket to Batman pulls better than a $12 movie ticket to anything, which pulls better than a $10 bill. We're better art critics than we are artists."


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