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Contrast Principle – Influence and Sales Strategies

Contrast Principle - Influence and Sales Strategies

Contrast Principle – Influence and Sales Strategies


The Contrast Principle is when you experience or interact with two similar things almost simultaneously or in succession of another one. As a result, your perception of the second product or service is influenced by the first and is perhaps one of the most invisible influence strategies that are shared in this series of influence strategies. 

Clothing stores generally sell the most expensive item first. Perhaps it goes against traditional common sense and our better judgment that if someone has already bought an expensive item first, then they may be less inclined to spend any more on a sweater, pair of shoes or an additional jacket or accessory to accompany this first, expensive purchase. 

However, the reverse is actually true and the reason it works is that it plays into the very powerful contrast principle that clothing retailers are well aware of. They play on the notion that it is more effective to sell the expensive item first because when it comes to buying another accessory such as pair of shoes, sweater or additional jacket even with a high price tag, their prices may not seem quite as high in comparison. Contrary to our better judgment as explained above the evidence supports the contrast-principle prediction.

As a result, it is far more powerful to offer the more expensive item first and by failing to do so, not only does it lose the impact of the contrast principle it can actually also works against you or the seller. On the other hand, by offering the most inexpensive item to the customer first and then showing them the expensive item afterward this makes the expensive item appear to be even more expensive as the buyer will now subconsciously contrast this it with the first inexpensive item they were shown.

Car salesmen and women also use a similar strategy when selling cars. They wait for their customers to agree to the purchase of the car before attempting to sell them all manner of extras such as tinted windows, alloy wheels, and a wide range of other optional extras. When placed in comparison to the large price of the car that they had been initially presented with and now bought – they now don’t seem quite as expensive in comparison or in contrast.

To make this powerful influence strategy even more memorable – you can consider putting your hand in a bucket of water. If you can imagine first submerging your hand in cold water, and then submerging your hand in the second bucket of water – this time full of warm water, this warm water may feel even hotter than it actually is. This is caused by the contrasting effect to the first bucket of cold water. Equally, if you first lift a heavy object, and then subsequently lift a heavy object, the second object which is lighter may appear even lighter still.

This very powerful invisible strategy of the contrast principle can also be used (and is in fact regularly used) when selling houses or other expensive items too. Some real estate agents may want to influence a client into buying a particular house. In doing so they could employ the contrast principle by showing them a couple of less desirable properties first. 

These are sometimes in a poor state of repair and often come with an inflated price. By the time the buyer arrives at the genuine house, or property that the real estate agent wants to sell them of wants them to be interested in, they are more excited and overwhelmed by the high quality and lower price in comparison or contrast to the other couple they had previously been shown.

In summary, perceptual contrast is the tendency to see two things that are different from one another as being even more different than they actually are. The power of this strategy to influence others is that it often goes unnoticed.

So if you are selling a high-value product or service then alongside other principles of persuasion, the contrast principle can increase the number of maybes you turn into yesses and even psychologically help to make products and services appear to be less expensive or more desirable than they actually are if they were presented without the contrast principle.


Duncan shares more influence insights and tactical strategies as well as more about the contrast principle on his Youtube Channel on Youtube.com/duncanstevens – to discover more about the contrast prinicple effect or to even hire him to speak about influence, sales, leadership or collaboration at your event you can follow the link below. Duncan is a professional keynote speaker and global authority on influence and persuasion. 

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