Persuasion and the power of patterns and expectations

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In baseball, there’s a pitch called a change-up.

It’s generally slower and easier to hit than other pitches, but, more often than not, it ends up as a strike. Why? Because batters react as much to what they expect will be coming their way as they do to what actually comes their way.

It’s all about expectations and patterning.

In fact, we all do the very same thing all day long. We respond to the circumstances of each day based, in part, on what those circumstances really are and, in part, on what we project or expect based on prior experience.

My April Fools two-article sequence was an example of the effect of setting up a certain expectation, then tapping it, subconsciously, to deliver an intended effect. On April 1st, I posted an article that was a clear spoof, just plain fun, knowing that this would be viewed as my contribution to the April Fools prankery.

Then, on April 2nd, I posted what I knew was the real April Fools article, a purported scoop on a donut that, like the borgs in the later Terminator movies, had the ability to magically come back together in the stomach, weld itself into it’s original donut shape, then sit there for a month, unfettered by the toxic, hydrochloric acid, without any ill-effect beyond appetite suppression and massive weight loss.

Had I posted this at any other time, the likelihood of anyone buying into such outrageous claims would’ve been slim.

But, because it came on the heels of an article that seemed to be my contribution to April Fools, the expectation was that my prankery was out of my system, the day was over, so the Terminator donut article must have been the real deal.

So, what’s the take-away?

Not too long ago, Maki wrote a great article over at on patterning your audience to create expectations and build readership. We can take this notion of expectations and patterning out into nearly everything we do, though.

With regard to our behavior, knowing we tend to react as much to our expectations as to our reality allows us the opportunity to step back, should we choose, and look at certain scenarios with more objective eyes. It allows us to forgive and often reveals hidden expectations we hold for others that can, at times, be pretty unrealistic or unfair

And, from a business or persuasive standpoint…

Knowing that others will respond not only to a single interaction, but to the expectations created by a series of interactions, we can begin to pattern expectations a few steps earlier in an effort to be more effective at persuading anyone to take a desired action.

It is trickery? Not at all. It simply acknowledges the reality of human nature.

It is a tool in your persuasive arsenal.

In fact, direct-response and internet-marketers have known this and used it for years. They create a series of regular interactions designed to “warm the list.” Which really translates to patterning an audience and instilling certain expectations about value and credibility.

Over time, these marketers then leverage the expectations they’ve created by inserting a product or service into the equation that rides the expectation of value straight through to a sale. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this, as long as the product or service being sold truly does measure up to the expectation of value. When that happens, everyone’s happy. When it doesn’t everyone is pissed of.

This translates to blogging monetization, too.

Create certain expectations about value, timing and content, continue to satisfy those expectations on a consistent basis and your audience grows. Many folks are happy just to have the opportunity to create and share in a community. But, if down the road, you choose to leverage that expectation to monetize your effort in some way, the stronger the expectation of value, the more likely your readers are to buy.

Brian Clark of fame actually did a phenomenal job of this with the release of his Teaching Sells course. He leveraged the expectation of value, then delivered on it.

Interestingly, creating consistent expectations has been one of the biggest challenges for me, as a blogger, because I tend to write on such a broad array of topics and, with my time split between writing and running businesses, my timing is all over the place.

So, I might write on blogging one day, parenting the next, entrepreneurship, marketing and fitness. This has led to a readership that is tolerant of my scope and patterns (thank you guys soooo much, you rock!), but it has also most definitely slowed the growth of this blog.

And, to remedy this, I will actually be launching at least one other (likely 2 to 3 more) blogs between May and July and allocating more focused content between them (I know, I’ve been threatening, but it’s really going to happen). That way, I can designate one blog for lifestyle-content, another for careers and entrepreneurship and potentially a third for blogging, writing and marketing.

So, were the last few days of posts a bit jarring for some readers?

Yup. Because I leveraged the expectation that because I wrote something and posted it on April 1st, my April Fools prank was officially over and then snuck in the real prank article on a day where people would be substantially more susceptible. But, my greater purpose was really to demonstrate the power of patterning and expectations on belief and action.

So, what do you think?

Do you ever subconsciously react not to what’s really happening, but to what you expected to happen, too? Can you see ways to tap your understanding of expectations and patterning to make you more effective at what you do?

Or, oh my, could this even be used for evil means?!?!

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15 responses

15 responses to “Persuasion and the power of patterns and expectations”

  1. Mike DeWitt says:

    That patterning and using innate cognitive biases would be used for evil purposes was the idea behind one of the greatest psychology books of all time: Cialdini’s “Influence”.


  2. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Mike – I actually have a copy of Cialdini’s book sitting on my to-read pile. I am fascinated by the art and science of persuasion, probably why I am so drawn to copywriting. And, yes, my hope is that exploring it allows people to get more “good” out of themselves and others, though, in the wrong hands, certain tools and techniques could certainly be used for less than constructive outcomes.

  3. Wow says:

    You clever bastard. 😉

  4. Brian’s example is a good one. Teaching Sells is the only program of its kind I trusted enough to pay for. In fact, I like like to think of it as building trust rather than as dealing with expectations.

  5. “It began as a joke, inspired by the movie Terminator…”

    This is EXACTLY how movies like AVP get made. Batman v. Superman should be out any day now.

  6. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Wow – Not so clever, just a quick learner! Hehe! 😉

    @ Remarkablogger – Yeah, it’s all points on a continuum, but Brian offered so much value for so long, the expectation was that anything he put forth would be worth buying. Plus, I think so many people benefited from his advice for so long, they were literally looking for a way to give him money. Last I knew, he has up around 1,000 Teaching Sells members!

    @ Hayden – I know, I know, it’s the copywriter in me…though, I fully expect to get a call from a an agent optioning the rights to he Terminator Donut(TM) anyday now! hahaha!

  7. I was wondering... says:

    Where is that picture from? It looks familiar.

  8. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ I was – Listen to my voice…you are get…ting…sleeeeeeeppppeeeeeeezzzzzzzz. Hehehe!, it’s where I get most of my images.

  9. Tim Brownson says:

    “Or, oh my, could this even be used for evil means?!?!”

    Not sure about evil, but it’s certainly used heavily by Church ministers. The biggest bulk purchases of Milton H Ericksons Patterns of the Hypnotic Techniques Vols 1 & 2 are (I am told) universities that specialize in theology. Why would that be I wonder? 😉

  10. Jonathan Fields says:

    @ Tim – that actually does not surprise me, if it’s true. I often tune in to watch some of the fiery Sunday morning preachers and, regardless which faith they follow, a number of them are absolutely mesmerizing.

  11. As one who holds out hope for a quick weight loss technique, I sure was disappointed to discover you were just pulling my leg. Ouch!

    In the back of my mind the whole time, however, was the side effect of this miraculous doughnut must be a killer.

    You made your point. I walked right in to that one.

  12. Shama Hyder says:


    This is your best article yet.

    Perhaps you could do a series on persuasion?


  13. Jeremy Davis says:

    This article discusses something I recently experienced and wrote about relating to the Starbucks chain closing several weeks ago.

    I debated whether Starbucks tasted better because it really was better or because I perceived it should be better due to the chain closing for retraining.

    If you’re interested, check it out here.

  14. Mike DeWitt says:


    Move “Influence” to the top of your pile! Don’t just take my word for it. Charlie Munger vice-chairman at Berkshire Hathaway says that it is the single greatest gift you can give to a loved one or colleague!


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