Getting someone else to come around to your point of view can be a tricky thing. Before you can ask your audience to act, you’ll need to make them aware of your point of view and convince them to consider it. It’s even tougher to change a point of view that they already have. You could take on the task directly and come armed with a list of arguments and facts. But that’s just the standard way of doing things.
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Another approach is to talk around the issue, subtly shaping the decision-making landscape. Like the forestry service offering a path through the woods that fits the setting, you clear obstacles and offer the best path past hazards while still allowing the audience to draw their own conclusions. It’s more difficult to do and takes more time. But it can be a lot more effective.
Groomed Trails and Shortcuts
When planting an idea you have to be early enough to affect your audience before they take a firm position. And you can’t come on too strong or they’ll know the idea is not their own. A long term awareness campaign requires a lot of faith and patience. But we can also take advantage of shortcuts. An idea that comes from a single source can take quite a long time to wedge itself into consciousness. Having the idea reinforced by multiple, independent sources greatly increase that message’s effectiveness. And you get even further by getting your audience to agree with that message on their own, or at least recall your claim for a positive reason. (Plus the act of recalling something can deliver positive benefits on its own as well.)
Getting your audience to recall your message can jumpstart your attempts at persuasion and there are several effective tools for the job. Have you ever had to remember a phone number without having a pen to write it down? If you’re like most people, you repeat it to yourself, out loud (at least if there’s nobody else around to look at you funny.) There’s something about speaking that makes it easier to remember. There has actually been quite a bit of neuroscience research on the topic – suffice to say voicing your ideas requires additional brainpower that helps with recall.
Likewise, concepts and arguments stick when you try them on for size, either in your head or on paper. Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators said, “thoughts disentangle themselves passing over the lips and through pencil tips.” Translating an abstract thought into coherent communication requires you to process it first.
So how can you get your audience to try out your idea without putting up conscious barriers first? As a thought exercise, let’s take a look at some potential techniques and how they might play out in a creative campaign.
1. Awareness campaign plus 3rd party ask – Let’s say you’re a small Chicago based company in a competitive industry like organic snack food. You could run a two part campaign to cement your message of being a local favorite. In part one, you’d do a typical awareness effort like becoming a sponsor at a 5K or a summer festival in town. Give away samples and literature that describe how you’ve been connected to your city for x number or years or another unique and re-callable claim.
In step 2, follow up with the people that were exposed to your brand claim shortly after the event but do it through a 3rd party. Your goal is to trigger the memory of their initial interaction with you (and reap the benefits of that recognition) and to use a positive reward to solidify your brand positioning claim. Continuing the example of a local snack company, you could create a simple Facebook quiz run by Windy City Software that lets users answer questions about how well they know their hometown. One of the questions will be related to your claim. “Which of these companies based in Oak Park was one of the first organic snack options in Chicago?…” The user is motivated to dredge up the memory in order to get the question right and your claim is reinforced.
The rest of the quiz can be fun cover or you could band together with like minded complementary vendors who might also like to get involved.By the way Facebook has always made it easy to target advertising to a specific segment like residents of your city or neighborhood. They have also recently added an option to upload your own set of email addresses in order to create a custom advertising segment – as an event sponsor you might have access to just such a list.
2. Whitepaper and custom captcha – A lot of smart marketers are using content marketing to good effect these days. If you work in an industry where you can offer a helpful guide or intro to an unfamiliar issue, whitepapers are great ways to introduce your brand. Traditionally, content marketers will write a whitepaper and offer it for free on a webpage. In order to reduce friction and encourage as much use as possible, whitepapers are often offered without having to register or fill in a form at all.I agree with line ofthinking and believe it works out best in the end to avoid the temptation of requiring a name or email address. But even cynical consumers understand the need for short captcha tools to guard against abuse. Why not ditch the traditional captcha tools and come up with a custom one that works to your branding advantage? Ask them a simple question that makes them think, even a little bit, about your brand. “This guide to DIY photography is brought to you by the lighting pros at ______”
By requiring that they type the answer, you’ve added a measure of stickiness to your branding message.
3. Co-opt a common sound and link it to your brand claim. – As anyone who has had a jingle stuck in their head knows, audio can make a terrific vehicle for recall. If you were a pet food company you could incorporate the whirring sound of a can being opened into your TV or radio ads about the quality of your product. By linking your claim of being a superior brand to the common sound of a can opener working, you can encourage recall every time your audience encounters that trigger.
On a similar note, you could create a useful preparedness mnemonic that doubles as a recall device. 1-800-ASK-GARY is a lawyer referral service that already seems to be everywhere these days. During their radio ads, they could offer an acrostic for accident victims to remember what to do while at the same time encouraging brand recall.
G – Get out of the way of traffic and put on hazards
A – Authorities: call the police and, if necessary, an ambulance
R – Record information including notes about the accident and insurance info
Y – Your rights – don’t admit to guilt or sign anything and call a lawyer. 1-800-ASK-GARY is there 24/7 to answer your legal questions.
Each of these hypothetical campaigns use recall as a means of getting your message to ‘cut in line’ amid the clutter of traditional noise. What other creative ideas can you come up with for getting consumers to process ideas and boosting recall?
It’s always fun to look at examples of successful campaigns and to learn from great persuaders. With Easter behind us a few days I thought we could look at one of the most successful speeches of all time: Peter’s address at Pentecost. He transformed the lives of thousands of people with one speech, amid extremely adverse conditions. Let’s take a look at how it happened.
First, a little background on the environment where this event took place. After Jesus was crucified, he rose and appeared to hundreds of people over at least a few weeks time. But the large majority of the population thought of Jesus as simply a wise teacher and a failed Messiah. They were probably aware of rumors of his ressurection but there was no real support of Christ as savior and there was certainly no ‘Christianity’ as a religion. In fact, Jesus himself instructed his followers to await the Holy Spirit before setting out to evangelize.
During the Feast of Weeks, Jews from dozens of countries gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the harvest. It was during this time that the apostles received the Holy Spirit and began speaking in tongues to the crowds. The audience was amazed that they were hear the message in their own language. But rather than embracing this phenomenon as proof of the Lord’s involvement, they were confused and skeptical. Some were openly adverse to what was happening, heckling the speakers and accusing them of being drunk. It was in this environment that Peter delivered his presentation.
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
“‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.
And I will show wonders in the heavens above
and signs on the earth below,
blood, and fire, and vapor of smoke;
the sun shall be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood,
before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day.
And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’
“Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. For David says concerning him,
“‘I saw the Lord always before me,
for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken;
therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced;
my flesh also will dwell in hope.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.’
Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing. For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says,
“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.’
Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
Entering a chaotic situation, Peter took charge by quickly connecting to the audience, establishing an authority and by challenging them with an extremely confrontational style. By laying into his audience he ultimately won them over.
1. Finding common ground
Peter starts off by addressing his crowd as Jews, both native and foreign. Then he goes on to refer to Joel and David’s writings, both Jewish prophets that the audience would be well aware of. In a sense he’s getting the crowd around to his side by saying ‘we’re all Jews here, let’s talk plainly.”
2. Appealing to authority
The first task for a persuasive speaker is to establish why the audience should care. Appealing to authority, what Aristotle called out as ethos, is a classic mode of persuasion. But since Peter lacked the recognition he needed to stand on his own credentials, he held up Jewish authorities of the past and the audience’s own experiences. He quotes passages that concern the last days, judgement and God’s promise to send a Messiah. These are topics that men not were not only aware of but anticipated intently. He then connects those familiar passages with current events. The men in that generation were witnesses to Jesus’s life and ministry. Peter is saying ‘don’t take my word for it, listen to Joel and David. And if that’s not enough, just think about what you’ve seen with your own eyes!’
3. Issuing a challenge
Rather than laying out a logical path for them to follow or presenting facts and letting the audience draw their own conclusions, Peter hits them over the head with their failure. The most difficult part of creating change is pushing through simple agreement, where the audience is smiling and nodding in their seats, but won’t wind up actually doing anything. Peter pulled it off by essentially calling his audience out. ‘The miracles and wonders that surrounded Jesus’s ministry should have made it plain that he was sent by God. But instead of receiving that gift, you put him to death.’ That kind of accusation would make indifference impossible.
The result of Peter’s arguments were just what he needed to create change. The audience recognized the problem and were ashamed enough to be open to a new direction. The last thing he had to do was to offer a tangible action that they could take right then. This part is not as tough as all the convincing, but it’s critical to sealing the deal. Peter is ready when they ask ‘what must we do?’ He tells them simply ‘repent and be baptized’ and ‘receive the Holy Spirit.’ He also offers the help and support they need to take that action. With such a simple way to get started, the audience responds in a big way.
Acts 2:37 says when they heard this, they were cut to the heart. I love that line. According to Luke’s account, over 3,000 men went from being confused skeptics that doubted Jesus’s ministry to committed believers willing to stick their necks out in front of their families and culture to follow Christ. It’s an amazing turnaround.
The other part of that process that I’ve left out, but that can’t be overstated, is the work of the Holy Spirit in working on hearts. No doubt Peter’s words alone would not have had the same effect. Being obedient to the Spirit’s leading, Peter was used in a dramatic way on Pentecost and provided a great blueprint for using persuasive rhetoric in a positive way: connect with the audience, establish why they should listen, make action urgent and have a simple way to get started.