Understanding Persuasive Communication
Persuasive communication plays a significant role in helping others adopt a new behavior or take a preferred action.
If you’re going to persuade an audience through messaging, media, storytelling, or any other method, you need to give people what they want.
To understand the concept of giving someone what they want, you need to examine the difference between convincing and persuading someone. You’ll also need to understand the idea of manipulation and that convincing and persuading someone is not the same thing as manipulating.
Aristotle theorized that if you dropped two of the same objects from the same distance, they’d fall at a different rate. Galileo proved the opposite. Leaders and academics were convinced but not persuaded, continuing to teach Aristotle’s theory even though they’d observed the new truth.
If your messaging campaign is not doing something FOR your target audience, you’re probably trying to do something TO them, and that is manipulation. It’s a short term, surface fix that won’t get you very far. Sure, you’ll get some clicks, likes, and traction here and there, but strategic long-term consistent results take persuasion.
Convincing is limited to the mind. You might be convinced of the truth, but not convinced to do something. This is the distinction between convincing and persuading. Persuasion leads to action, going from the mind into motion.
“Money ‘wasted’ on water projects in Africa” — Annie Kelly
One of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations is to increase access to clean water. It’s reported that 360 Million (USD) was spent on unsuccessfully building boreholes and wells that were later abandoned and never repaired.
The excuses for the failures were plenty.
“People tend to make assumptions about why water sources fail and blame a lack of spare parts, financing, maintenance problems, or climate change. But often, the cause is not clear” — Casey and Carter of WaterAid Global.
“Donors, governments, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are to blame for installing boreholes and wells in rural Africa without providing resources and facilities for their long-term sustainability.” — Katine Chronicles blog, Annie Kelly.
Once the water had been drilled and access established, what happens?
People need water. Easier access to clean water will improve everyone’s health. It sounds crazy to think that people didn’t want these water sources, but that’s the first mistake in strategic communication, assuming that everyone has the same values and moral principles as you, needing the “right things” and only wanting things that are in excess and OK to go without.
It’s important to remember that people buy into what they want and not necessarily what they need. They had access to water many miles away, and although it was a hardship, it was what they needed, not wanted. At the time, they wanted the financial income that a short term international development project would bring to their region. Those in control of the local community didn’t want the long term water as much as they wanted the short term income.
How can you help these communities? How can you benefit customers, clients, and beneficiaries to access the things they need to stay safe, healthy, and sustainable when they don’t want it? Persuasion.
Persuasive communication plays a significant role in helping people adopt a new behavior or take a preferred action. Shaping a message around the desired reinforcement translates to giving audiences what they want.
Aside from knowing who your target audience is, and after having listened to them without judgment, and even after establishing what it is they really want, there are few other tactics to nest under persuasion to ensure success.
Time. Connect a sense of urgency to a message. Why is acting soon going to help them get what they want?
Validate. Repeat ideas, beliefs, or wants in a way that validates concerns or desires, using the “customer is always right” attitude. The customer is not always right, but let’s acknowledge their view, so we have a better chance of grabbing their attention.
Choices. When you give people two options, for example, which will help them and reach the same messaging goal, you let them stay in control. Instead of saying I’ll give you what you want “this” way, you can say which way, “A” or “B,” would you like to receive what you want?
Trust. Trust could be built using an “influencer” in the community to speak on behalf of a product, project, or brand. Building trust might mean allowing for more transparency over some time before asking people to act. Trust is also established when you don’t oversell or make something sound too good to be true even though it might be.
Galileo convinced people there was a flaw in a mathematical equation; they mentally believed it, sure. He failed to understand the people receiving the message to present them with the right argument and reasoning, aligning with what they’d be receptive to hearing. It didn’t matter that his discovery was a fact.
The citizens in rural African communities were content to walk the extra miles to access less water than if a well was located in their villages to receive water by the gallons. Adopting the new procedures to maintain the wells dropped as soon as the funders and NGOs left town.
People don’t always want the same things you do no matter how factual or healthy.
Whatever you are messaging, direct it toward a segmented target audience. Know how the audience receives messages, crafting the message according to that platform (radio, print, video, text). Tell or show them, using a trustworthy face or voice, that you understand what they want, validating their ideas, giving them choices, and then make it timely.
With so much competition in this space, it’s important to use tactics that will get people’s attention, stand out, and then meet your goals to make people’s lives better, bringing them a service, brand, or critical information.