Christine recognized that people under the age of 30 were not joining the credit union. Christine wanted to write a message to board members about adopting marketing strategies and services that appeal to younger members. She planned to follow up by presenting her ideas in person at an upcoming meeting. The board is composed of longtime members who favor what they consider a “personal,” “friendly,” and “homey” credit union environment. They view moves to online marketing and services as breaking their brand of community and personal touch. The majority also oppose adding too many extra financial services, perceiving these services as “slick” and “too similar to banks.”
Haniz Is in Charge of Recruiting Participants for a Local Charity Event
Christine asked Haniz to be in charge of recruiting credit union members to join this year’s Hope Walkathon to support research on breast cancer. Better Horizons has assembled a walkathon team for this prominent community event each year for nearly a decade. Haniz is writing an email to send to all credit union members. The message will be modified slightly to appear as an announcement on the credit union website as well.
Haniz Needs to Create a Flyer Explaining the Benefits of Credit Union Membership Compared to Banks
Haniz is working on a flyer describing the benefits of membership at Better Horizons Credit Union. The flyer will be part of a packet of materials that is distributed to community members who participate in free financial planning and income tax assistance seminars offered by Better Horizons. Haniz is using the message to highlight the benefits of Better Horizons compared to local banks.
Haniz Is Helping to Develop a Sales Message for Auto Loans
Haniz and several other employees are working on sales messages for auto loans. In recent months, Better Horizon’s senior management decided the credit union should become a “player” in the auto loans market. Few Better Horizons members take advantage of car loans, most assuming that dealer financing is cheaper and easier to get.
How will Christine and Haniz write a message to board members that warms them up to ideas about new online services and marketing geared toward gaining younger members? (See the section on internal persuasive messages.)
How will Haniz persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon? (See the section on external persuasive messages.)
How will Haniz develop a general-purpose flyer that shows the broad benefits of choosing Better Horizons Credit Union over banks? (See the “Constructing External Persuasive Messages” section.)
How will Haniz develop sales messages for an auto loan campaign? (See the “Composing Mass Sales Messages” section.)
LO9.1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.
While credibility is critical to all business communications, its importance is heightened for persuasive messages. By definition, persuasion implies that you are communicating with someone who does not think or feel the same way as you do. So, your goal is to help your audience members identify with and find merit in your positions. If they question your credibility, they are unlikely to carefully consider your ideas, requests, or recommendations.
Persuasion is becoming more difficult as we live in a time of increasing mistrust. In Chapter 1, we discussed the declining levels of trust for nearly all professional groups, particularly business-related occupations. Michael Maslansky, one of the leading corporate communications experts, has labeled this the post-trust era (PTE):
Just a few years ago, salespeople, corporate leaders, marketing departments, and communicators like me had it pretty easy. We looked at communication as a relatively linear process. … But trust disappeared, things changed. … In a word, trust is out, skepticism is in.1
Over the past decade, Michael Maslansky and his colleagues have examined how language is used to persuade and motivate others. By interviewing hundreds of thousands of employees and customers in some 30 countries, they have found that the language of trust is more important than ever. Furthermore, they have noticed emerging trends in how language impacts trust. Strategies for persuasion that once worked are less effective in the PTE. Other strategies continue to work well. In this chapter, we sort through some of these basic principles of persuasive writing and identify those strategies that are most effective in the PTE.
LO9.2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.
Persuasion involves extensive planning: analyzing your audience to understand their needs, values, and how they are influenced; developing your ideas as you wrestle with the complicated business issues at hand; and creating a message structure that most effectively reduces resistance and gains buy-in. Many effective business communicators spend weeks and months learning about their target audiences, gathering information, and piecing together persuasive messages.
To convince others to modify their own ideas and accept yours, you need to show that you care about them and that your ideas fit into their interests. This is the approach communication specialist Liz Simpson recommends:
To succeed at the persuasion game, you have to be absolutely committed to understanding the other side’s position as well as your own. Without that willingness to try on the other side’s arguments, you simply cannot be persuasive. From that understanding will come the insights you need to move the other side over to your camp.2
This is true not only for ideas but also for products and services. Your best argument is always one that meets the needs and wants of your audience.
Understanding the needs and values of others is not simple. It requires a strong listening orientation. You will need to ask lots of questions to get beyond a surface understanding about the hopes, expectations, and hidden assumptions of your target audience. Once you know your target audience’s needs and values, you are in a strong position to explain how your product, service, or idea benefits them.
In addition to understanding the needs and values of your target audience, you should consider the psychological principles that impact how people are influenced. Also, you should consider whether you are making a logical appeal or an emotional one in your persuasive messages.
Dr. Robert Cialdini, a marketing psychologist, has spent his career studying how people are influenced in business and marketing environments. He has examined research in this area for four decades, plus he spent three years taking undercover jobs in car dealerships, telemarketing firms, fund-raising organizations, and other buyer-seller environments to learn the most influential ways of getting people to say yes. Based on his work, he has identified six principles of persuasion (aside from the price and quality of products and services). These principles include reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.3 Haniz’s message to recruit credit union members for the Hope Walkathon offers an interesting example for applying these various principles (see Figure 9.7, p. 258, for her completed message).
Reciprocation is a principle of influence based on returning favors. As defined by Cialdini, “We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”4 Cialdini cited an interesting study in which a professor sent Christmas cards to a random sample of strangers to see what would happen. Many of the card recipients reciprocated, sending cards to the professor without attempting to find out who he was. The study showed that even card receivers who did not know the card sender and who might not interact with the card sender in the future felt compelled to return the favor of sending a card. People tend to feel obligated to pay back others when they’ve received something of value.5
Haniz uses the principle of reciprocation in her message in several ways. For example, she focuses on a lengthy reciprocal relationship that the credit union has with the local breast cancer center, and the walkathon serves as the mechanism that draws the two organizations together. The credit union helps the center by generating walkathon donations, and the center helps the credit union and the larger community through more effective breast cancer treatment and education. Furthermore, the message implies a reciprocal relationship between the credit union and its members by offering various free items, such as a T-shirt, a water bottle, and a cancer guide, to members who are willing to participate in the walkathon.
Consistency is based on the idea that once people make an explicit commitment, they tend to follow through or honor that commitment. In other words, they want to stay consistent with their original commitment. Cialdini cited several studies to make this point. In one, psychologists found that horse racing fans become more confident that their horses would win after placing a bet. Once they made a final commitment, they were further convinced of the correctness of their choice.6
Haniz appeals to commitment and consistency in several ways. Foremost, she appeals to the credit union’s long commitment to the fight against breast cancer. Some credit union members will want to continue to honor this long-standing collective commitment and will appreciate that their credit union is doing so. She also provides links in the message for people to immediately act on their interest in the walkathon. A link to register right now serves as an immediate commitment to participate.
Social proof is a principle of influence whereby people determine what is right, correct, or desirable by seeing what others do. Haniz employs several appeals to social proof in her letter. She describes the level of participation and contribution among members in last year’s walkathon, implying that the popularity and financial impact of this event make it a good cause. Also, the walkathon itself is a type of social proof; the gathering of thousands of people wearing team T-shirts and marching in unison for a cause is powerful imagery.7
Liking is a principle of influence whereby people are more likely to be persuaded by people who they like.8 Haniz appeals directly to this principle by describing Betty Williams, who is a breast cancer survivor, the benefactor of the breast center, a credit union member, and a participant in the walkathon. Betty Williams is presumably a person most people in the community know and like, a woman who many of the credit union members may know from running into her at the credit union or other community events, and a woman who is passionate about an important cause (a reason for liking). Haniz emphasizes in the message that walkathon participants will join this likable and respected community member at the walkathon.
Authority is a principle of influence whereby people follow authority figures. The number of celebrity endorsements in advertising is evidence of how authority can impact persuasion.9 Although Haniz does not appeal to a national celebrity, she does appeal to a prominent local community member—again Betty Williams. With Betty’s level of influence and personal experience combating cancer, she is likely seen as an authority. Furthermore, Haniz also appeals to members to support the Betty Williams Breast Center, a group of expert professionals who collectively are authorities on breast cancer.
Scarcity is a principle of influence whereby people think there is limited availability of something they want or need, so they must act quickly.10 Haniz employs this principle in terms of time. She explains that the walkathon occurs only once each year (limited time period to participate) and that participants must sign up by a given deadline (limited time period to sign up).
You will apply these principles most often in external persuasive messages, and you should always apply them fairly. Cialdini describes them as “weapons of influence.”11 The very term weapons implies that they are powerful and can do harm. In the “Apply the FAIR Test” section near the end of the chapter, we further discuss the appropriate use of these principles.