Most people justify their business decisions based on the soundness of ideas, not feelings. Savvy business communicators, however, understand the importance of injecting emotion into their persuasive messages. While they appreciate the place of reason in business and consumer decisions, they understand that resistance to ideas, products, and services is often emotional. Conversely, they are aware that their target audiences often possess strong emotional attachment to competing ideas, products, and services. Thus, effective communicators find ways to appeal to the core emotional benefits of products, services, and ideas.12
Even in internal persuasive messages, emotional appeals are critical, as indicated by Craig Conway, president and CEO of PeopleSoft:
Good communicators have an enormous advantage over poor communicators because so much of running a company is inspirational. … You just have to be able to persuade people that they are a part of something bigger. If you have a creative vision and you can communicate it in a compelling way to get people excited, you will recruit better people as a result. Then, it is easy to convince the world that you have a more dynamic company.13
Part of understanding your audience is identifying the needs and values that resonate emotionally for them.
Typically, internal persuasive messages focus mostly on logical appeals. External persuasive messages, with the exception of those that emphasize price, generally include strong emotional appeals. As you develop persuasive messages, think about how to get the right mix of logical and emotional appeals. Generally, you will supply both but emphasize one or the other. Keep in mind that even when you choose to make strong emotional appeals in written messages, you should generally avoid the tone of mass advertising, where exaggeration, sarcasm, and over-the-top appeals are acceptable and even effective. Later in the chapter, you will notice several messages created by Haniz and Christine—two based more strongly on logical appeals (Figures 9.5 and 9.8) and two on emotional appeals (Figures 9.7 and 9.9).
Idea development for persuasive messages is critical. Since your audience is resistant to the message, one of your key tasks is to establish credibility. Developing strong ideas in the interest of your audience helps you demonstrate your voice of competence. It involves gaining a deep understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of your ideas, products, and services. In addition, it involves gaining a thorough understanding of competing ideas, products, and services.
Thus, before attempting to persuade others, expert business communicators seek to understand products, services, and ideas in great depth so that they can speak from an authoritative and competent perspective. To address the issue of attracting younger credit union members, Christine and Haniz spend months learning about the strategies that other credit unions use. When Haniz works on a message that promotes her credit union over local banks, she carefully analyzes and compares the major products and services offered by her credit union and those of competing banks. When Haniz works on a message to persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon, she learns all she can about participation in this event and how it helps in the fight against breast cancer.
Components of Persuasive Messages
- Gain attention.
- Raise a need.
- Deliver a solution.
- Provide a rationale.
- Show appreciation.
- Give counterpoints (optional).
- Call to action.
Most business writing is direct and explicit. It is direct in that you begin with a main idea or argument and then provide the supporting reasons. It is explicit in that nothing is implied; statements contain full and unambiguous meaning. When you write directly and explicitly, you help your readers understand your message and you show respect for their time.
Compared to other business messages, persuasive messages are somewhat more indirect and implicit. They are sometimes indirect in that they provide the rationale for a request before making the specific request. They are sometimes implicit in that the request or some of the rationale for the request may be implied. In other words, sometimes the reader needs to read between the lines to grasp the entire meaning. Implicit statements politely ask people to do or think differently. Also, explicitly stating some types of benefits is considered poor form—for example, matters of financial or career gain in internal persuasive requests.14
The first task of most persuasive messages is to gain the attention of your readers. You can do this in a variety of ways, including asking a rhetorical question, providing a compelling or interesting fact, revealing a compelling statistic, issuing a challenge, or posting a testimonial.15 For internal persuasive messages, the primary means of gaining attention is demonstrating a business need—a gap between what is and what could be.16 You generally have more flexibility in external persuasive messages as you choose your attention-getters. See Table 9.1 for examples of attention-getters Haniz might use for some of her communication tasks.
|Type of Attention-Getter||Example|
|Rhetorical question||Did you know that average credit union members save $400 per year compared to bank customers?|
|Intriguing statistic||In the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership.|
|Compelling and unusual fact/s||You’ve probably heard car dealers boast about their near-zero percent interest rates—but there’s a catch! By financing with car dealers, you give up your opportunity to receive manufacturer rebates and your power to negotiate on price.|
|Challenge||Please join our team in this year’s Hope Walkathon in the fight against breast cancer.|
|Testimonial||“I never knew I could have so much negotiating power with a preapproved loan. By getting my car loan through Better Horizons, I negotiated a great deal with the car dealer. This is the way to buy cars!”|
In the body of your message, your first task is to tie your product, service, or idea to the needs of your readers. The best way to reduce the resistance your reader may have is to show that your message meets your readers’ needs. Once you’ve stated the need, you may describe your solution, which is a recommended product, service, or idea. Many readers will remain skeptical unless you provide convincing support. So, you will need to provide a strong rationale, meaning solid reasons why your product, service, or idea really benefits them. After all, you are more than likely attempting to influence skeptics.17
As you structure your message, consider how direct you should be. If your audience members are strongly and emotionally resistant to your solution, consider a more indirect approach so they warm up to your ideas before you suggest a solution. To make your message less direct, provide the rationale before the solution.
At some point in the body of the message, you should validate your readers by showing appreciation for their views and preferences. Validation implies that you recognize and appreciate others’ needs, wants, ideas, and preferences as legitimate and reasonable. By validating your readers, you show respect for them and demonstrate a balanced perspective.18
Traditionally, communicators overcame objections by providing counterpoints to any of the audience members’ objections. In other words, they showed how their own ideas, products, or services were superior to the competing ideas, products, or services the audience favored.
Overcoming objections with counterpoints, however, is risky in the post-trust era. This approach may unnecessarily carry a me-versus-you tone and delegitimize the readers’ concerns. Michael Maslansky, in his research about emerging trends in sales messages in the PTE, states that validation is “using words to let people know that their concerns are valid,” and that it is the “polar opposite of overcoming objections.”19 He says the “new sales mantra [is to] agree with objections.”20 This perhaps ironic approach shows respect and balance because you validate the potential customer’s feelings and ideas. When you validate your readers, they are more likely to accept the merits of your persuasive message.
Thus, consider carefully whether to include counterpoints to your readers’ objections. When you know people well and believe that you will not create a me-versus-you adversarial stance, tactfully state how your ideas, products, and services outperform those of your readers.
Skilled business communicators understand that building support for their ideas takes time. Especially for persuasion within companies, you will generally use a mix of communication channels. Rarely will your ideas be accepted and enacted with one written message. However, one written message can make a powerful statement and open avenues of communication that lead to acceptance and adoption of your ideas.
You conclude persuasive messages with a call to action, which asks your readers to take a specific step toward the purchase of a product or service or acceptance of an idea. However, a call to action should not be a hard sell; pressuring others is increasingly ineffective in the PTE.21 In external persuasive messages, the call to action is typically a specific and explicit step. In internal persuasive messages, the call to action is sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. It is more likely to be implicit for controversial change ideas and when corresponding with superiors who have ultimate decision-making authority.
Guidelines for Tone for Persuasive Messages
- Apply the personal touch.
- Use action-oriented, lively language.
- Write with confidence.
- Offer choice.
- Show positivity.