|Less Effective||More Effective|
|You owe it to the women in your lives to make a difference.||You can help make a difference for women here in our community.|
|This appeal focuses on obligation and pressure. Most readers will not respond positively.||This appeal focuses on volunteerism and contribution to the community without telling the reader what to do.|
|The walkathon will be held on Saturday, October 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Central Park. Do your part to improve the lives of women in our community!||The walkathon will be held on Saturday, October 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Central Park. Please join Betty and the rest of the Better Horizons team for a day of fun, excitement, and hope!|
|This request is a guilt trip; it emphasizes the readers’ duty.||This request recognizes the readers’ choice to participate in a fun and exciting approach to a good cause.|
In persuasive messages, always be careful about being perceived as presumptuous—unfairly assuming that you know or even share the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others. Many people are easily offended when you presume to know or even dictate how they will think, feel, or react to your messages.31
Positivity in persuasive messages helps your audience focus on the benefits rather than the drawbacks of what you are trying to promote. Maslansky and his team’s research helps demonstrate that subtle changes to more positive wording are generally more persuasive. For example, they asked consumers to identify which of three pairs of phrases were more persuasive in promotional material about investment options.
In the first pair of statements, 90 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you have enough money as long as you live was more effective than the statement managing longevity risk. Overwhelmingly, the consumers thought the benefit (having long-term financial security) was more influential than the possible drawback (avoiding financial loss).
For the second pair of statements, 81 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you can afford to maintain your lifestyle was more persuasive than the statement managing inflation risk. Similarly, the vast majority of consumers in the case thought that the benefit (maintaining your lifestyle) was more compelling than the drawback (possibly losing your current buying power).
For the third pair of statements, 63 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you can participate in the gains while reducing your downside risk was more persuasive than managing market risk. In this case, consumers were more positively influenced by the statement about risk (a drawback) when it was preceded by a phrase about gains (the benefit).32
In addition to being positive, avoiding superlatives gives you the best chance of persuading your audience. Phrases such as best product on the market, state-of-the-art technology, or best-in-class service sound increasingly hollow. Maslansky’s research with consumers shows that terms such as comfortable retirement rather than dream retirement; protection rather than guarantee; financial security rather than financial freedom; effective rather than best of breed are more persuasive.
Consumers perceive too-good-to-be-true statements as attempts to convince them of “the merits without making a rational argument. And they [too-good-to-be-true statements] fail because they suggest an inherent bias that ruins the integrity of the communicator.”33Table 9.7 highlights the kinds of phrases that are increasingly ineffective with today’s skeptical consumers. Table 9.8 contrasts messages from Haniz’s projects that persuade with and without exaggeration.
|Type||Examples That Don’t Work|
|Trust me||“Trust me” or “We speak your language”|
|Unbelievable||“Your call is important to us” or “We care about our customers”|
|Too good to be true||“This is the right product for you” or “We give you guaranteed results”|
|Excuses||“What you need to understand is …” or “Our hands are tied”|
|Explanations||“This was taken out of context” or “I can explain”|
|Fear tactics||“Are you concerned about the security of your family?” or “Act now or you’ll miss this opportunity”|
Source: Adapted from The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics by Michael Maslansky, Scott West, Gary DeMoss and David Saylor, Copyright © 2010 by Van Kampen Investor Services, Inc. Used by permission of Prentice Hall, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.