Persuade = think - feel - speak: PART 1

By Angela Schuster

Marcus Julius Cicero once said "If you wish to persuade me, you must think my thoughts, feel my feelings and speak my words".

Regardless of whether you like it, marketing and communication is about persuasion, so this quotation is particularly relevant.

Over the next couple of blog posts we’ll examine each component of this quote and what it means for your marketing and communication activities.

If you wish to persuade me...

Some people argue that marketing and communication is not about persuasion, others may say it's about manipulation, some may think it's just the colouring-in club.

At the end of the day though, if you are marketing something to someone, you are in fact trying to persuade them that you can offer the best solution for their 'need'.

  • Their 'need' could be to purchase a product or service... therefore you are persuading them to purchase your product over another.

  • Their 'need' could be to change a business practice... therefore you are persuading them to change their behaviour in favour of what you're recommending.

Merriam-Webster actually defines persuading as "to move by argument, entreaty, or expostulation to a belief, position, or course of action"... sound familiar?

So now we have ascertained that:

                               marketing and communications = persuasion

we need to consider what this means for your marketing and communication activities.

To be successful in the game of persuasion (that is, your job as a marketer) you need to consider:

  1. What you want your target audience to do, specifically; and
  2. What motivates your target audience.

Once you have this in hand you then need to determine an effective "argument, entreaty or expostulation" that will persuade your target audience to take the course of action you desire.

...you must think my thoughts...

Basically this means you need to put yourself in your target audiences’ shoes and gain a real understanding for their:

  • Attitudes, beliefs and alternative options: If you're going to change and persuade them that you, instead of their alternative option, can best meet their needs, you need to understand these and pitch your campaign accordingly.

  • Influences they are most open to: This involves identifying which buttons you can push to get the desired result. (For more information on this you can read Robert B. Cialdini's book Influence: Science and Practice which presents a range of principles of persuasion, or influence. For example, people return favours - this is the law of reciprocity).

  • The communication channels they prefer: Not everyone likes being communicated with in the same manner. Even within a target audience there may be variations. It's important to understand which channel, such as web, email, radio, television etc., your target audience pays attention to. Remember there are more persuasive channels than the standard 'mass media.' You also need to consider who influences the thoughts of your target audience (neighbours, their agent, accountant etc.). These influencers are a powerful channel in their own right and often overlooked.

This isn't about making a token effort to understand your target audience. You need to live and breathe them - walk in their shoes for a time.

It is no use applying your own beliefs to a target audience and it is equally important not to impart inherent assumptions about their thoughts. Most importantly, never make sweeping generalisations about your audience.

So, the best way to "think my thoughts"?

Get out there among your target audience and study them. Focus groups, interviews, seminars, usability tests - even just talking to them - all help us get inside the target audiences head and will often challenge our beliefs of their beliefs. Test your beliefs or assumptions about the audience with them.

Remember, you are a sample of one and are most often not the target audience.

The upshot

If you want your marketing to be successful then you really need to understand your target audience to the point of thinking their thoughts. Next post we’ll look at how you can take this further so you can develop the empathy to feel your target audience’s feelings and speak their words. This will ensure your marketing and communication activity really does persuade them.

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