Information is not motivation. Otherwise no one would smoke, everyone would obey the speed limit and I would make healthier breakfast choices. Yet, too often we try to convince people of something by shouting facts at them.  If you’re trying to persuade someone, before you tell them, you have to connect with your audience.

Generating ideas that get your audience to buy into what you’re saying requires that you get into their skin. That means more than simply reading a list of demographic information. It means internalizing their wants, struggles and needs. To succeed in changing someone’s behavior you must:

• Know the audience

• Know the product 

• Respect the audience

• Respect the product

Sounds simple, but I’ve found the times I can’t come up with a good way to persuade someone, it’s because I can’t check all four of those boxes. A long time ago I was hired on a project promoting a new gambling game.  Gambling, to me, is this:

1) I hand over my money,

2) I walk out with nothing. 

I can’t think of one good reason to ever do it. Needless to say, I failed at selling this product and finally withdrew myself from the project. If you’re ever stuck generating ideas, check to make sure you’re in the right head space. If you feel apathetic or even have contempt for people you’re trying to persuade, correct your thinking. The same goes if you, yourself, are not 100% sold on what you’re selling. If you don’t buy it, you won’t convince someone else to.


Connect with where they are

To connect, you have to listen A LOT — not just to what people say but how they say it. Little “tells” in focus groups or interviews can help you determine where your audience is in the buying cycle. In behavior change that cycle is called a model and the one we use the most is the Transtheoretical Model of Behavior Change. It’s a way for us to map out where segments of our audience are in their beliefs and helps us determine messages and tactics.

behavior change continuum

Each segment of your audience is somewhere on there and they move back and forth over time. Mapping it out helps  determine messages, strategies and executions. Your audience ranges in attitude from Pre-contemplation (Haven’t tried it/don’t care), Contemplation (Sounds interesting), Preparation (I will find out more), Action (I did this once), Maintenance (I do this regularly).

You have to hit them all, but if you have a limited budget sometimes you have to choose where to put your money. Pre-contemplation and Contemplation audiences are your biggest pool and getting them to move takes tools like advertising, PR, and broader social media. This is also where your long term investment lies, keeping the flow into the largest part of your funnel. Use simple messages and calls to action.

The Preparation phase is when people are ready for information. They look at your website, ask friends and look for groups. You still must tell your story, but you can deliver more details. Action and Maintenance require loyalty-type communications. Here, we reinforce the decision and create engagement to make them feel as if they are part of something bigger.

Of course all of these overlap and work together, and no one execution does the trick by itself.  Still, so many times we know of organizations or companies that expect their audience to go from “not interested” to “advocate” after seeing a banner ad. That shift only happens in one rare instance (next blog).

How do you move people?

Once you know where your audience is, it takes a multi-faceted, ongoing approach to move them along. We use different behavior levers when we come up with creative.  I’ll write about that after the little sugar coma I’m about to slip into (Donut Sticks come two to a pack).