In a world of logic, persuasion would be a lost art. To state your case, you’d simply make an argument grounded in facts, trends, and case studies, and voilà, people would do the right thing. Litterbugs would learn that 80% of the trash floating around in our oceans starts on land, and—just like that—they’d never toss another gum wrapper on the sidewalk.
In reality, however, getting people to actually change their attitude and/or behavior requires finesse. The ultimate goal of every public outreach campaign is behavior change. By using the Community-based Social Marketing methodology at SGA, we’ve become pretty savvy on the best ways to get people to act differently. Whether you’re trying to save the planet, convince your boss to kick in for a raise, or persuade your sister to watch your dogs for the weekend, these four techniques will help you get results.
Remember the rule of three. People can hold a limited amount of information in our short term memory. Three bits of data is about the max, before we start getting fuzzy. What’s more, when we have to choose between too many options, we tend to get frustrated and back off from making a decision at all. Stick to threes. When crafting an argument or a message, give three reasons. When asking someone to make a decision, give only three options.
Establish a common ground. Science has shown we relate more strongly to people like us. This includes personal characteristics like gender, race, age and values, as well as seemingly random similarities. One study found that people were more likely to complete a survey when asked by someone with a similar name (e.g., Cindy Johnson and Cynthia Johanson) than a completely different one.
Say it simply. There are two key parts to this one. First, when you want something, just ask. We tend to think persuasion means trickery (it doesn’t) and that makes us weave an elaborate narrative instead of just coming out with it. And second, say it using straightforward, commonly used language. There’s no need to dust off the SAT vocabulary list to prove you’re deserving or intelligent or committed. Complicated language is more likely to confuse (and annoy) whoever you’re trying to convince.
Monkey see, monkey do. People tend to follow others (bandwagon effect) more when they don’t have sufficient information to make a decision on their own. Telling or showing your audience other people who are engaging in a similar behavior may make the difference. This could be done by spotlighting community champions in the area or getting a list of testimonials or endorsements for your cause.
Take the glass half full approach. Working on environmental issues means we come across a lot of heartbreaking data. From the Great Pacific Garbage Patch to the alarming rate of coral reef extinction worldwide, we’re up to our ears in the dark side of the story. But when we’re trying to change behavior in lasting ways, we stay positive. People want to feel good about the decisions they make. Focus on how their small action makes a huge difference or how this one change benefits them and aligns with their personal goals and criteria.