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Monday, February 20, 2012

Why won't they CARE!?!

My previous entries have primarily been about making your ideas and your message memorable and persuasive.  However, sometimes you need to go a step further and get people to truly care about what you are saying so they will actually act upon your message.

The solution to this problem is simple in theory but most likely difficult in practice.  The goal is to get your audience to make a connection between something they don't yet care about with something that they most likely do care about.  The tricky part is finding out what your audience would in general care about.  One of the safest bets is self interest.  People generally care about themselves and gaining personal benefits.  If possible, you should focus on what kinds of benefits your audience has to gain. Additionally, the potential benefits should be described in tangible and non-abstract terms that people can easily relate to.  If they are unable to properly visualize the potential personal gains, they are going to have a difficult time understanding how they would actually benefit.

Self interest is obviously not the only thing people care about.  You can appeal to other concepts as well. Concepts such as:

  • sense of learning 
  • sense of security and safety
  • sense of self (i.e. realizing one's potential and improving oneself)
  • sense of belonging and social acceptance
  • self esteem (i.e. being competent, succeeding, gaining approval, etc).
The difficult part is figuring out which of these concepts (or combination of concepts) will connect the most effectively with your audience.  

Let's consider applying self-interest and sense of security:
  • You are the communications director in a politician's office and you are tasked with getting the constituents in your Representative's district to get more involved and attend community meetings.  The Representative holds a community meeting every month and the turnout has been lower than expected.  Your goal is to increase the turnout for future meetings.  This next part is probably wishful thinking but let's assume you stumbled upon survey data that sampled the constituents in the Representative's district.  According to the survey, the top issues that seem to be on people's minds deal with public safety and economic development (i.e. JOBS!).
Given the information that you possess, your outreach message should absolutely incorporate public safety and jobs.  Your message should be simple, clear, and straight to the point: "Are you interested in finding out how safe your streets are?  Do you care about employment opportunities in your district?  Attend the Congressman's community meeting on the 29th to find out about these issues and much more."

The emphasis is on the constituent (the audience), not the Representative. Often times, in these situations, elected officials emphasize their own accomplishments instead of primarily focusing on the direct benefits for their constituents.  They obviously cover the benefits as well but their "hook" is showing off the elected official's accomplishments first and foremost.  In this example, we took a different approach and quickly highlighted the issues that the constituents care about.  We also utilized a bit of mystery and created a gap in their knowledge.  If they want to find out the most current information on the issues that they care about, then they better attend this meeting.

Tapping into what your audience cares about is a straightforward and obvious idea but it can easily be forgotten and ignored if not explicitly acknowledged and kept in mind when crafting messages.  

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