Your purpose in most Marketing Communication is to help persuade your target audience.
Your message may be delivered in one way, a few ways, or many ways. As you work on message content, how-ever, keep in mind the concepts of audience analysis; source credibility; appeal to self-interest; clarity of the message; timing and context; symbols, slogans, and acronyms; semantics; suggestions for action; and content and structure.
A Behavioural Communication Model
Awareness -* Latent readiness -* Triggering event —> Behaviour
Most theories of communication end with the receipt of the message by the receiver. The assumption is that the reader will be persuaded and that the sender’s objective will be accomplished.
The behavioral communication model is better because it forces practitioners to think in terms of what causes people to pay attention to a message or take action. The four-step sequential process is as follows:
Awareness. The basic purpose of communication is to create awareness, which is the start of any behavioral process.
Latent readiness. An individual’s attitudes and predispositions have a great deal of influence on whether the person is mentally prepared to pay attention to the message and take action on it. There is considerable evidence that receivers don’t always respond. They may hear the message but do nothing with it.
Triggering event. This step gives people a chance to act on their latent readiness. A triggering event is something that stimulates action. It may be a telephone call from a charitable agency asking for a donation, a series of accidents on a stretch of road that makes voters finally vote for costly improvements, or a news conference announcing a new product on the market. Public relations people should build triggering events into their planning; this moves the emphasis from communication to behavior motivation.
Although the ultimate goal is to motivate people to do (usually buy) something or act in a certain way, they may adopt intermediate behaviors such as requesting more literature, visiting a showroom, or trying the product or idea on a limited basis.
The key is determining exactly what triggering event will cause a reaction on the part of the target audience.
A message, needs to be compatible with group values and beliefs. People who commute by car, for example, are more likely become more interested in carpooling and mass transit when the message points out the increasing cost of fuel and how grid-lock increases every year.
Tapping a group’s attitudes and values in order to structure a meaningful message is called channeling. It is the technique of recognising a general audience’s beliefs and suggesting a specific course of action related to audience members’ self-interests. In this example, the incentive to participate in carpooling or mass transit becomes more motivational than the more abstract concept of saving the environment.
A message is more believable to an audience if the source has credibility, which is why writers try to attribute information and quotes to people who are perceived as experts. Indeed, expertise is a key element in credibility. The other two elements are sincerity and charisma. Ideally, a source will have all three attributes.
Steve Jobs, president of Apple, is a good example. His success in revitalising the company in 1999 made him highly credible as an expert on Apple products and a high-tech visionary. In countless news articles and speeches, he also comes across as a personable, laid-back “geek” who really believes that the iMac and the iBook are the best products on the market. Jobs also has that elusive element of charisma—he is self-assured, confident, and articulate
Not every company has a Steve Jobs for its president, nor is that necessary. Depending on the message and the audience, various spokespersons can be used and quoted for source credibility. For example, if you are writing a news release about a new product for a trade magazine, perhaps the best source to quote would be the company’s director of research and development. This person is a credible source primarily because of personal knowledge and expertise. If the news release is about the fourth-quarter earnings of the company, the most credible person to quote in the news release would be either the chief executive officer or the vice president for finance, both experts by virtue of their position.
Sincerity is an important component in endorsements. Sincerity and charisma are the key elements of using celebrities to provide source credibility. Celebrities are used primarily to call attention to a product (goods and services), or idea. The sponsor’s intent is to associate the person’s popularity with the product. This is called transfer On occasion, however, celebrities lose source credibility because of scandal or negative publicity.
Sources for credibility depends in large part on the type of audience being addressed. That is why audience analysis is the first step in formulating effective public relations messages.
Appeal to Self-interest – WIIFM
Self-interest was mentioned in connection with both Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and audience analysis in the last article. A public relations writer must at all times be aware of what the audience wants to know.
WIFFM means What’s in it for Me
Writing publicity for a new food product can serve as an example. A news release to the trade press serving the food industry (grocery stores, suppliers, wholesalers, distributors) might focus on how the product was developed, distributed, and made available to the public, the manufacturer’s pricing policies, or the results of marketing studies that show consumers want the product.
You would prepare quite a different news release or feature article for the food section of a daily newspaper. The consumer wants information about the food product’s nutritional value, convenience, and cost, and wants to know why the item is superior to similar products. The reader is also looking for menu ideas and recipes that use the product.
Professional Tips Appeals That Move People to Act
Persuasive messages often include information that appeals to an audience’s self-interest. Here is a list of persuasive message themes from author Charles Marsh:
Make money Satisfy curiosity Save money Protect family
Save time Be stylish Avoid effort Have beautiful things
More comfort Satisfy appetite Better health Be like others
Cleaner Avoid trouble Escape pain Avoid criticism
Gain praise Be individual Be popular Protect reputation
Be loved/accepted Be safe Keep possessions Make work easier
More enjoyment Be secure
Clarity of the Message
Communication, as already stated, does not occur if the audience does not under-stand your message. It is important to produce messages that match the characteristics of your target audience in content and structure.
One solution to this problem is to copy-test all communications materials on the target audience. Another solution is to apply readability and comprehension formulas to materials before they are produced and disseminated. Most formulas are based on the number of words per sentence and the number of one-syllable words per 100 words.
In general, standard writing should average about 140 to 150 syllables per 100 words and the average sentence length should be about 17 words. This is the level of newspapers and weekly news magazines such as Time.
Timing and Context
Professional communicators often say that timing is everything.
Your message must arrive at a time when it can conveniently be considered. If it is too early, your audience may not be ready to think about it.
Symbols, and Slogans
The Red Cross (known as the Red Crescent in the Middle East) is the best-known humanitarian organisation in the world. The name is totally unenlightening, but the symbol is recognised and associated with the care and help given by the organisation. Flags are symbols. Even the Nike Swoosh is a familiar symbol around the world. You are not likely to produce a symbol that will become world famous, but if at all possible, you should try to find something graphic that symbolizes a given organisation. This is called branding, and corporations often spend millions to establish a symbol that immediately means reliability and quality to a consumer.
Slogans can be highly persuasive. They state a key concept in a few memorable and easily pronounceable words. The American Revolution had the rallying cry of “No taxation without representation,” and today’s corporations are just as slogan conscious.
If you can coin a slogan that expresses the basic idea of what you are trying to promote, it will help you attain your objective.
The dictionary definition of words may be clear and concise, but there is another dimension to words—the connotative meaning to various individuals and groups of people. The study of meaning given to words and the changes that occur in these meanings as time goes on is the branch of linguistics called semantics.
For example, consider the evolution of the word “gay” in western society. The word is traditionally defined as merry, joyous, and lively. Thus, in the nineteenth century, we had the “Gay Nineties” and people often referred to bright col-ors or sprightly music as “gay.” By the 1920s and 1930s, however, “gay” started being applied as a code word for prostitutes who were said to be in the “gay life.” From there, it was just a short step for the word to be applied to the “underground” world of homosexuals.
By the same token, the terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” have very definite connotations to certain groups of people. “Affirmative action” means opportunity to some and exclusion to others. . Even the expression “politically correct” has different con-notations to different groups of people. To some, it is derogatory, an attempt by radical groups to censor freedom of expression. To others, the concept stands for equality and an effort to eliminate sexism and racism.
To write persuasively and to influence target audiences, you must be sensitive to semantics..
Suggestions for Action
Persuasive writing must give people information on how to take action, and the suggestions must be feasible.
Content and Structure
People are motivated by theatrics and a good story. They are moved by bold action and human drama. Your message should go beyond cold facts or even eloquent phrases. If you can vividly describe what you are talking about—if you can paint word pictures—your message will be more persuasive.
A number of techniques can make a message more persuasive; many of them have already been discussed. Here is a summary of some additional writing devices.
Everyone likes a good story. This is often accomplished by graphically illustrating an event or a situation. Newspapers often dramatise a story to boost reader interest. Thus we read about the daily life of someone with AIDS, the family on welfare who is suffering because of state cuts in spending, or the frustrations of a middle manager who is unemployed for the first time in her career. In the news-room, this is called humanizing an issue.