Frame the Message to Meet the Audience’s Sensitivities

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How you frame an issue – making it matter to the audience – is critical to its ability to influence others’ behaviors.  Pink, in To Sell Is Human, relates three stories which I’ll share which make this point. (If you like them, read Robert Ciadlini’s book, Influence, which has many more.)

Rossner Reeves was an advertising genius in the mid-1900s, who first came up with the concept of a “unique sales proposition.” One day, the story goes, he’s in Central Park with a friend after lunch, and notices a blind man with a cup with very little money in it. He’s holding a sign saying “I AM BLIND”. After a seconds of thought, Reeves turns to his friends and wagers that he can dramatically increase donations with 4 little words., His friend takes him up on the bet.  Reeves explains to the blind man that he now something about advertising and would like to make a change to the sign. The man agrees. Reeves changes it to read “It is Springtime and I am Blind.”  He steps back and waits. Almost immediately, people stop and drop coins in the cup; some stop to talk to the man and take out dollar bills! Why? Because the words triggered the Contrast Principle: we understand things better when we see them in comparison to something else, rather than in isolation.

Another story about signs. Most signs help people follow rules or directions.  However, “emotionally intelligent signage” goes deeper by making it personal and purposeful. Clearly the sign above did that. Another example is a sign on the grass that could say “Pick up after your dog” can be changed to “Children Play Here. Pick up after your dog.” Much greater impact.

Finally is there a limit to the value of variety?  Two experimenters wanted to find out. They created a booth on the street which offered people 24 flavors of jam; the following week they opened the same booth, but with only six flavors. The first booth attracted more visitors; 3% actually purchased. The second booth attracted fewer people, but 30% purchased, leading to many more sales. Why? Because the first booth overwhelmed the decision-making process; the second made it relatively easy to choose one or two jars to sample.