How to really change your audience’s minds

Zone’s senior content designer Florence Buswell shares her tips on how to win your audience over…

Have you ever spent ages working on a piece of work only to have it sort of… bomb? All your carefully curated research goes to pot and you don’t understand why your audience won’t just do what you’re suggesting? It’s clear to you, so why isn’t it clear to them?

Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, and it’s incredibly frustrating. But there is a way to change behaviours that’s based on scientific evidence, has universal applicability, allows you to test and learn to see what people really do, doesn’t force anyone to do anything they don’t want to do, and is very cost effective. What is this dark magic, I hear you ask? It’s called Behavioural Economics. And how do you apply it? Well, you’re in the right place to find out.

System 1 vs System 2

We all have two ways of thinking: System 1 and System 2, as coined by the wonderful Daniel Kahneman in his book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’.

System 1 are immediate, emotional responses to something. Imagine I’m coming at you, brow knitted, wagging my finger in your face and shouting. While also thinking I’m not being very professional, it would be easy to recognise that I’m angry.

Now consider I’m giving you a maths equation. Although you might be relieved I’ve stopped shouting, you’d also need to pause to give me the right answer or boot up your phone’s calculator app.

To truly change minds and behaviours, we need to act on System 1 responses, not System 2. Simply providing information, or asking people what would help them change, doesn’t work. But our slippery lizard brain? That knows what’s up.

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be trained in MINDSPACE by Influence at Work — the company spearheaded by Dr Robert Cialdini, the ‘Godfather of Influence’. MINDSPACE is a mnemonic for nine of the most important effects that have been shown to influence behaviour change. You don’t have to use all of these to get your audience inspired and influenced, but considering these points can make all the difference between a project that soars and a project that sinks.

MINDSPACE: your nine-step behaviour bible

MINDSPACE has nine nifty behaviour effects to remember — Messenger, Incentives, Norms, Defaults, Salience, Priming, Affect, Commitment and Ego.

Here are some ideas for each principle that you can use to kick-start your audience’s psychological revelation:

  1. Messenge

Who is going to be best to bring across your message? Could it be a trusted expert in the field? Or should it be someone similar to your audience who can act as your spokesperson? Case studies or testimonials are a great way to tap into this. When I used case studies for a past client, visits to relevant pages increased by 400% year on year — not to be sniffed at.

2. Incentives

Did you know that we are more motivated to take action to avoid loss than we are to gain something — typically by twice as much? Frame your messages around what your audience is going to lose out on if they ignore your message. Is it going to be more expensive to go elsewhere, or to act in an untimely fashion?

3. Norms

We’re simple creatures and tend to do what we see other people doing. If people are already doing a desirable action, tell others about it.

4. Defaults

We don’t want to have to think too hard, and would prefer to ‘go with the flow’. Give people an active choice and they’re more likely to follow it. For example, if your company was offering a free flu shot (as opposed to the £50 you might pay at a pharmacy) would you be more likely to get one if the message on the form read ‘I would like to receive a flu vaccination this year’ or ‘I will get a flu vaccination this year to reduce my risk of getting flu and I want to save £50’?

5. Salience

Definitely one of my favourites. What will make your message stand out? It could be as straightforward as keeping it simple — there’s a reason the Google homepage is so popular. Or can you make your message really novel? Think how much Compare the Market has smashed it by using meerkats in its ads.

6. Priming

We’re affected by subconscious cues. If you’re promoting a health product for example, use health-inspired words to your advantage.

7. Affect

Or, to put it simply, our emotional reactions. Use images of people who look like they’re having fun for a pub campaign; elicit feelings of disgust if you want to encourage hand-washing; think how you can make taking the stairs instead of escalator seem fun for a fitness campaign. All of these can help your cause.

8. Commitment

Ask someone to commit to something publicly and specifically, and they’re more likely to do it (this one is also pretty good one for getting tasks done at meetings).

9. Ego

Ah, what fragile beings we are. Appeal to the ego and you’ve got a much more interested audience. Encourage people to do a small action and give them lots of praise when they do. Stop Smoking campaigns do this really well: tell people that just a month will make a huge difference to breaking habits, and give consistent little reminders of what a difference they’re making to themselves and their health throughout.

Have I got your interest?

Want to know more? There are tons of good books out there if you want to get deeper into MINDSPACE.

My personal favourites are The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence by Steve Martin, Noah Goldstein and Robert B Cialdini, and The Choice Factory by Richard Shotton. Happy influencing!

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