No matter the tactics, the efforts of public relations, marketing and strategic communications professionals can be distilled into one basic concept: We need people to say, “Yes.” Yes to a story. Yes to a service. Yes to an idea. Yes to a brand. Our job revolves around persuasion.
For a deeper dive into the psychology of persuasion, I recently read Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive. Whether you’re pitching a journalist, presenting a PR proposal to a prospective client, or building a communications plan for a product launch, below are five tips to help subtly incline your audience to just say yes.
1. Leverage the crowd.
The concept of “social proof” is a powerful one. That is, when people are unsure about something, they naturally look outside themselves to guide their decisions.
Take this example: Colleen Szot, a paid programming exec, decided to change the familiar infomercial call-to-action from “Operators are waiting, please call now,” to “If operators are busy, please call again.” Rather than creating a vision of phone attendants twiddling their thumbs waiting for someone—anyone—to place an order, the new messaging conjures images of phones ringing off the hook and operators frantically trying to keep up with order requests. This tactic broke a 20-year sales record for a major home shopping channel.
For marketers, testimonials and strong survey results are excellent ways to leverage social proof. Consider using these and other tactics to communicate that a person is in good company when choosing your product, service or brand.
2. Don’t leave fear by itself.
Fear is also a powerful motivator, and it’s used all the time in PR and marketing. (Think about any car commercial you’ve seen with crash-test dummies.) But, when fear is left by itself, it can paralyze rather than call to action. When crafting fear-based messaging, remember to give your audience a specific method to reduce the danger mentioned. Clearly explain how the product, service, or culture you’re highlighting will alleviate any concerns.
Per Yes!, research has shown that “the more clearly people see behavioral means for ridding themselves of fear, the less they will need to resort to denial.”
3. Give generously.
If you’ve ever received a survey in the mail with a dollar bill enclosed (or even just a dime), a savvy marketer is using the reciprocity principle on you. Sure, one dollar or one dime won’t increase your wealth, and no one will knock at your door if you pocket the money and trash the survey. But because you were given this gift with no strings attached, you’re probably going to think twice before you chuck the envelope, right? You might think, “The survey doesn’t look too long – I may as well fill it out.”
People are naturally more likely to respond positively to something if they’ve received a gift, because they feel obligated to repay others for what they received—even if they didn’t ask for it. If the gift is personalized, it makes this principle even more effective.
So if you’re trying to get a reporter on the phone or land a meeting with a prospective client, maybe a small gift could be enough to start a conversation.
4. Take the extra step.
People often respond to effort in the same way they would a gift. In one study, three types of surveys were distributed: One came with a cover letter, another had a cover letter with a blank post-it on the letter, and the other had a cover letter with a post-it that contained a handwritten message. More than 75% of people who received the survey containing a post-it with a message filled out the survey and returned it. Only 48% of those with a blank post-it did the same, and just 36% of non-note bearing surveys were returned.
People notice and respond to even small efforts. Consider that the next time you’re trying to reach out to a reporter or collect market research. Taking a few extra seconds to write a handwritten note could greatly improve your chances of getting a “yes” response.
5. Never be afraid to admit your mistakes.
Perhaps there is no more important time for a company to be persuasive than when it is in the midst of a crisis. It is immediately launched into the public eye and often needs to restore its audience’s faith in its brand. Pointing fingers won’t do this.
Research has found that people are more likely to perceive organizations favorably that attribute failures to internal causes rather than external ones. So in crisis communications, own up to mistakes, and then control the story.
A few additional tips to chew on:
- People trust simple words they can pronounce. Keep the industry jargon at bay.
- Whether they admit it or not, people respond to rhyming, so use it. (But don’t abuse it.)
- People are more likely to desire something that’s scarce or exclusive rather than something that is plentiful or inclusive. Consider making parties exclusive and limiting special offers or products.
- People are more likely to relate to others who share personal characteristics. Get personal when you can.
What are your “yes” tactics? I’d love to hear about them below.