Write a message to persuade your boss to invest capital resources to develop the product or service for sale.
Include secondary research to support your argument and explain what you will do in case the selected product or service does not initially sell as much as expected. Cite and reference sources using APA formatting.
Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose.
Explain why you selected the channel.
Note: Part I is the basis of your Week 5 Persuasive Presentation assignment.
Write a sales pitch to sell the product/service to the end consumer. The sales pitch that you write could be part of a marketing campaign, which can be the verbiage for a commercial, a flyer, a message posted on social network, and so on. Make sure to identify the context, as per the examples, in which the sales pitch will take place.
Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose and state the channel you have chosen.
Explain why you selected the channel.
Below is the reading materials
© E. Audras/PhotoAlto
After studying this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.
Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.
Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.
Create compelling internal persuasive messages.
Compose influential external persuasive messages.
Construct effective mass sales messages.
Evaluate persuasive messages for effectiveness and fairness.
Why Does This Matter?
Hear Pete Cardon explain why this matters.
In many business situations, you hope to persuade others. In internal business communications, you may want your boss, peers, or colleagues to consider or adopt your ideas when their perspectives differ from yours. In external business communications, you will want to persuade your clients, customers, and prospects to use your products and services. Persuasion involves influencing others to see the merits of your ideas and act on your requests, even when they initially resist. In this chapter, we explore strategies for persuading others through writing.
In some ways, all business messages contain an element of persuasion—that is, you are hoping to influence the way others think, feel, or behave. Many of the concepts in this chapter will enhance your ability to make any kind of request. However, the approaches in this chapter are most applicable to situations in which your audience will initially resist your requests.
Throughout this chapter, you will see examples of persuasive messages at Better Horizons Credit Union. The chapter case provides the background.
Chapter Case: Shifting Course at Better Horizons Credit Union
© Ingram Publishing
Haniz Zogby, marketing specialist and loan officer
Started working at Better Horizons nearly five years ago. She has worked 20 to 30 hours per week while attending college with a major in finance and a minor in event management.
Started as a teller. Within a few years, she was promoted to positions of teller supervisor, loan officer, and marketing specialist.
Currently working on marketing initiatives under the direction of Christine Russo.
Christine Russo, president and CEO
Has worked at Better Horizons for approximately ten years.
Currently interested in increasing the number of young members. With declining numbers of young members, she is concerned that the credit union does not have good long-term prospects.
Christine Wants to Build Support for New Banking Services That Meet the Needs of Younger Members
Christine recognized that people under the age of 30 were not joining the credit union. Christine wanted to write a message to board members about adopting marketing strategies and services that appeal to younger members. She planned to follow up by presenting her ideas in person at an upcoming meeting. The board is composed of longtime members who favor what they consider a “personal,” “friendly,” and “homey” credit union environment. They view moves to online marketing and services as breaking their brand of community and personal touch. The majority also oppose adding too many extra financial services, perceiving these services as “slick” and “too similar to banks.”
Haniz Is in Charge of Recruiting Participants for a Local Charity Event
Christine asked Haniz to be in charge of recruiting credit union members to join this year’s Hope Walkathon to support research on breast cancer. Better Horizons has assembled a walkathon team for this prominent community event each year for nearly a decade. Haniz is writing an email to send to all credit union members. The message will be modified slightly to appear as an announcement on the credit union website as well.
Haniz Needs to Create a Flyer Explaining the Benefits of Credit Union Membership Compared to Banks
Haniz is working on a flyer describing the benefits of membership at Better Horizons Credit Union. The flyer will be part of a packet of materials that is distributed to community members who participate in free financial planning and income tax assistance seminars offered by Better Horizons. Haniz is using the message to highlight the benefits of Better Horizons compared to local banks.
Haniz Is Helping to Develop a Sales Message for Auto Loans
Haniz and several other employees are working on sales messages for auto loans. In recent months, Better Horizon’s senior management decided the credit union should become a “player” in the auto loans market. Few Better Horizons members take advantage of car loans, most assuming that dealer financing is cheaper and easier to get.
How will Christine and Haniz write a message to board members that warms them up to ideas about new online services and marketing geared toward gaining younger members? (See the section on internal persuasive messages.)
How will Haniz persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon? (See the section on external persuasive messages.)
How will Haniz develop a general-purpose flyer that shows the broad benefits of choosing Better Horizons Credit Union over banks? (See the “Constructing External Persuasive Messages” section.)
How will Haniz develop sales messages for an auto loan campaign? (See the “Composing Mass Sales Messages” section.)
The Importance of Credibility in an Era of Mistrust and Skepticism
LO9.1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.
While credibility is critical to all business communications, its importance is heightened for persuasive messages. By definition, persuasion implies that you are communicating with someone who does not think or feel the same way as you do. So, your goal is to help your audience members identify with and find merit in your positions. If they question your credibility, they are unlikely to carefully consider your ideas, requests, or recommendations.
Persuasion is becoming more difficult as we live in a time of increasing mistrust. In Chapter 1, we discussed the declining levels of trust for nearly all professional groups, particularly business-related occupations. Michael Maslansky, one of the leading corporate communications experts, has labeled this the post-trust era (PTE):
Just a few years ago, salespeople, corporate leaders, marketing departments, and communicators like me had it pretty easy. We looked at communication as a relatively linear process. … But trust disappeared, things changed. … In a word, trust is out, skepticism is in.1
Over the past decade, Michael Maslansky and his colleagues have examined how language is used to persuade and motivate others. By interviewing hundreds of thousands of employees and customers in some 30 countries, they have found that the language of trust is more important than ever. Furthermore, they have noticed emerging trends in how language impacts trust. Strategies for persuasion that once worked are less effective in the PTE. Other strategies continue to work well. In this chapter, we sort through some of these basic principles of persuasive writing and identify those strategies that are most effective in the PTE.
Applying the AIM Planning Process to Persuasive Messages
LO9.2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.
Persuasion involves extensive planning: analyzing your audience to understand their needs, values, and how they are influenced; developing your ideas as you wrestle with the complicated business issues at hand; and creating a message structure that most effectively reduces resistance and gains buy-in. Many effective business communicators spend weeks and months learning about their target audiences, gathering information, and piecing together persuasive messages.
Understand Your Audience
To convince others to modify their own ideas and accept yours, you need to show that you care about them and that your ideas fit into their interests. This is the approach communication specialist Liz Simpson recommends:
To succeed at the persuasion game, you have to be absolutely committed to understanding the other side’s position as well as your own. Without that willingness to try on the other side’s arguments, you simply cannot be persuasive. From that understanding will come the insights you need to move the other side over to your camp.2
This is true not only for ideas but also for products and services. Your best argument is always one that meets the needs and wants of your audience.
Understanding the needs and values of others is not simple. It requires a strong listening orientation. You will need to ask lots of questions to get beyond a surface understanding about the hopes, expectations, and hidden assumptions of your target audience. Once you know your target audience’s needs and values, you are in a strong position to explain how your product, service, or idea benefits them.
In addition to understanding the needs and values of your target audience, you should consider the psychological principles that impact how people are influenced. Also, you should consider whether you are making a logical appeal or an emotional one in your persuasive messages.
Understand Methods of Influence
Dr. Robert Cialdini, a marketing psychologist, has spent his career studying how people are influenced in business and marketing environments. He has examined research in this area for four decades, plus he spent three years taking undercover jobs in car dealerships, telemarketing firms, fund-raising organizations, and other buyer-seller environments to learn the most influential ways of getting people to say yes. Based on his work, he has identified six principles of persuasion (aside from the price and quality of products and services). These principles include reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.3 Haniz’s message to recruit credit union members for the Hope Walkathon offers an interesting example for applying these various principles (see Figure 9.7, p. 258, for her completed message).
Reciprocation is a principle of influence based on returning favors. As defined by Cialdini, “We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”4 Cialdini cited an interesting study in which a professor sent Christmas cards to a random sample of strangers to see what would happen. Many of the card recipients reciprocated, sending cards to the professor without attempting to find out who he was. The study showed that even card receivers who did not know the card sender and who might not interact with the card sender in the future felt compelled to return the favor of sending a card. People tend to feel obligated to pay back others when they’ve received something of value.5
Haniz uses the principle of reciprocation in her message in several ways. For example, she focuses on a lengthy reciprocal relationship that the credit union has with the local breast cancer center, and the walkathon serves as the mechanism that draws the two organizations together. The credit union helps the center by generating walkathon donations, and the center helps the credit union and the larger community through more effective breast cancer treatment and education. Furthermore, the message implies a reciprocal relationship between the credit union and its members by offering various free items, such as a T-shirt, a water bottle, and a cancer guide, to members who are willing to participate in the walkathon.
Consistency is based on the idea that once people make an explicit commitment, they tend to follow through or honor that commitment. In other words, they want to stay consistent with their original commitment. Cialdini cited several studies to make this point. In one, psychologists found that horse racing fans become more confident that their horses would win after placing a bet. Once they made a final commitment, they were further convinced of the correctness of their choice.6
Haniz appeals to commitment and consistency in several ways. Foremost, she appeals to the credit union’s long commitment to the fight against breast cancer. Some credit union members will want to continue to honor this long-standing collective commitment and will appreciate that their credit union is doing so. She also provides links in the message for people to immediately act on their interest in the walkathon. A link to register right now serves as an immediate commitment to participate.
Social proof is a principle of influence whereby people determine what is right, correct, or desirable by seeing what others do. Haniz employs several appeals to social proof in her letter. She describes the level of participation and contribution among members in last year’s walkathon, implying that the popularity and financial impact of this event make it a good cause. Also, the walkathon itself is a type of social proof; the gathering of thousands of people wearing team T-shirts and marching in unison for a cause is powerful imagery.7
Liking is a principle of influence whereby people are more likely to be persuaded by people who they like.8 Haniz appeals directly to this principle by describing Betty Williams, who is a breast cancer survivor, the benefactor of the breast center, a credit union member, and a participant in the walkathon. Betty Williams is presumably a person most people in the community know and like, a woman who many of the credit union members may know from running into her at the credit union or other community events, and a woman who is passionate about an important cause (a reason for liking). Haniz emphasizes in the message that walkathon participants will join this likable and respected community member at the walkathon.
Authority is a principle of influence whereby people follow authority figures. The number of celebrity endorsements in advertising is evidence of how authority can impact persuasion.9 Although Haniz does not appeal to a national celebrity, she does appeal to a prominent local community member—again Betty Williams. With Betty’s level of influence and personal experience combating cancer, she is likely seen as an authority. Furthermore, Haniz also appeals to members to support the Betty Williams Breast Center, a group of expert professionals who collectively are authorities on breast cancer.
Scarcity is a principle of influence whereby people think there is limited availability of something they want or need, so they must act quickly.10 Haniz employs this principle in terms of time. She explains that the walkathon occurs only once each year (limited time period to participate) and that participants must sign up by a given deadline (limited time period to sign up).
You will apply these principles most often in external persuasive messages, and you should always apply them fairly. Cialdini describes them as “weapons of influence.”11 The very term weapons implies that they are powerful and can do harm. In the “Apply the FAIR Test” section near the end of the chapter, we further discuss the appropriate use of these principles.
Persuade through Emotion and Reason
Most people justify their business decisions based on the soundness of ideas, not feelings. Savvy business communicators, however, understand the importance of injecting emotion into their persuasive messages. While they appreciate the place of reason in business and consumer decisions, they understand that resistance to ideas, products, and services is often emotional. Conversely, they are aware that their target audiences often possess strong emotional attachment to competing ideas, products, and services. Thus, effective communicators find ways to appeal to the core emotional benefits of products, services, and ideas.12
Even in internal persuasive messages, emotional appeals are critical, as indicated by Craig Conway, president and CEO of PeopleSoft:
Good communicators have an enormous advantage over poor communicators because so much of running a company is inspirational. … You just have to be able to persuade people that they are a part of something bigger. If you have a creative vision and you can communicate it in a compelling way to get people excited, you will recruit better people as a result. Then, it is easy to convince the world that you have a more dynamic company.13
Part of understanding your audience is identifying the needs and values that resonate emotionally for them.
Typically, internal persuasive messages focus mostly on logical appeals. External persuasive messages, with the exception of those that emphasize price, generally include strong emotional appeals. As you develop persuasive messages, think about how to get the right mix of logical and emotional appeals. Generally, you will supply both but emphasize one or the other. Keep in mind that even when you choose to make strong emotional appeals in written messages, you should generally avoid the tone of mass advertising, where exaggeration, sarcasm, and over-the-top appeals are acceptable and even effective. Later in the chapter, you will notice several messages created by Haniz and Christine—two based more strongly on logical appeals (Figures 9.5 and 9.8) and two on emotional appeals (Figures 9.7 and 9.9).
Develop Your Ideas
Idea development for persuasive messages is critical. Since your audience is resistant to the message, one of your key tasks is to establish credibility. Developing strong ideas in the interest of your audience helps you demonstrate your voice of competence. It involves gaining a deep understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of your ideas, products, and services. In addition, it involves gaining a thorough understanding of competing ideas, products, and services.
Thus, before attempting to persuade others, expert business communicators seek to understand products, services, and ideas in great depth so that they can speak from an authoritative and competent perspective. To address the issue of attracting younger credit union members, Christine and Haniz spend months learning about the strategies that other credit unions use. When Haniz works on a message that promotes her credit union over local banks, she carefully analyzes and compares the major products and services offered by her credit union and those of competing banks. When Haniz works on a message to persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon, she learns all she can about participation in this event and how it helps in the fight against breast cancer.
Components of Persuasive Messages
Raise a need.
Deliver a solution.
Provide a rationale.
Give counterpoints (optional).
Call to action.
Set Up the Message Structure
Most business writing is direct and explicit. It is direct in that you begin with a main idea or argument and then provide the supporting reasons. It is explicit in that nothing is implied; statements contain full and unambiguous meaning. When you write directly and explicitly, you help your readers understand your message and you show respect for their time.
Compared to other business messages, persuasive messages are somewhat more indirect and implicit. They are sometimes indirect in that they provide the rationale for a request before making the specific request. They are sometimes implicit in that the request or some of the rationale for the request may be implied. In other words, sometimes the reader needs to read between the lines to grasp the entire meaning. Implicit statements politely ask people to do or think differently. Also, explicitly stating some types of benefits is considered poor form—for example, matters of financial or career gain in internal persuasive requests.14
The first task of most persuasive messages is to gain the attention of your readers. You can do this in a variety of ways, including asking a rhetorical question, providing a compelling or interesting fact, revealing a compelling statistic, issuing a challenge, or posting a testimonial.15 For internal persuasive messages, the primary means of gaining attention is demonstrating a business need—a gap between what is and what could be.16 You generally have more flexibility in external persuasive messages as you choose your attention-getters. See Table 9.1 for examples of attention-getters Haniz might use for some of her communication tasks.
Table 9.1 Effective Attention-Getters
Type of Attention-Getter Example
Rhetorical question Did you know that average credit union members save $400 per year compared to bank customers?
Intriguing statistic In the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership.
Compelling and unusual fact/s You’ve probably heard car dealers boast about their near-zero percent interest rates—but there’s a catch! By financing with car dealers, you give up your opportunity to receive manufacturer rebates and your power to negotiate on price.
Challenge Please join our team in this year’s Hope Walkathon in the fight against breast cancer.
Testimonial “I never knew I could have so much negotiating power with a preapproved loan. By getting my car loan through Better Horizons, I negotiated a great deal with the car dealer. This is the way to buy cars!”
Need, Solution, and Rationale
In the body of your message, your first task is to tie your product, service, or idea to the needs of your readers. The best way to reduce the resistance your reader may have is to show that your message meets your readers’ needs. Once you’ve stated the need, you may describe your solution, which is a recommended product, service, or idea. Many readers will remain skeptical unless you provide convincing support. So, you will need to provide a strong rationale, meaning solid reasons why your product, service, or idea really benefits them. After all, you are more than likely attempting to influence skeptics.17
As you structure your message, consider how direct you should be. If your audience members are strongly and emotionally resistant to your solution, consider a more indirect approach so they warm up to your ideas before you suggest a solution. To make your message less direct, provide the rationale before the solution.
At some point in the body of the message, you should validate your readers by showing appreciation for their views and preferences. Validation implies that you recognize and appreciate others’ needs, wants, ideas, and preferences as legitimate and reasonable. By validating your readers, you show respect for them and demonstrate a balanced perspective.18
Traditionally, communicators overcame objections by providing counterpoints to any of the audience members’ objections. In other words, they showed how their own ideas, products, or services were superior to the competing ideas, products, or services the audience favored.
Overcoming objections with counterpoints, however, is risky in the post-trust era. This approach may unnecessarily carry a me-versus-you tone and delegitimize the readers’ concerns. Michael Maslansky, in his research about emerging trends in sales messages in the PTE, states that validation is “using words to let people know that their concerns are valid,” and that it is the “polar opposite of overcoming objections.”19 He says the “new sales mantra [is to] agree with objections.”20 This perhaps ironic approach shows respect and balance because you validate the potential customer’s feelings and ideas. When you validate your readers, they are more likely to accept the merits of your persuasive message.
Thus, consider carefully whether to include counterpoints to your readers’ objections. When you know people well and believe that you will not create a me-versus-you adversarial stance, tactfully state how your ideas, products, and services outperform those of your readers.
Skilled business communicators understand that building support for their ideas takes time. Especially for persuasion within companies, you will generally use a mix of communication channels. Rarely will your ideas be accepted and enacted with one written message. However, one written message can make a powerful statement and open avenues of communication that lead to acceptance and adoption of your ideas.
You conclude persuasive messages with a call to action, which asks your readers to take a specific step toward the purchase of a product or service or acceptance of an idea. However, a call to action should not be a hard sell; pressuring others is increasingly ineffective in the PTE.21 In external persuasive messages, the call to action is typically a specific and explicit step. In internal persuasive messages, the call to action is sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. It is more likely to be implicit for controversial change ideas and when corresponding with superiors who have ultimate decision-making authority.
Guidelines for Tone for Persuasive Messages
Apply the personal touch.
Use action-oriented, lively language.
Write with confidence.
Getting the Tone and Style Right for Persuasive Messages
LO9.3. Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.
The tone for persuasive messages should be confident and positive, yet at the same time avoid exaggeration or hype. This is tricky! You will no doubt need to make some trade-offs. The more confident and positive you make your message, the more you risk being perceived as pushy or exaggerated. As you reduce confidence and positivity, you risk your product, service, or idea being perceived as weak or unexciting. One benefit of asking colleagues to read your persuasive message before you send it is they can help you decide if you have achieved the right level of confidence and positivity without sacrificing believability.
The writing style of your message should be action-oriented and lively. But again, you risk being perceived as unbelievable or overly enthusiastic if you overdo the language. However, you risk being perceived as dull or unexceptional if you don’t use engaging, lively language. Proofreading by yourself and with the help of colleagues will help you get the right writing style to set your message apart.
Apply the Personal Touch
Recently, a number of competing developers delivered presentations to a property owner, each hoping to persuade him to sell them 4,000 acres of much-sought-after property. The presentations were nearly identical, so the property owner was unsure how to choose the best developer. A few days later, the property owner received a handwritten thank-you note from one candidate. The property owner immediately awarded the deal to that developer because he had taken the time to write a message of appreciation.22
Often, your competitors are nearly identical to you. Your colleagues and customers will be more easily persuaded when you show interest in them personally, speak to them in personal terms, understand their specific needs, and demonstrate that you are seeking benefits for them. Personalizing your messages is not easy, though, as Michael Maslansky points out:
For all of us, selling ideas or products or ourselves begins with a need to talk about something that we have and the audience should need, want, or agree with. The problem is that too often, we focus on the first part—what we want to sell, and too little on the second—why they want to buy … and yet, our audience demands increasingly that messages, products, and services speak directly to them.23
Creating messages that speak directly to customers and colleagues requires that you use language that helps your customers and colleagues feel the product, service, or idea is just for them.24
One of the primary strategies you can use to personalize persuasive messages is your selection of voice—either you-voice, we-voice, I-voice, or impersonal voice (as introduced in Chapter 2). Table 9.2 offers guidance on choosing the appropriate voice. Generally, you-voice is more effective in external persuasive messages to customers and clients because it emphasizes the benefits they receive from your products and services. From the customer’s perspective, the you-voice shows them that they are the center of attention.
Table 9.2 Voice in Persuasive Messages
Voice Appropriate Cases Cautions Examples
You-voice Use in external persuasive messages to emphasize reader benefits. Presumptuousness—assuming you know what is good for someone else When you take out an auto loan, you get a variety of resources to help you in your car shopping, including a free copy of a Kelly Blue Book, access to free Carfax reports, Mechanical Breakdown Insurance (MBI), and Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP).
In this example, you-voice helps show direct benefits to the customers. Overuse across an entire message, however, may come across as presumptuous, overbearing, or exaggerated.
We-voice Use in internal persuasive messages to emphasize shared work goals. Presumptuousness—assuming you share common beliefs, ideas, or understanding with your colleagues At Better Horizons, we’ve instilled a personal touch into every aspect of our business. We’ve reinforced this culture with face-to-face services. Our tellers welcome members by name. When members come into the credit union, they know we care about them as people, not just as customers. The warm, friendly, genuine, and personal approach we take to serving our members is why I’m so proud to work here.
In this passage, we-voice instills a sense of shared values, priorities, and goals. We-voice can instill a strong sense of teamwork. When audience members have different perspectives, however, they may resent that you are stating agreement where it does not exist.
I-voice Use in all persuasive messages sparingly. Overuse implies self-centeredness After examining the results of other credit unions, I am convinced that these tools can build emotional connections and loyalty with our members.
In this example, I-voice is used to show a personal opinion and shows respect for audience members who are not yet fully persuaded. Frequent use of I-voice across an entire message, however, may come across as emphasizing your interests rather than those of the audience.
Impersonal voice Use in persuasive messages to emphasize objectivity and neutrality. Overuse may depersonalize the message The basic difference between credit unions and banks is that credit union members own and control their credit unions whereas bank account holders have no stake or control in their financial institutions.
In this example, impersonal voice helps show objectivity. An entire persuasive message in impersonal voice, however, may fail to connect on a personal level with the audience.
Writing in the you-voice to customers is more than just a stylistic choice. It forces you to consciously consider the readers’ needs and wants. It forces you to personalize the message for them. By contrast, the we-voice in external messages can focus too much attention on your company and de-emphasize benefits to the customer. Notice the difference in overall tone in the two messages in Figures 9.4 and 9.5 (pp. 255–256). In the less-effective example, the you-voice is hardly used at all compared to the dominating we-voice. In the more-effective example, the you-voice takes center stage over the we-voice. The extensive use of you-voice in the more-effective message sends a strong meta message: This message is about you.
Another method of personalizing a message is to make your statements tangible. By definition, tangible means something can be touched; it is material or substantial. In a business communications context, making the statement tangible implies that the readers can discern something in terms that are meaningful to them. This allows the reader to sense the impact on a personal level.25 You often can achieve a tangible feel by combining you-voice with specificity. Consider the examples in Table 9.3, from messages that Haniz is working on for the credit union.
Table 9.3 Making Tangible Statements
Less Effective More Effective
Credit unions save members about $8 billion a year thanks to better interest rates and reduced fees. On average, credit union members save $400 each year compared to bank customers thanks to lower loan rates and fees.
The benefit is not tangible. Customers are not sure what the benefit would be for them personally. This benefit is tangible; the customers know how much they will save on an individual level.
In recent years, many credit unions have lost membership because younger individuals are not attracted to them. In the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership. And we simply aren’t attracting younger members.
This statement focuses on a general trend for credit unions but does not indicate an impact on a particular credit union. This statement invokes a sense of what is happening right here at our credit union. Identifying the amount (as well as a percentage) helps the reader discern the impact.
We provide lower rates on car loans. Our car loan rates are between 1.5 and 1.75 percentage points less than at any of the banks in town. You pay lower rates on car loans. You can get car loan rates at Better Horizons that are 1.5–1.75 percentage points less than at any other bank in town. Consider the savings:
On a 4-year $15,000 new car loan: You save about $680.
On a 4-year $5,000 used car loan: You save about $200.
This statement doesn’t help the customers understand how much in dollars they would save on a car loan at Better Horizons. This statement allows customers to easily think about how much savings they would receive by getting a car loan with Better Horizons.
As you reread your message, keep in mind the following advice from sales specialist Ralph Allora: “Read the letter aloud. If it doesn’t sound like you’re having a conversation with the client over the phone, then you’re not using the right tone.”26 This in part is a test of whether you have personalized your message enough.
Use Action-Oriented and Lively Language
In persuasive messages, you have somewhat more license to write creatively. Focus on using action-oriented and lively words to achieve a sense of excitement, optimism, or other positive emotions. Use strong nouns and verbs to add to the excitement of the message. Some sales messages sound dull because of overuse of and reliance on words such as provide and offer.27 Across the entire message or thought, the action-oriented and lively language should emphasize a central theme. See Table 9.4 for examples from documents Haniz is working on for two of her projects.
Table 9.4 Using Action-Oriented and Lively Language
Less Effective More Effective
The Betty Williams Breast Center has a nationally accredited program for treatment of breast cancer. The Betty Williams Breast Center runs a nationally accredited program for treatment of breast cancer.
The weak verb has implies little action on the part of the Betty Williams Breast Center. The action verb runs implies a full-fledged and active effort on the part of the Betty Williams Breast Center.
Better Horizons has always been known for its personal approach to our members. Our transactions have always occurred through face-to-face services. Our tellers are friendly to all members. At Better Horizons, we’ve instilled a personal touch into every aspect of our business. We’ve reinforced this culture with face-to-face services. Our tellers welcome members by name. When members come into the credit union, they know we care about them as people, not just as customers.
Uses unexciting, weak verbs: has been known, have occurred, are (notice how passive verbs detract from a sense of action and engagement). The central theme of personalized service does not come through. For example, consider the contrast between our tellers are friendly versus our tellers welcome members by name. Uses a positive, diverse set of action verbs: instilled, reinforced, welcome, care. Uses adjectives and nouns to further emphasize a central theme of personalized service: personal touch, face-to-face services, name.
Write with Confidence
As you display more confidence in your idea, your product, or your service, you can more effectively influence your audience. Effective persuaders provide compelling and simple reasons for action. They should show confidence in these ideas, as illustrated in Table 9.5, again with examples from two of Haniz’s projects. Emotionally, the writer’s confidence allows the audience to gain confidence in the message. In internal persuasive messages, expressing confidence in key players, who can make the change occur, is crucial. These key players include upper-level executives who will actively endorse and authorize resources as well as those managers and employees who will put the ideas into motion.28
Table 9.5 Writing with Confidence
Less Effective More Effective
At our upcoming board meeting, I would like to discuss possible ways of appealing to younger members. We can talk about how various strategies might appeal to this group. At our upcoming board meeting, I will present a vision of how we can build marketing strategies and product offerings to appeal to younger members. These strategies will not only attract younger members to our credit union but also increase our business across other age groups.
These statements are an attempt to achieve an other-orientation; they show sensitivity to involving others in the decision making. However, they show no confidence in the ideas or policies that the audience resists. These statements imply confidence in the change message: These are ideas and policies that will make a difference. Furthermore, the writer can make them happen. The argument is logic-based but also contains an excitement about possibilities.
Please think about how Better Horizons can help you in your banking. We encourage you to stop by Better Horizons and make direct comparisons with your current bank. You’ll find that banking with Better Horizons saves you money, provides convenience when you travel, and offers services to meet nearly any banking need.
This nonspecific request sounds weak and unconfident. It gives the reader an excuse to easily dismiss the message. This request lays down a challenge to make direct comparisons, confidently implying that Better Horizons can outperform competitors. It then directly states specific benefits to the potential member.
Michael Maslansky and his research team have examined the reactions of tens of thousands of customers and clients to many types of written messages. In this section, we illustrate a few findings from the financial industry. For example, in Figure 9.1, you see four statements that were sent to respondents. In the hypothetical scenario that was presented to them, a company is attempting to do a good thing—give its employees an opportunity to put money in a retirement account.
Figure 9.1 Most-Effective Statements to Persuade Skeptical Employees (Creating Salary Deduction for 401(k) Scenario)
Source: Adapted from The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics by Michael Maslansky, Scott West, Gary DeMoss and David Saylor, Copyright © 2010 by Van Kampen Investor Services, Inc. Used by permission of Prentice Hall, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Note: The survey involved a hypothetical situation where employers would automatically deduct 7 percent of an employee’s salary and place it into a 401(k). This process would help employees save money for the future. The employees would have the option to opt-out.
The four statements state essentially the same thing but are phrased differently. Each is written fairly well and appeals to some individuals. The statement that appeals to the most people (40 percent) emphasizes choice rather than intent. It uses the you-voice rather than the we-voice, which is preferable for many messages written to consumers (this is most similar to a consumer situation). It contains three short sentences with 7, 2, and 27 words. The emphasis on choice (other-orientation), use of you-voice (other-orientation), and simple language combine to make this the most influential statement. By contrast, the other options each contain one long sentence (30, 36, and 27 words).
In the PTE, customers and clients consider choice an indicator of credibility. They view simple language (not implying lack of sophisticated knowledge) as a display of transparency and respect. In contrast, they view overly complex language as potentially deceptive.29 Similarly, effective persuasive messages avoid statements that may be perceived as pressure tactics. Hard sells are increasingly ineffective in a PTE, especially in written format.30 Compare Haniz’s less-effective and more-effective persuasive statements in Table 9.6, all of which you will see again in her messages located later in the chapter.
Table 9.6 Emphasizing Choice
Less Effective More Effective
You owe it to the women in your lives to make a difference. You can help make a difference for women here in our community.
This appeal focuses on obligation and pressure. Most readers will not respond positively. This appeal focuses on volunteerism and contribution to the community without telling the reader what to do.
The walkathon will be held on Saturday, October 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Central Park. Do your part to improve the lives of women in our community! The walkathon will be held on Saturday, October 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Central Park. Please join Betty and the rest of the Better Horizons team for a day of fun, excitement, and hope!
This request is a guilt trip; it emphasizes the readers’ duty. This request recognizes the readers’ choice to participate in a fun and exciting approach to a good cause.
In persuasive messages, always be careful about being perceived as presumptuous—unfairly assuming that you know or even share the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others. Many people are easily offended when you presume to know or even dictate how they will think, feel, or react to your messages.31
Positivity in persuasive messages helps your audience focus on the benefits rather than the drawbacks of what you are trying to promote. Maslansky and his team’s research helps demonstrate that subtle changes to more positive wording are generally more persuasive. For example, they asked consumers to identify which of three pairs of phrases were more persuasive in promotional material about investment options.
In the first pair of statements, 90 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you have enough money as long as you live was more effective than the statement managing longevity risk. Overwhelmingly, the consumers thought the benefit (having long-term financial security) was more influential than the possible drawback (avoiding financial loss).
For the second pair of statements, 81 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you can afford to maintain your lifestyle was more persuasive than the statement managing inflation risk. Similarly, the vast majority of consumers in the case thought that the benefit (maintaining your lifestyle) was more compelling than the drawback (possibly losing your current buying power).
For the third pair of statements, 63 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you can participate in the gains while reducing your downside risk was more persuasive than managing market risk. In this case, consumers were more positively influenced by the statement about risk (a drawback) when it was preceded by a phrase about gains (the benefit).32
In addition to being positive, avoiding superlatives gives you the best chance of persuading your audience. Phrases such as best product on the market, state-of-the-art technology, or best-in-class service sound increasingly hollow. Maslansky’s research with consumers shows that terms such as comfortable retirement rather than dream retirement; protection rather than guarantee; financial security rather than financial freedom; effective rather than best of breed are more persuasive.
Consumers perceive too-good-to-be-true statements as attempts to convince them of “the merits without making a rational argument. And they [too-good-to-be-true statements] fail because they suggest an inherent bias that ruins the integrity of the communicator.”33 Table 9.7 highlights the kinds of phrases that are increasingly ineffective with today’s skeptical consumers. Table 9.8 contrasts messages from Haniz’s projects that persuade with and without exaggeration.
Table 9.7 Statements to Avoid in the Post-Trust Era
Type Examples That Don’t Work
Trust me “Trust me” or “We speak your language”
Unbelievable “Your call is important to us” or “We care about our customers”
Too good to be true “This is the right product for you” or “We give you guaranteed results”
Excuses “What you need to understand is …” or “Our hands are tied”
Explanations “This was taken out of context” or “I can explain”
Fear tactics “Are you concerned about the security of your family?” or “Act now or you’ll miss this opportunity”
Source: Adapted from The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics by Michael Maslansky, Scott West, Gary DeMoss and David Saylor, Copyright © 2010 by Van Kampen Investor Services, Inc. Used by permission of Prentice Hall, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Table 9.8 Avoiding Exaggeration and Superlatives
Less Effective More Effective
You can trust us at Better Horizons to make your financial dreams come true. As a nonprofit, member-controlled financial institution, Better Horizons can provide you with higher rates on savings accounts, better terms on loans, and lower fees.
This statement uses phrases that seem unbelievable (you can trust us) and exaggerated (make your financial dreams come true). It is positive but not plausible. This statement focuses on specific benefits and uses words that nearly all people view positively (nonprofit, member-controlled, savings, better, lower fees). It is both positive and plausible.
Pay attention to these facts or risk losing money to banks. Consider some of the following reasons to join Better Horizons and start saving today.
This statement focuses on fear and applies pressure. Most customers would consider the writer not credible. This statement is inviting and nonthreatening. It uses pressure-free (consider) and positive (join, start saving) words.
Creating Internal Persuasive Messages
LO9.4. Create compelling internal persuasive messages.
Internal and external persuasive messages contain many common elements: they gain attention, raise a need, deliver a solution, provide a rationale, show appreciation for differences of opinion, give counterpoints, and call readers to action. Nevertheless, internal and external persuasive messages differ in some ways (see Table 9.9). Internal messages more often focus on promoting ideas, whereas external messages more often focus on promoting products and services. Also, internal persuasive messages tend to be slightly more direct and explicit, and they tend to be based on logical appeals. In contrast, external persuasive messages tend to be slightly more indirect and implicit, and they tend to be based on emotional appeals.
Table 9.9 Components of Internal and External Persuasive Messages
Internal Messages (Typically for Ideas) External Messages (Typically for Products and Services)
Attention Overview of a business problem Catchy statement
Need Description of a business problem Description of unmet needs or wants of your customers
Solution Description of how your idea or policy addresses the business problem Description of how your product or service benefits customers
Rationale Elaboration about why your idea or policy is the best option Elaboration about why your product or service will benefit the customer
Appreciation Appreciation for decision makers’ perspectives and resistance to your ideas Recognition of customers’ resistance to your product or service
Counterpoints Explanation of why your ideas are better than competing ideas (typically those of decision makers who comprise your target audience) Explanation of why your product/service is better than competing products/services (typically those favored by the target audience)
Action Recommendations for a course of action or further discussion about an idea or policy Description of a specific step for the customer to take toward purchase of a product or service
Christine, with the help of Haniz, constructed a letter to warm board members to the idea of adding new financial products and using more online and social networking tools to better reach younger members. Most board members are resistant to this message because they fear depersonalizing Better Horizons, which is known for its warm, community-oriented business model. In the less-effective message (see Figure 9.2), Christine is generally positive. However, she shows little confidence in the new ideas. The message generally contains short, dull, and nontangible comments.
Figure 9.2 Less-Effective Internal Persuasive Message
In the more-effective message (see Figure 9.3), Christine personalizes the letter, addressing each board member individually, and begins with a tangible business problem. Then, she tactfully discusses her ideas and concludes with calls to action. The message contains conviction and vision without sounding too pushy. It uses a variety of implicit approaches to persuade board members that online services and social networking do not undermine personalized service. This message will open avenues for more constructive conversations when Christine meets with the board members in person.
Figure 9.3 More-Effective Internal Persuasive Message
In the more-effective message, Christine chooses to send the message in two forms. She sends it as a letter first (depicted in Figure 9.3) and as a follow-up email a few days later. In letter format, the message feels more personalized and shows the importance of the message. Likewise, it allows Christine to provide a printed-out enclosure as a courtesy.
Constructing External Persuasive Messages
LO9.5. Compose influential external persuasive messages.
Haniz writes two external persuasive messages. The first is a flyer for community members who are participating in free financial planning and tax assistance workshops sponsored and led by Better Horizons. The second is an email encouraging Better Horizons members to join the Hope Walkathon. The first message uses more logical appeals. It deals with reasons Better Horizons is a better option than local banks. The second message uses more emotional appeals. It focuses on pride in team and community, a sense of contribution to an important cause, and an exciting and hope-filled activity. It contains many facts but relies most heavily on garnering feelings of dedication and enthusiasm.
Notice the differences between the less-effective and more-effective examples in Figures 9.4 and 9.5. In the less-effective message (Figure 9.4), most components of persuasive messages are present except for a show of appreciation and a call to action. However, it employs we-voice when the potential customer should be the entire focus of the message, and it does not provide tangible benefits.
Figure 9.4 Less-Effective External Persuasive Message Based on Logical Appeals,
Figure 9.5 More-Effective External Persuasive Message Based on Logical Appeals
By contrast, in the more-effective flyer (Figure 9.5), Haniz wrote a message that employs you-voice and describes tangible benefits to focus the entire message on the customer. The formatting makes each benefit stand out. The tangible statements help the customer quickly identify with the worth of the benefits; for example, saving $680 on a car loan (more-effective message) is a far clearer benefit than paying 1.5 to 1.75 percentage points less (as in the less-effective message).
The more-effective example also provides an influential appreciation statement (the less-effective example provides no appreciation statement) that anticipates the thoughts of skeptical consumers. In italics, it asks, With all these benefits, why wouldn’t everyone choose credit unions? This validates the thinking of customers who might otherwise dismiss all these benefits as too good to be true. The paragraph explains why some people prefer banks and encourages customers to make direct comparisons themselves. Finally, the message concludes with a call to action—a cash reward to new members who join before September 1. Most effective sales messages provide incentives to motivate purchase of products or services.
Now notice the differences between the less-effective and more-effective external persuasive messages in Figures 9.6 and 9.7, both of which use emotional appeals to rally people to sign up for the Hope Walkathon. In the less-effective example (Figure 9.6), Haniz includes several statements that readers could perceive as guilt trips. It uses a series of extremely negative terms within the first few sentences (i.e., deadliest, cancer deaths) without providing hopeful words, an approach that could lead readers to think participating in the walkathon would make little difference. Furthermore, the message is not personalized. Rather than focusing on the local and credit union communities, it exclusively examines the problem in a national context.
Figure 9.6 Less-Effective External Persuasive Message Based on Emotional Appeals,To continue with the answer check on mycoursewriter.com/
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