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Successful Influence
By Julie A. Pierce
March, 2007, 13:59

Effective persuasion moves people to commit to change of their own volition.
We all need to influence others at one time or another clients, bosses, kids, spouses, parking ticket administrators, or maybe just the readers of your marketing copy. You don't mean others malice or want them to take actions they will regret. But, if food on your table relies on the persuasiveness in the copy you write today, you must be able to move readers from A to Z with finesse, in a way that is ultimately of their own choosing.  

There are five main steps to the plateau of influence:

  1. Be clear about the expected outcome.
  2. Identify existing attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.
  3. Create a deep hook for your reader, involving them personally and making the message stick.
  4. Within the message, provide cues that appear in readers' natural experiences and environments, provoking recall of the message and aligned action.
  5. Achieve commitment from readers creating a long-lasting adoption of the new attitude, belief, or behaviour.

Let's look at each of these steps in a bit more detail.

The Goal

From the outset of your project to create persuasive copy, get very clear about the desired attitudes, beliefs, or behaviours that your words must engender.

  • What are the specific objectives of this piece?
  • What is the new attitude, belief, or behaviour that should result from the persuasion?
  • What result will indicate that your piece was effective in motivating your intended audience to align themselves with the  message?

The Audience

Be very clear about where your intended audience is coming from before they are exposed to the message. Understand how this message is going to affect them.

  • Who are the people you are trying to persuade?
  • What do they believe about what you'll be telling them?
  • What are their attitudes about what you'll be telling them?
  • How much resistance do they already have to the message?
  • Have they heard the message before?
  • What sort of language can they relate to?
  • What popular cultural identities do they admire or want to be like?

The Hook

Pull readers into the piece; get them involved in the details and make the message stick.

  • Present one clear, focused message by keeping it simple and easily accessible. Do this by using language appropriate for the intended audience and the message itself.
  • Use specific and keenly relevant details to stimulate imagination while maintaining readers' focus on the message's intended outcome.
  • Avoid or abandon anything that creates distraction from this focus.
  • If possible, pull from readers' existing attitudes, beliefs, or behaviours, and make a translation of those to the modified attitudes, beliefs, or behaviours that your message targets.
  • Evoke the readers' emotions, engaging their personal concerns and making the message emotionally relevant to their experience.
  • Fortify the message with credibility by quoting institutions, authorities, and popular personalities that your readers relate to, admire, or want to be like and who are already associated with the promotion or support of the message.
  • Be explicit about how the message is personally useful to readers in attaining their desired lifestyle or achieving their goals.
  • Create an experience of immediacy using sensory, temporal, or spatial details with the specific words you choose.

The Cue

Sprinkle your message with verbal and visual cues. Do this by using words that occur in situations your readers normally experience and by conjuring pictures in the readers' imaginations that fit into their every-day lives. Inject your message with language and settings familiar to your readers so that when they encounter these familiars, the message will be recalled organically.

Effective cues are subtle and common to the readers' experience and to the message. They are not hammers that hit the reader over the head. Rather, cues establish a connection between a situation that readers encounter and the desired attitude, belief, or behaviour that the message is trying to invoke. Create a strong similarity between the stimulus in the message and the matching cue in the readers' natural environment. Embed the cues into the most vital part of the persuasive message.

The Commitment

Within the message, depict incentives that will motivate readers to make the change. Incentives often involve one or a combination of the following elements:

  • Peer group pressure
  • Social approval or disapproval
  • Recognition and reward
  • Personal enjoyment or suffered consequences

If readers identify with the new attitude, belief, or behaviour presented in the message, they are more likely to make a committed change in order to maintain consistency for themselves. This need for self-consistency is a natural, inherent, motivating mechanism in the form of, "I am a person who . . ." and holding that belief, the person will behave in a way that proves the claim.

Provide support for readers so that the commitment to the change is not a challenge. Present easily accessible tools and methods that make the change simple to adopt. Illustrate how readers are accountable or how their change will be visible to others who will approve and recognize their improvement.

By applying these five keys to your persuasive writing projects, you will find a structure that suitably accommodates each piece appropriate to its cause. You have the power to influence.

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Julie A. Pierce is the main editor at Inkwell Newswatch (IN). She freelances as a writer and editor and appreciates opportunity when it knocks. Feel free to knock:

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