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The Persuasion Formula: Take A Lesson From The Pols

If the campaign ads and stump speeches of the present election cycle teach us anything about communication, they teach us this: When you’re trying to persuade people to take action, identify a simple, powerful message and return to it as many times, and as emotionally, as you possibly can.

In the trade, of course, this is known as “staying on message,” and it’s the first commandment of a successful campaign. Business communicators, alas, often ignore this valuable rule from the world of politics.

Let’s face it: Staying on message works! If the polls are any reliable indication, the Republicans are leading and they are leading because of a single, three-part, powerful, constantly repeated theme that unites virtually all of their candidates: Government is too big, spending is out of control and taxes must be cut. Most people would be hard pressed to remember a time when that theme was not the Republican message. This decades-old message (to which most Democratic candidates do not seem to have a similarly compelling reply or competing message) resonates with voters.

Whether or not you agree with them, the persistence, passion and the discipline with which GOP candidates have spread their winning message are admirable–and enormously effective.

In the few races where Democrats appear to hold the advantage, such as the California governor’s race, the pattern plays out in essentially the same way. There, Democrat Jerry Brown has maintained a slim lead over former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate. A former governor himself, Brown has relentlessly hit a single message–a message that, up to this point, most California voters seem to be buying into: Whitman is not qualified to be governor. Virtually every syllable of Brown’s recent campaign has been strongly focused on this emotionally powerful appeal. (The only exception to this has been some damage control around a gaffe committed by one of Brown’s aides; even so, the Whitman-is-unqualified message has served as the point to which the Brown campaign has always returned.)

The techniques described here are as old as advertising itself. So if your job (like a politician’s) is to persuade people to take action, you must find a simple, potent, relevant message that your audience will respond to emotionally. Then, deliver it with passion and repeat it constantly over a long period of time. Eventually, people will buy your stuff (or your ideas)!

Copyright 2010 Ruth Sherman. All Rights Reserved.

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