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Using persuasive communication to plan your marketing campaigns

Communications can often be an afterthought within the marketing context. It is often treated solely as a public relations function or only coming into play at a tactical level. However, for marketing campaigns to be successful, there must be an effective communication strategy to underpin your planning.

This article explores concepts more often associated with public relations theory to show how persuasive communication can be used when planning a marketing campaign. But before that, it’s helpful to have a basic understanding of how the mind works.

How does the brain work?

The brain, from a psychological viewpoint, has three distinct functions:

  • Thoughts eg: “I am hungry,” “I need a new notebook,” “It’s my birthday tomorrow”
  • Feelings or emotions, eg: sad, happy, frustrated, angry, compassionate
  • Behaviours or actions, eg: eating, laughing, walking, making a call

Naturally, our brain uses these function in a continual process. You’re probably aware of these functions, or abilities, individually – or can make yourself aware – but, day-to-day, the process simply becomes part of your subconscious activities.

For example, if you’re in a room with an open window, you may be annoyed or sad at the cold air coming in, so close the window. Here you’ve thought “I’m cold”, you’ve had an emotional response to this, and you take action by closing the window. You may do all this without really being aware of it – it’s an instinctive process.

In the scenario above, the process is ideal; the behaviour is a direct response to the thought and emotion experienced. Of course, the human brain doesn’t just perform one process at a time – there are many processes, often conflicting, happening simultaneously. There is a likely a time where you have been in a cold room, feeling frustrated, but instead of closing the window or putting on a jumper, you don’t take action. Perhaps your brain is busy dealing with tiredness, prioritising sitting down and resting above feeling cold.

The mind is therefore constantly being pulled in different directions, and the biggest influence is usually going to determine the processes that your brain prioritises. If you had a newborn in that same cold room as you, you’d probably shut the window regardless of how tired you are, because your parental responsibilities become the biggest influencer.

Understanding how the brain works allows brands to become a key influence on customers’ minds.

Why is this important? Because, as marketers, we want our customers to take certain actions, we want to guide thoughts and create emotional responses. Understanding how the brain works allows us to better achieve this by working to become a key influence in the customer’s mind at a certain point. We can achieve this through persuasive communication.

Three levels of objectives

In communications theory and practice there are three levels of objectives:

1. Cognitive objectives 

These seek a change in the awareness, the thoughts and recognition, or the audience. The Staying Alive campaign by British Heart Foundation is a great example of a cognitive objective being achieved.

British Heart Foundation hands only cpr add for persuasive communication blog

The purpose of this advert was to raise awareness of hands-only CPR. There is no particular action for the audience to immediately take (indeed, most people may never need to use hands-only CPR in their life.) Just the thought of hands-only CPR forms in the audience’s mind a talking point, a memory aide, the start of a process.

2. Affective objectives

These seek a change in attitude, usually by creating an emotional response. For example, Time to Change, in the video below, played on the audience’s fears around mental health and flipped this to show why those emotions are unnecessary:

3. Conative objectives

These seek a change in behaviour or drive action. The Electoral Commission, for example, runs a conative campaign before each election or referendum to get people to register to vote.

Electoral Commission ad for persuasive communication blog Electoral Commission ad for persuasive communication blog

The outcome here isn’t to get you to think about who you’ll vote for or to garner an emotional response to particular issues or policies. The Electoral Commission simply want you to take action and register to vote.

These objectives are referred to as levels because, in general, cognitive objectives are the easiest to achieve, while conative actions are the most difficult. Most campaigns, including those used as examples above, will have more than one objective level depending on the audiences and overall aim.

How the objectives apply to the marketing funnel

Here’s a diagram of the traditional marketing funnel:

Marketing funnel for persuasive communication blog

The top of the funnel is about awareness of a brand of product. Once this is established we, as marketers, look next to build the relationship between individuals and the brand. The point of conversion is where the customer commits to the brand by buying a product or service, or taking another action, such as signing up for a newsletter or completing a form.

It’s clear to see how the levels of objectives and brain functions discussed above apply to the funnel:

Adapted marketing funnel for persuasive communication blog

 

These objectives will overlap in terms of strategy and planning, particularly at the bottom of the funnel where the focus is on customer retention. However, in general, awareness objectives are cognitive, focusing on the thoughts function of the brain. Consideration is affective. You want people to invest emotionally in the brand, giving them a reason to convert. Then, at the point of purchase or action, we’re focusing on the behaviour function of the brain. We want people to do something.

It’s clear that each objective level targets a different aspect of our psychology (thoughts, feelings and behaviours) and has clear application to the marketing funnel. As such, they provide a helpful platform on which to base our persuasive communication techniques.

Communicating persuasively in marketing campaigns

Aristotle offered three basic elements of persuasion:

 

  • Ethos (character, credibility)
  • Pathos (emotional influence)
  • Logos (logic, reasoning)

The effective combination of these elements in your campaign is the key to persuasive communication. When this is done well, it should natural, feeding into the powerful subconscious of the brain, as well as the conscious mind. Thoughts, feelings and behaviours taken by the customer should feel obvious and clear to them, while still leaving decision-making processes in their hands.

When persuasion is done right, the outcome should feel natural and obvious.

Let’s look at some examples…

Scenario 1

“Brand X sells clothes. It has a good reputation and high search rankings, but many customers abandon their cart before payment. Customer journey analysis shows that most of the abandoned carts contain one, cheap item, and customers leave at the point they asked to register. SWOT analysis shows that a strength is their free return or replace service.”

The desired outcome here is that the number of abandoned carts will decrease. Brand X wants its customers to take action (complete their purchase,) making this a conative objective.

With this in mind, you can start to think about how to can communicate persuasively to Brand X’s customers, using ethos, pathos and logos as prompts:

  • Ethos – how can Brand X speak to their customer’s character? By reassuring them that they have made an excellent choice in the product they have chosen.
  • Pathos – how can Brand X speak to their customer’s emotions? By encouraging the thought that the product will bring them joy if they complete their purchase.
  • Logos – how can Brand X reason with their customer? By making it easy to checkout and letting the customer know they can return it for free if they change their mind.

From this exercise you can build tactics and messaging. For example, part of the campaign may involve remarketing to customers that abandoned their cart to remind them of the good decision they made picking the product (ethos) and create excitement around owning it (pathos).

The brand could also create a guest checkout option and A/B test more prominent placement of the free return/replace service on relevant pages (logos).

Scenario 2

“Brand Y is a B2B mobile phone company. It has good customer satisfaction but online leads are slow. Data shows that traffic to the site is minimal. They do not rank on the first page for any relevant keywords and brand search is low.”

The desired outcome here is brand awareness and improved site engagement. Brand Y wants its customers, or potential customers, to do two things: first, to be aware of the brand, and second, to spend time considering a purchase. The objectives are therefore cognitive and affective respectively.

Thinking about the cognitive objective…

  • Ethos – how can Brand Y speak to their potential customer’s character? By showing them that their interests overlap with the interested of the brand.
  • Pathos – how can Brand Y speak to their customer’s emotions? By easing frustrations associated with common issues around business mobiles.
  • Logos – how can Brand Y reason with their customer? By becoming the natural choice of brand for the customer.

In terms of tactics, a content marketing strategy could be implemented based on the brand’s shared interests with its customers (ethos). Content could be written to address common search queries (pathos) and search optimisation could be used to ensure the brand always come up in searches (logos).

Now we can explore the affective objective…

  • Ethos – how can Brand Y speak to their potential customer’s character? By reassuring the customer that they make good decisions.
  • Pathos – how can Brand Y speak to their customer’s emotions? By explaining to them that the brand understands their frustrations.
  • Logos – how can Brand Y reason with their customer? By highlighting the high levels of satisfaction experienced by previous customers.

Tactics here may include LinkedIn ads with messaging aimed at “Great managers like you…” (ethos) or starting a Facebook group for telecoms managers to troubleshoot together (pathos). Customer reviews could also be tested on product pages (logos).

Summary

By considering the audience in terms of what we want them to think, feel or do, we can communicate more persuasively. Use the levels of objectives as a new way to think about your marketing funnel and how your brand is relating itself to your customers.

You can also use the framework for the scenarios above as an exercise for new campaigns, or to review current marketing campaigns. Think about the ethos, pathos and logos of your objectives – how can you create customer buy-in, and what tactics can help you achieve this? Use situational analysis and data to inform and support these exercises for the best and most persuasive outcome.

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