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Persuasion Partners

David J. Katz

(Loosely excerpted from the introduction to
 “Design for Response: Creative Direct Marketing That Works”, Rockport Books)

At Randa Marketing... we’re really in the persuasion business.... we persuade our customers to purchase Randa products (both on a wholesale and retail level).  We do this through persuasive packaging, fixtures; hang tags, advertising and other medium. Each MDR, PR, and advertising project is an opportunity for persuasion. Do you know why a belt hangar is a medium?  Because it’s neither rare, nor well done.  Ugggh... Sorry.

Being in the persuasion business is very different from being in the communications or packaging business. Communication is not the same thing as persuasion, as a few examples will demonstrate.

            A sign on the side of the road that says "speed limit 55 miles per hour" is communication. But a highway patrol car on the side of the road is much more persuasive.

            A sign that says EXIT is communication; a person yelling FIRE is persuasion.

Does a tie belly band communicate?  Can it persuade? It sure can!

            A great communicator can elicit a favorable response. When he finishes speaking, people will say "What a great speech." But a great persuader will leave the audience with a different reaction. Instead of focusing on the speech, they will be motivated "to do" something. For example instead of saying "great speech" they might say "let's march," or "let's go to war." This was the difference between Cicero and Demonsthenes; Cicero was a great communicator, Demonsthenes was a great persuader.

            Communication deals with the "what." Persuasion takes communication one step farther by focusing on the "why." It focuses on the benefit and the relevance to the personal needs of the audience.

            Not surprisingly, many people in business confuse communication with persuasion. In fact, it is easy for a person in power to confuse the Power of Persuasion with the Persuasion of Power. For some executives, the concept of persuasion is very simple. They send out a memo telling people what they want it to happen and then they assume that the recipients will be persuaded to do what was requested.

            While this approach usually works with employees, unfortunately, it does not work so well with consumers. The corporate executive who says "just tell consumers how good our products are" doesn't understand the fundaments of persuasion. It isn't simply a matter of communication; it is a matter of persuasion.


            Randa needs persuasion partners; experts in persuasion, people who understand the elements of persuasion, people who understand the mechanics of persuasion (the science and art of persuasion) and people who understand how to utilize the tools of communication to accomplish a complete persuasion plan.

            The persuasion partner is like a skilled mechanic with a tool box. In the tool box are an assortment of communication tools -- general advertising, retail advertising, direct marketing, promotions, packaging, fixtures and public relations. But before the mechanic can select the proper tool, he/she must understand how the engine works and what the problem is.

            The role of the persuasion partner is to determine -- in each particular case and for each individual circumstance -- The MEANS of persuasion. In other words, the persuasion partner must figure out what will work in each different situation and for each different audience.

            In order to figure out "The means of persuasion" in each particular case, one must:

1.         Understand the elements of persuasion
2.         Determine the purchase process for the given product or service
3.         Determine the persuasion task for each stage in the purchase process
4.         Determine the credibility of the brand or speaker
5.         Determine the personality of the brand or speaker
6.         Develop a fully integrated persuasion plan

            Let's start by examining the elements of persuasion:


            The essential elements of persuasion are not new. In fact, Aristotle defined them 2500 years ago in a work entitled Rhetoric. Since no one has improved upon this, let's take a look at how Aristotle defined the three essential components of persuasion.

            We'll take a look at each of these elements in turn.

The Content of the Message.

            The first part of any attempt at persuasion is to figure out "what" to say and assemble the necessary facts and evidence to support this claim. This includes the positioning, the strategic approach and the evidence.

            In the advertising/marketing world, this activity and focus has tended to dominate the activity of marketers for the past twenty years. Books have been written and lectures delivered on the importance of positioning, finding the USP and other attempts to improve the "content" of the message. In addition, we frequently have focus groups and brand managers all focused upon trying to find the holy grail in determining "what" to say.

            As important as this element is -- and it is critically important -- we must remember that this is only one third of the persuasion equation. There are two other elements -- the credibility of the speaker and the involvement of the audience -- that are just as important.

The Credibility of the Speaker:

            Here is a simple fact: When it comes to communicating with another human being, "what" we hear is not necessarily what they say. Much of what we "hear" is based upon our assessment about the "credibility" of this speaker. The same exact message delivered by two different speakers will have different levels of persuasiveness, depending upon the credibility of the speaker. Everyone knows this intuitively. And people pay lip service to this; but few communication managers really take this to heart in terms of thinking about the credibility of their brand.

At Randa, our brands provide the credibility... and our message must speak in the voice of that brand.

            What is the credibility of your message? Are consumers predisposed to believe that what you tell them is true? Or are they skeptical? It is interesting that with all the attention paid to finding the proper positioning and the right strategy for the message, by comparison, relatively little time and energy is spent in trying to gauge the credibility of the message among consumers.

The Emotional Involvement of the Audience:

            The third element in the art of persuasion is to get the audience emotionally involved with what you are trying to say. Bill Bernbach was a master persuader who understood this. He said, "In order to persuade someone, you must touch them personally. You don't persuade people through the intellect."

            Another aspect in getting people involved is knowing the motivations and desires of the consumer. Does your product represent a "want," a "need" or a "have-to-have?" This relates directly to the purchase process -- where is the consumer in the persuasion or purchase process? We'll discuss this in greater detail later.

            As persuasion partners, it is critical that we create communication that acknowledges each of these three elements of persuasion.

            In evaluating the content of the message, we should make sure that we have assembled the best facts, the most compelling evidence. In addition we need to package and position this information in a way that makes it fresh, new and interesting to the audience.

            In evaluating the credibility of the speaker, we need to determine if this speaker (The Brand) is someone who is believed and liked by the audience.

            And finally, in evaluating the potential involvement of the audience we must insure that the message is relevant to their needs and wants and is consistent with a deep understanding of their motivations.


                The purchase of every product or service involves a number of different stages or steps through which the consumer must go. Sometimes this process is very simple and very quick. Other times -- as with expensive durable goods such as automobiles and houses -- this process can be very complex and last up to 6-12 months.

            For our Randa wholesale buyers, the process is slower... But, for our consumers, the usual purchase cycle is quite short, right there at POS.

            It is the job of the persuasion partner to map out the total purchase process cycle involved in the use or purchase of this product or service and understand the different persuasion tasks involved in each area of this purchase process. The first task is to understand the purchase process and determine -- at each stage in this process -- what the consumer needs to progress to the next phase in the purchase process.

            The traditional purchase model or funnel starts with awareness and moves through consideration to intention to shopping to purchase. This purchase process can also be represented as a cycle in which the goal is to get the consumer to return to the beginning of the cycle. It is important to understand that as the consumer advances through the purchase cycle, he or she is required to make greater and greater levels of commitment at each step. "Considering" a product requires a greater level of commitment than merely being "aware" of it. "Intending" to buy something requires a greater level of commitment than merely considering a product as one of several alternatives.

            It is critical to understand this concept of increased levels of commitment because the persuasion partner must constantly ask, "What can I tell or show consumers that will permit them to make a greater commitment toward my product or brand?" The key issue of persuasion is about moving people from indifference (or negative) to greater and greater levels of emotional and intellectual commitment.

            A thorough understanding of this concept of commitment is critical to create effective persuasion. It is obvious that different products (or services) require different levels of commitment. For example, the decision to buy a house requires a much greater commitment than does the decision to buy a candy bar. But what some people fail to realize is that each and every single step in the purchase process requires a slightly greater level of commitment -- either emotionally or intellectually or both.

            In order to understand what tool should be used in each phase of the purchase process, one must first determine the business problem at each phase in the process. This process is like a chain that is only as strong as the weakest link. Where are the strengths and weaknesses? Is the problem in the awareness stage, the consideration stage, or the shopping stage? Each of these problems requires a different tool. Just as you wouldn't use a wrench when you need a screwdriver.

            One of the most tangible ways to understand the importance of credibility is to think about it in terms of your own personal job security. If your credibility with those above you starts to wane, look out. Credibility -- the willingness to believe in someone -- is much more important than actual performance. If your credibility is high, you can make a mistake and even fail, and people will give you another chance because they believe in you. On the other hand, if your superiors don't believe in you, you may not even get a chance to fail.

            In order to be persuasive, it also helps to be likeable. In fact, according to the Gallop polls -- during the past 30 years of presidential elections, likeability has been the one single element (not issues; not party affiliation) that has been absolutely and positively correlated to predicting the winner.

            It is the job of the persuasion partner to assess the credibility and likeability of the company, the brand, and the products before he or she starts developing any type of communication plan.


            The next task of the persuasion partner is to determine both the current personality and the desired personality for the brand.

            Advertising can be thought of as "the clothes a brand wears." Before you design the clothes for the brand, it is critical to determine whether you're dealing with someone who should be wearing a Brooks Brothers suit or the latest

            Armani or Bijan fashion. In many ways, the persuasion partner needs to act like a fashion consultant. Knowing the true character and personality of the client and then fitting him or her out in clothing that enhances who they are; not something that tries to make them something they're not. Some marketing people are guilty of this sin. They try to put an Armani suit on a client that for 25 years has been dressing in traditional, conservative clothes. It doesn't work. The brand doesn't feel comfortable in its new clothes and it shows.


            Once these four tasks have been accomplished, the persuasion partner is ready to develop a fully integrated persuasion plan to address these issues. Whom do you need to persuade? At what stage in the purchase process are they? What can you tell them that will persuade them to think more favorably about your brand or product?

            Now you are ready to apply the specific communication tools. Each communication tool (PR, general advertising, regional marketing, promotions, and direct marketing) should be given a specific role. For example, the role of public relations might be to predispose consumers to have a favorable opinion about a product or brand by providing them with information from a more credible, third-party source. You might try to target this activity to the awareness phase of the purchase cycle.

            Let's summarize the five major tasks of the Randa persuasion partner:

1 .Determine the purchase process for the product or service
2. Determine the persuasion task for each stage of the purchase process
3. Determine the credibility of the brand
4. Determine the personality of the brand
5. Develop a fully integrated persuasion plan for your MDR.

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