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Stop Communicating & Start Persuading

As successful marketers, and brand alchemists, we must recognize that we're really in the persuasion business. Our goal is to persuade customers to purchase our products and services.

Our tools include advertising, social media, packaging, fixtures, ecommerce, and omni-channel marketing. And, each point of customer contact is an opportunity for persuasion requiring a specific tool.

Engaging in persuasion is very different from communicating or advertising.
  • 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 your advertising, packaging, eBlast and social media communicate? Possibly. Can it persuade? It can if you know which tools to use and which spells to cast.

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."

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.

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 mesmerizes and motivates employees, it does not work very well with consumers. The 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.


Today’s brand alchemists must be persuasion partners; experts in persuasion who understand the complex elements of persuasion and the stages of purchase, the mechanics of persuasion and how to utilize the tools of communication.

The certified brand alchemist and persuasion partner is a skilled magician with a chest filled with seductive tools -- advertising, social media, ecommerce, price promotions, packaging, and public relations. But before the alchemist can cast a spell and select a tool, they must first understand the problem.       


The essential elements of persuasion are not new. In fact, Aristotle defined them 2500 years ago in a work entitled "Rhetoric." 

1. 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.  

And, your content needs a "because." The reason that your product is important to your customer and different from other options.  They need it "because" it is XX, YY, ZZ.  Gerry O'Brion is an expert at explaining "because," visit "What Big Brands Know."

Content is only the beginning of the process.

2. The Credibility of the Speaker:

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.

Great brands, and famous personalities, may provide historical credibility: Apple, Ralph Lauren, Coca Cola, Albert Einstein; in this case your communication must speak in the voice of that brand.

New brands have no credibility. Credibility must be carefully planned, incubated, nurtured, and protected.

To be credible, it's good to be likable and be authentic
  • According to Gallop polls -- during the past 30 years of presidential elections, likability has been the one single element (not issues; not party affiliation) that has been absolutely and positively correlated to predicting the winner. 
  • 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 J.Crew suit or the latest Hugo Boss or Ralph Lauren fashion. 

3. 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. 
  • Know the motivations and desires of your customer. Does your brand or product represent a "want," a "need" or a "have-to-have?"
  • What do they want? The adage goes, "they don't want a drill bit, they want a hole in their wall." In fact, they don't want a hole, they want a shelf on their wall.  Brand alchemists understand what their customers really want.
  • Know where your customer is in their purchase process


The purchase of every product or service involves a number of different stages or steps through which the consumer must journey. 

It is the job of the brand alchemist to map out the full purchase cycle involved in the use or purchase of a product or service and to understand the different persuasion tasks involved in each step of this process. 
  1. Awareness
  2. Interest.
  3. Desire.
  4. Acquisition.

It is important to understand that as the customer advances through the purchase cycle, they are required to make greater and greater levels of commitment at each step.

"Interest" in a product requires a greater level of commitment than merely being "aware" of it. "Desiring" to buy something requires a greater level of commitment than merely considering a product as one of several alternatives.

As a brand alchemist it is your job to move people from indifference (or negative) commitment to greater levels of emotional and intellectual commitment, and each of these challenges requires a different tool.  

Choose wisely.


This article is excerpted and re-written from a terrific essay by Tom Patty, originally entitled “Why Clients Need Persuasion Partners (instead of advertising agencies). Tom kindly provided his essay as the introduction to my book “Design for Response: Creative Direct Marketing That Works” [Rockport Books, David J. Katz & Leslie H. Sherr, 2000 & 2006.] 

Tom was instrumental in growing the Chiat/Day advertising agency from a 30-person boutique to a $2 billion agency named "Agency of the Decade" by Advertising Age magazine. 

Any errors in thinking, exposition or persuasion, herein, are purely mine.

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