Archive for May 2013

Why is it So Hard to Change People’s Minds?

WriterYou could be an attorney defending an unpopular client, a marketer trying to induce consumers to try a new and better product, a writer attempting to enlighten readers to a better point of view or a community leader endeavoring to improve conditions in your area. All face the same challenge: It’s often very hard to get people to change their minds and adopt a new point of view.

But why? Don’t humans want justice, superior products, more accurate knowledge and better living conditions? Don’t we yearn to know the truth? For the most part, yes. And yet, as Mark Twain observed, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.” Right or wrong, ideas spread quickly and once people have adopted them most hesitate to give them up.

Research shows why

Segretation argumentSocial psychologists examined the reasons why people are so reluctant to accept new viewpoints. One reason became apparent in a series of studies starting in 1959. Eminent social psychologist Dr. Elliot Aronson explains that research began in a southern town deeply divided over racial segregation. Most today clearly recognize the evils of apartheid, but in 1959 it was a burning issue, particularly in the South.

Researchers selected people with strong feelings for or against segregation. Then they presented a series of arguments on both sides of the issue. Some were plausible, others were lame.  A survey on the points each recalled was telling. People remembered the logical arguments supporting their position and the illogical arguments that backed the opposing view.

A number of follow up studies produced similar results. The answer was clear.  It showed why strong beliefs are so hard to change.  It revealed why negative pretrial publicity can make a fair trial difficult to obtain. People ignored or quickly forgot points that might prove their opinions wrong. They focused on the opposition’s lame arguments because these strengthened their positions.  This phenomenon is called Confirmation Bias. Finding the right answer took a back seat to proving they were right. The highly respected Dr. Aronson explains:

During the past half-century, social psychologists have discovered that one of the most powerful determinants of human behavior stems from our need to preserve a stable, positive self-image.  Most of us want to believe that we are reasonable, decent folks who make wise decisions, do not behave immorally and have integrity.

Most show a strong need to protect their self-image. The idea that we were wrong makes us uncomfortable. Thus, when confronted with factual information that might show us mistaken or foolish, we automatically tend to ignore or dismiss it, focusing instead on any shred of evidence that might prove us right.

head in sandOne study found that smokers who tried but failed to quit were least likely to recognize the hazards of smoking. Acknowledging that their persistent habit could kill them and their loved ones was too difficult to face. So, with heads firmly in the sand, they saw no danger and continued to smoke.

Timing proves crucial

Research on changing minds uncovered another critical factor: timing. Studies show that at certain periods in a person’s life, their minds are far more open to new ideas than at other times. During childhood, early adulthood and in old age people tend to be open-minded. Opinions and beliefs adopted “when the concrete is wet” may become strongly entrenched once it “dries.”

Bennington women studyConsider a groundbreaking study conducted with students from Vermont’s Bennington College. During the 1930s and early 1940s, Bennington students were primarily women from wealthier, more politically conservative families.  In contrast, many of the college’s professors were leftists. Continual exposure to their ideas molded the opinions of juniors and seniors.

The influence of professors and upperclassmen was strong and its effects long-lasting.  Bennington women became much more liberal than others from the same social background.  Some fifty years later, in the 1984 presidential election, Bennington alumnae in their 70s voted Democratic by a 3 to 1 margin while, nationwide, the same percentage of college educated women in that age group voted Republican.  Social psychologist David Myers, PhD noted, “Their views embraced at an impressionable time had survived a lifetime of wider experience.”


David OgilvyIt’s very difficult to make a comfortable living telling others that they are wrong. Confirmation bias is far too strong in most minds to permit that approach to work. Instead, before telling people that your data or position is better than theirs let them off the emotional hook. It’s no accident that in Confessions of An Advertising Man, legendary marketer David Ogilvy listed “announcing”, “introducing” and “improvement” among the most persuasive words his agency had ever found.

One can improve an old idea or introduce a new one without threatening prospective buyers’ or jurors’ self-esteem. Wise copywriters and lawyers will find ways to avoid making their audience feel threatened by the information they want to impart. An attorney could, for example,  acknowledge the mistakes made by an unpopular client, but point out that they are not responsible for the offense for which they have been charged.  Admitting their client’s wrongs can increase the advocate’s own credibility while giving jurors an acceptable reason for their negative feelings about the defendant. It allows member of the jury to dislike the accused without holding them liable for the charge at hand.

Timing Takeaway

Timing clearly plays a crucial role for communicators. This is particularly important if communicating with adults from 28 to 68.   As Dr. Theodore Newcomb’s Bennington College study and other research reveals, worthwhile ideas and products presented to young adults (18-22) may well be adopted for a lifetime. (Parents and students will thus want to consider atmosphere and culture as well as program quality and facilities as key factors when choosing a college). Research at Stanford shows that as people approach the end of their lives, they may also become more open to new thoughts.

mindUnderstanding how people think is vital if one is going to change their minds. This is why social psychology studies can prove so helpful in determining communication strategies. Marketing researchers provide enlightening answers. But that information is proprietary; no one wants to let their competitors know what tactics really work.

Social psychologists, on the other hand, explore the same vital topics on influencing large groups of people. Their studies are carefully examined by experts and, if found sound and useful, are published and widely available. If the principles they uncover survive this process and are extensively replicated, they become highly useful tools for influential communicators. Employing them well can help change people’s minds for the better.

Larry Rondeau is a marketing strategist and business writer seeking marketing opportunities or freelance writing work. Email him at



Writing and Marketing to an Inattentive Audience

Distracted audienceBusiness writers and marketers alike navigate the same minefield – getting and holding attention.  They must both effectively communicate with audiences that often won’t give much thought to their messages. Why is it so hard to get people to really listen to what you say? What strategies can aid communication when much of the audience is barely paying attention?

Why attention is so hard to get

Researchers have long noted that some individuals, like Einstein, DaVinci and Galileo possess both a love of learning and the brain power to delve deeply into subjects. In contrast, many of us enjoy diving into a topic, but too soon find that we need to come up for air.  Why?

Einstein's brainWhat’s different about the genius mind? According to a National Public Radio report, the pathologist who examined Einstein’s brain after his death found it had an abnormally high number of glial cells. “Glia” means glue. Scientists now recognize that these cells, once thought to merely hold neurons together, actually provide power, speeding electrical impulses throughout the brain. They also re-energize neurons engaged in intense mental activity.

Thus, Einstein (and presumably other geniuses) have high-powered brains that can “refuel in flight,” allowing Refueling planesthem to persist in mental journeys when others are forced to turn back. Most of us lack this ability and live in power-saver mode, trying to get the most done with the least amount of mental energy. Researchers call this majority of the human race “cognitive misers.”

Marketing to cognitive misers

Consumers’ automatic attempts to make good decisions while conserving brain power requires marketers and merchandisers to make a number of adjustments. One effective method is Iyengar Jar Studyto limit their offerings. A marketing study by Columbia University professor Sheena Iyengar offered supermarket shoppers the chance to sample 6 different gourmet jams and receive a $1 off coupon. The result: 30% bought a jar. But when the offering was increased to 24 varieties, a mere 3% of shoppers made a purchase. It appears that the large selection made choosing too difficult, so few expended the mental energy needed to make a choice.

Thus, when discussing pricing strategies, marketing experts, J. Paul Peter and Jerry Olson wrote:

The cognitive activity involved in purchasing can be a very important cost…The cost involved in decision making is often the easiest one for consumers to reduce or eliminate.

Shoppers will reduce mental effort in surprising ways. A study of online insurance sites found that ease of use often trumped brand equity when it came to buying insurance on the web. Many prefer to effortlessly purchase policies from lesser-known regional carriers than struggle to obtain them from famous national insurers.

Social psychology’s Elaboration Likelihood Model (see Part Seven of this series) demonstrated that consumers and business buyers alike pay careful attention only to messages they find personally relevant. The takeaway? Accurate data and effective database marketing that shows consumers information they individually value can be crucial in advertising complex, high-involvement products.

Writers and advertisers beware

Hard to read adMost writers and marketers recognize the importance of images in drawing attention to ads and readers to blogs. However, eminent social psychologist Dr. Elliot Aronson and colleagues warn of the dangers of what legendary adman David Ogilvy called “art-directoritis.” In an effort to make their message attractive, designers and bloggers may set it in a quaint typeface, reverse type or amid a background of dramatic images.

Researchers find that while these tactics can gain attention, they actually make it difficult for readers to absorb the message. Cognitive misers, who make up the vast majority of their audiences, may never fully grasp their compelling arguments. The mental effort needed to examine hard-to-read text or even long paragraphs may prove daunting.

Making it work for skimmers and power-savers

It’s important for communication professionals and copywriters to perform the brainwork that most of their readers seek to avoid. They must simplify and clarify the message to the level that fits the needs of the target audiences. Even industry experts and academics will favor material that doesn’t waste their mental energy on needlessly technical or overly precise jargon and awkward sentence structure.

bleu cheese saladReaders appreciate similes, metaphors and illustrations that make complex concepts truly understandable and memorable. Those that merely sound good without actually aiding comprehension are like breadsticks and heavy salad dressings that fill up the diner before the entrée arrives.

Although it requires more effort, presenting effectively to readers’ and consumers’ power-saving brains reaps many rewards. Those that do it well gain attention, regular readers and customers. And if we choose to spend some mental energy to think about it, isn’t that what marketers and business writers really want?

Larry Rondeau is a marketing strategist and business writer seeking full-time employment, consulting opportunities or freelance writing work. Email him at

Marketing When No One Knows your Name – Part One

Brand XEveryone knows the advantages of brand strength and name recognition. Products supported by substantial advertising budgets virtually always perform better, even during tough economic times. Well-advertised brands have the ability to gain market share during recessions, as rivals cut back and lose ground.

Does a smaller marketing budget doom you to the back of the pack? Not necessarily. Consumer psychology research comes to the rescue, revealing effective ways to advance your brand or cause with the people who matter most.

Gaining Qualified Prospects’ Attention on the Web

Marketers whose products have substantial brand equity (strength and value) enjoy strong name recognition. People will readily find and interact with those brands on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. But who will buy or go looking on social media for a brand they hardly know? How can you gain attention – and market share?

Step One – Determine your Market’s Interest

Skilled advertising strategists and copywriters know how to manufacture a need. Listerine ad - bridesmaid Warner-Lambert did this in the 1920s, turning a surgical antiseptic called Listerine into a major consumer product.  Ads whipped up fears of social rejection because of bad breath with headlines like, “Even your best friend won’t tell you” and “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride.”  As supermarkets and drug stores across the world can attest, Warner-Lambert’s strategy was a remarkable success.

The Listerine example shows that if you’ve got time and a substantial marketing budget, creating a need for your product can pay dividends.  But if you don’t, it’s vital to determine what your audience already knows they want or need.  It’s much easier to fill an existing requirement than to convince someone they must have something they didn’t know they needed.

Free web tools that help you see what your audience is searching for online can provide needed insight into what concerns your prospects.  Determining this is an important first step in marketing a lesser-known cause or product.

Why would people buy your product?

The next crucial step is understanAir Conditioner - publicdomainpicturesding why people buy your product or service.  It may be for its utility – what it does to help them.  Or it may be how it makes them feel – directly or indirectly.  Understanding this is critical in effectively marketing your product.

For instance, people buy air conditioners for what they accomplish – cooling their home in a quiet, energy efficient manner.  Messaging that emphasizes important product features that make its benefits rise above those offered by competitors could be very effective.

But with Listerine, the ads that made sales really take off emphasized its emotional reward – avoiding rejection by friends and lovers.  Telling consumers that it effectively killed bacteria that caused tooth decay would have sold some mouthwash – but not nearly as much as those that hit consumers’ strong emotional need for acceptance.

Understanding your target consumers’ interests and their real motivation to buy are two important steps in marketing a lesser-known product.  Knowing what to do with that information can really help your product or service succeed.  We’ll consider some points on that in Part Two.

Skillful use of marketing psychology helped Larry Rondeau’s marketing campaigns achieve superior ROI – as high as 16.5 to 1. Email him at


Will Anyone Believe What You Say?

Female Marketer-001You have an important message to deliver. Perhaps it’s warns of an imminent danger. Or it provides key support to injured plaintiff, a great cause or a high quality product. But no matter what you’re trying to communicate, the value of the message is just one part of the equation. When you’re trying to persuade others, the spokesperson’s acceptability to the audience can be even more important than the quality of the message. The greatest expert will not convince people if they do not recognize his expertise, or if they question his honesty or impartiality. Scientists have devoted years of research to the question of what makes any presentation more likely to persuade its audience. Here’s a little of what they learned.

The Image of Expertise

Male AttorneyEminent social psychologist Dr. Elliot Aronson wrote some twenty years ago, “Careful experiments have shown that a judge of the juvenile court is more likely than most other people to sway opinion about juvenile delinquency…and that a medical journal can sway opinions about whether or not antihistamines should be dispensed without a prescription.” So, science confirms what common sense tells us:  People are most likely to follow Virgil’s advice, “Believe an expert.” So, they look to an authority. Or at least someone they perceive to be one.

Sanka ad (cropped)Influence expert Dr. Robert Cialdini cites the case of Robert Young, the highly successful spokesman for Sanka Coffee in the 1970s and 80s. Young was no expert on coffee or caffeine. He was, though, a highly recognizable actor who played Dr. Marcus Welby in the then popular television series. Young was not a doctor, but fans thought of him as one. Sanka sales soared when their campaign featuring him began. People felt as if their doctor had told them to cut down on caffeine and gave them an acceptable way to do it.

What if you don’t have a real expert or someone who looks like one?

It’s easy to put together a credible campaign if you have a recognized authority on the subject at hand or at least someone who plays one on TV.  But often, marketers must work with much less. How can you increase your message’s believability? Psychological research highlights two ways.

Dr. Aronson and his coauthor write, “Several years ago, we and our colleague Judson Mills did a simple laboratory experiment demonstrating that a beautiful woman – simply because she was beautiful – could have a major impact of the opinions of an audience on a topic wholly irrelevant to her beauty.”

Mustang with modelDr. Cialdini provides an example from marketing research. “In one study, men who saw a new-car ad that included a seductive female model rated the car as faster, more appealing, more expensive-looking, and better-designed than did men who viewed the same ad without the model. Yet when asked later, the men refused to believe that the presence of the young woman had influenced their judgments.”

Research shows that good looking people are seen as more talented, kind, honest and
intelligent.  Thus, if no expert spokesperson is available, an attractive one provides a good substitute. Some products or causes, though, don’t lend themselves to campaigns using great looking models as spokespeople. What then?

The magic bullet

Fox News chairman Roger Ailes once served as an advisor to the campaigns of Presidents Reagan and Bush. Note his comments on the characteristics of a great presenter:

If you could master one element of personal communications that is more powerful than anything we’ve discussed, it is the quality of being likeable. I call it the magic bullet, because if your audience likes you, they’ll forgive just about everything else you do wrong. If they don’t like you, you can hit every rule right on target and it doesn’t matter.

Research shows that Ailes is right. A spokesperson doesn’t have to be Albert Einstein, Brad PittJennifer Lopez or Brad Pitt to be effective. But they must be likeable. ‘All things being equal,’ states Dr. Cialdini, ‘people prefer to do business with someone they like. And when all things aren’t equal, they still want to work with someone they like.’

Credibility can be manufactured

MobsterA study done by Dr. Aronson and his colleagues Elaine Walster and Darcy Abrahams reveal a way to manufacture credibility. This experiment presented participants with a concocted newspaper article relating an interview with a fictitious mobster, Joe “the Shoulder” Napolitano. In the article perused by one group, Joe “the Shoulder” argues for stricter courts and more severe sentences for serious crimes. The other group read about an interview where Napolitano advocated for more lenient courts and penalties that were far less harsh.

Not surprising was the fact that those who read this fictitious criminal’s appeal for less prison time found it totally unconvincing. What was remarkable was that when he argued for stricter courts and tougher sentences, Joe “the Shoulder” was extremely effective. By advocating a position that is clearly against his own self-interest, Napolitano convinced readers that there must really be something to what he was saying. When a real-life criminal, Ted Bundy, admitted in a pre-execution interview that a boyhood addiction to crime novels and a teenage fascination with violent pornography led to his becoming “the only man in America with a PhD in serial murder,” it was easy to believe him.

Therefore, to increase your presentation’s chances with the public, hire an expert, an attractive model or highly likeable spokesperson. If none is available, methods like arguing against your own self-interest can increase your believability. Other ways exist as well. If you’d like to learn more about bolstering your chances of having audiences pay attention to your messages and act on them, please email me at

Research Reveals the Best Marketing Strategies – Part Four

Could a Strategy that Helped Re-Elect a President Improve MarketingMichelle Obama campaign Campaigns?

When searching for the best marketing tactics, strategists and account planners probably don’t give much consideration to presidential politics. But a key factor in the 2012 election revealed a highly effective stratagem for moving people to action. Wise tacticians and digital marketers will find useful ways to apply it.

Writing in Forbes, author Roger Dooley relates:

 A group that calls itself “COBS,” for “consortium of behavioral scientists,” was one part of Obama’s winning marketing strategy. Benedict Carey of The New York Times reports that a “dream team” of behavioral researchers offered input and even helped create scripts for the Obama campaign.

The team was organized by Craig Fox, a behavioral scientist at UCLA. It included experts like Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus at Arizona State University and author of the social science classic Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, and the University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler, coauthor of Nudge.

In the weeks before the election, polls showed President Obama and Mitt Romney in a virtual dead heat. A quick response to Hurricane Sandy helped the President open a slight lead. Now his challenge was the same one faced by CMOs and direct marketers every day: moving those with favorable attitudes to action.

Moving people to action

How did these renowned experts in marketing psychology get Obama supporters to show up and vote on Election Day? Dooley continues:

One example of applied research in the Obama campaign drew on a technique well-documented by Cialdini – the power of a written commitment to alter behavior:

Simply identifying a person as a voter, as many volunteers did — “Mr. Jones, we know you have voted in the past” — acts as a subtle prompt to future voting, said Dr. Cialdini, a foundational figure in the science of persuasion. “People want to be congruent with what they have committed to in the past, especially if that commitment is public,” he said.

Many volunteers also asked would-be voters if they would sign an informal  petitioncommitment to vote, a card with the president’s picture on it. This small, voluntary agreement amplifies the likelihood that the person will follow through, research has found.

Getting commitments on the web

Strategies employing the power of written commitments also appeared on the Internet.Obama web commitmentMaking use of a potent digital marketing strategy, visitors to major news sites were greeted with a picture of Michelle Obama and a caption that read, “Join Michelle and tell  Barack you’re in.  Are you in?”

Having received mentoring in marketing psychology myself from Dr. Cialdini, I recognize that this is a very smart strategy based on sound research. Like the President’s speech before Congress in support of the Affordable Health Care Act, it was vintage Cialdini. In that address, Mr. Obama related instances where Congress had courageously passed unpopular bills that proved to be very important to the health and welfare of Americans.

Like reminding voters of their past participation, this acts as a “subtle prompt” to act congruently with what Congress had done in previous decades. Relating courageous acts of previous legislators also employed a favorite tactic of Nobel Peace Prize winner and former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat. It utilized social psychology research on labeling and gave Congress a good name to live up to. And it worked!  Despite the fact that every other universal health care initiative brought before Congress had failed, The Affordable Health Care Act passed.

Improving marketing campaigns with social psychology research

My point in all of this is not to endorse President Obama, although he deserves credit for being smart enough to build his communication strategies around solid research that demonstrates how people really think. Nor is it to praise Dr. Robert Cialdini, though the approaches I learned in the in-depth study through which he mentored me helped me increase conversion rates by over 50% in one marketing campaign and achieve ROI of 16.5 to 1 in three others.  Neither of them needs my help.

My goal is to provide solid evidence that using peer-reviewed and replicated social psychology research really does improve marketing communications campaign results. Madison Avenue has successfully used it for years. Now 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is employing it as well. So, despite my lacking as likable a spokesperson as Michelle Obama, I must ask – “Psychology-based marketing gets better results. Are you in?”

Larry Rondeau, BS – Marketing Psychology has crafted campaigns that have achieved ROI as high as 50 to 1. He is seeking full-time employment or consulting opportunities in Marketing, Account Planning, Sales Training or Content Creation/Management.  Contact him at


Research Reveals the Best Marketing Strategies – Part Two

The battle for consumers’ minds can be won or lost with the opening skirmish. Research into the factors that persuade people to accept a viewpoint and act reveals that effective pre-persuasion is an important first step.  Eminent social psychologist and researcher Dr. Elliot Aronson and his coauthor state, “Pre-persuasion, then, refers to how an issue is structured and how the decision is framed.”  If successful, pre-persuasion establishes “what everybody knows” and “what everybody takes for granted.”

 A pre-persuasion classic

History furnishes an excellent example of this technique’s power. ImageAbraham Lincoln, a master of pre-persuasion, sorely needed that skill. In 1863, Lincoln was an unpopular figure, not just in the South but to many in the North. The Civil War’s cost in American lives was extraordinary. The Battle of Gettysburg had caused over 46,000 casualties.  At the dedication ceremony of Gettysburg’s new national cemetery, Lincoln spoke for just three minutes. Those three minutes changed history.

In his address, Lincoln needed to convince Americans that the unpopular Civil War was worth the tremendous cost in lives.  To accomplish this, Dr. Aronson and his coauthor state, it was vitally important that he use pre-persuasion to properly structure the issue at hand.  Many in the North were willing to fight to save the union and all it stood for.  They favored prohibiting slavery outside the South, but many were prepared to let it continue there.  After all, slavery had been legalized in the US Constitution in 1789.

Lincoln needed Americans to accept his recent Emancipation Proclamation. To accomplish this, he had to convince Northerners to adopt the viewpoint that the nation really began, not with the Constitution, but with the Declaration of Independence in 1776.  That document had proclaimed, “All men are created equal.” Lincoln achieved his goal with his eloquent, easily remembered opening words:

Fourscore and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.

By accepting this skillful statement, Americans adopted the idea that the nation had indeed begun with the Declaration of Independence. That view that is still widely accepted today (the American Bicentennial was celebrated in 1976, not in 1989). Further, the President framed his message so that his listeners would recognize that the “grand experiment” in democracy demanded that all men be given equal rights.  In addition, Lincoln helped his listeners see that the war must be won if the United States was to endure at all.

His masterful pre-persuasion established a climate in which the North continued to fight the war to its successful conclusion.  Soon Congress amended the Constitution to ban slavery in the US and guarantee equal rights to all its citizens. The long, hard-fought battle for civil rights would have been finished before it started without Lincoln’s successful speech. This shows the power of effective pre-persuasion in establishing a climate favorable to the message.

One effective pre-persuasion tactic

How can marketers accomplish this today? One way is to start a “factoid campaign” (“factoid” is used here to describe “little facts,” not falsehoods which are easily uncovered in this Information Age). Why repeat factoids? For several reasons:

  • Lincoln’s opening tactic in the Gettysburg Address really works. As Stanford Graduate School of Business Professor Chip Heath and coauthor write, simple statements that are full of meaning are easily remembered. They can quickly go viral. Varieties of the popular proverb, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush” appear in European cultures from England to Russia. That idea appeared in an Aesop’s fable in 570 BC. It may still be quoted in corporate boardrooms today.
  • Research finds not only that “repetition is the mother of retention,” but that even false statements Lancet autism retractionoften repeated are widely regarded as true. News of the study indicating that measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines cause autism, for example, raced across the media in broadcast, print and online. It has since been thoroughly discredited by science. Highly respected medical journals like Britain’s The Lancet have proclaimed the vaccine-autism link false and its research fraudulent. Yet many parents still believe it. MMR vaccination rates have still not recovered, reports The Huffington Post.

This shows the power of factoid campaigns. If people readily believe vivid lies that go viral, what could effective repetition do for the truth? Since proverbial sayings are easily remembered and quickly spread, it clearly behooves marketers to frame salient points about their products into similar “nuggets” and use multiple channels to distribute them. Techniques like these and others can help to prepare the soil in which effective marketing campaigns can grow.

Larry Rondeau, with a degree in Marketing Psychology, is seeking full-time employment or consulting opportunities in Marketing, Account Planning or Content Management. He can be reached by email or on LinkedIn.