Writing Persuasive Messages
The essence of persuasion is OVERCOMING INITIAL RESISTANCE. Persuasion is the attempt to change someones attitudes, beliefs, or actions. In its positive sense, persuasion influences the audience by informing them and by aiding their understanding, which allows them the freedom to choose.
Most likely, the person receiving your message did not ask for it, and will probably have questions and/or concerns about the message. The reader might ask:
Why did I get this letter?
This looks like junk mail why should I read it?
I dont understand this.
Why should I do this?
Some important questions to ask before sending out a persuasive message:
Are there legal and ethical issues that need to be addressed?
Who is my audience (both primary and secondary)?
How will my credibility affect my message?
What can I use to help persuade my audience?
Should a use emotional appeals or logical appeals?
1. Analyze audience needs
The best persuasive messages are closely connected to your audiences existing desires and interests. One of the most effective ways to motivate your audience is offering to satisfy your audiences needs.
One of the most useful theories of need was developed by Abraham Maslow, who used a hierarchy to explain how needs are structured. Only after lower-level needs have been met will a person seek to fulfill higher level needs. It is important to remember that only UNMET needs motivate.
In attempting to persuade someone to a certain behavior, you must first look at what is motivating that person to behave the way he/she does currently, and what unmet need might be used as a persuasive "hook" for change.
Because everyones needs differ, people respond differently to any given message. It is important to look at factors such as demographics (age, gender, occupation, income, education, other quantifiable characteristics), psychographics (psychological characteristics such as personality, attitudes, lifestyle), and sociographics (culture and group dynamics).
In order to persuade a skeptical or hostile audience, you must show them that you know what youre talking about and they you are not trying to mislead them. Your credibility is defined by how reliable, believable, and trustworthy you are. If you dont have credibility, your audience will not listen, or will be skeptical.
Your credibility can be enhanced by:
Supporting your message with facts
Describing your knowledge and expertise in this area
Being objective, willing to acknowledge all sides of the issue, showing fairness
Being sincere, showing your honesty, genuineness, good faith
Establishing common ground, discussing the areas on which all can agree and
beliefs, attitudes, and experiences that you have in common with your audience
Most importantly, being enthusiastic; your excitement about the subject (or LACK of excitement!) can infect your audience.
The words you use say much more than their dictionary definition; connotations (underlying personal meanings) of words can also influence an audience. For example, consider the words useful, beneficial, and advantageous, which are synonyms but which portray different meanings.
Some useful tools to use in persuasive messages:
|Focus on your goal what one specific thing do you want to gain from this|
|Use simple language watch out for fantastic claims, insupportable descriptions, emotional manipulation; speak plainly and simply|
|Anticipate opposition think of possible objections in advance; raise and answer counterarguments|
|Be specific back up your claims with evidence, cite actual facts/figures|
|Be moderate ask for "one small step" rather than a big life change|
|Provide sufficient support; its up to you to prove that the change you want the reader to make is necessary|
|Create a win/win situation; make it possible for both you and the audience to gain something; whats the benefit to the audience?|
When peoples needs are not being met, they are likely to respond emotionally. For example, in a collection letter, be sensitive to the tone of respect you use to avoid any hint that the person might be dishonorable.
Is it better to appeal to logic or to emotion? You can probably use both effectively in your message.
You can call on human emotion by basing your argument on the needs or sympathies of your audience as long as your emotional appeal is subtle. Use emotional appeal of words like freedom, credit record, success, free, savings, value, comfort. This puts your audience in a frame of mind and helps tem to accept your message. Also, emotion works with logic in a unique way: People need to find rational support for an attitude theyve already embraced emotionally.
A logical appeal calls on reason; you make a claim and support it with reasons or evidence. You can use several types of reasoning:
|analogy (comparison) of something new with something familiar|
|induction: reasoning from specific evidence to general conclusion (report results of study)|
|deduction: reasoning from generalizations to conclusion (showing that business in this area is projected to increase in the next two years, to support )|
Avoid faulty logic:
avoid attaching your opponent (s)
avoid oversimplification of a complex issue
avoid assuming a false cause
avoid faulty analogies (be sure the two situations are really related)
Use the Toulmin Method:
1st state your claim clearly
2nd support your claim with a clear reason
3rd if the audience already accepts your reason, you may proceed to your conclusion
But, if your audience does not already accept your reason, you must support this reason with another clearly stated claim, and support that claim with another clear reason, and so forth until you achieve common ground or agreement. Only then may you return to step 3.
Your organizational format depends on the type of persuasive message. One of the most common is the AIDA plan:
Attention: You must convince your reader at the start that you have something useful or interesting to say, because the reader will be reluctant to read.
Get your readers attention with a statement that is
In the interest section, continue the opening theme in greater detail and relate benefits specifically to the attention-getter. Explain how your messages relates to the audience. Paint a more detailed picture with words, to get your audience thinking, "This is an interesting idea; could is possibly solve my problems?" The benefits you are presenting should relate specifically to the attention phase.
In the desire section, provide relevant evidence to prove your claim, and draw attention to any enclosures. Back up your claims (heres where the logical and emotional appeals come in) to increase your audiences willingness to take the action that you will suggest in the next section. Make sure your evidence is directly relevant to your point.
Close with an action ending that suggests a specific step the audience may take. Your ending must be more than just "Institute this program as soon as possible" or "send me a refund." This section offers you one more opportunity for one last reminder of the main benefit the audience will realize from taking the action you want. The secret is to make the action easy: call a toll-free number, use a preaddressed, postpaid envelope, etc.
The AIDA plan is tailor-made for the indirect approach, allowing you to save your main idea for the action phase. You will want to use the indirect approach when:
|your audience has strong resistance to your message|
|your message is relatively short and clear (so the reader doesnt have to wait too long for the main idea|
You can adapt the AIDA plan for the direct approach, using the main idea as the attention-getter. Build interest with your argument, build desire with the evidence, and emphasize your main idea in the action phase with the specific action you want your audience to take. The direct approach is often shorter. Use the direct approach when:
|your audience has no great resistance to your message|
|your message is long and complex, so that you satisfy the readers curiosity.|
Even though youre presenting the main idea first, make sure you include a brief justification or explanation so that your reader doesnt have to accept your idea on blind faith.
Poor: I recommend building our new retail outlet on the Main Street site.
Improved: After comparing the four possible sites, I recommend Main Street because it is the only one that fulfills our criteria for visibility, proximity to mass transportation, and square footage.
KINDS OF PERSUASIVE MESSAGES
Requests for Action to solicit funds, favors, information, cooperation. Remember that (1) people are busy, so theyre reluctant to do something new; it takes time and offers no guarantee of any reward in return, and (2) competing requests are plentiful.
Why do people respond to requests for action on an issue that is more important to you than to them?
they believe in the project
they believe in you
they see benefit to them from this project
Highlight both direct and indirect benefits, intrinsic and extrinsic benefits ( Intrinsic benefits are internal, extrinsic are external, added on).
The attention-getter usually serves to show readers that you know something about their concerns and that you have some reason for making such requests. It might be a flattering (but, of course! sincere) comment. The body of the letter covers what you know about the problem: facts and figures, benefits, your experience. Your goal is to establish credibility. Once youve demonstrated that your message is relevant, and youve established your credibility, you can request the specific action.
Be careful not to doom your request to failure by asking your reader to do all your work for you.
Claims and Requests for adjustment ("complaint" letters)
Your goal is to persuade someone to make an adjustment in your favor; youre not merely getting a complain off your chest. In this situation, the persuasive format is used because the person is not required to comply with your request (for example, in the situation where a warranty period has already expired). You reach your goal by demonstrating the difference between what you expected and what you actually got.
Persuasion is a necessity in pressing claims when youve already paid for the product, since you cant threaten to withhold payment. You must convey the essentially negative information in a way that will get positive results. Fortunately, most business people are open to fair settlement of your claim, if you can convince them it is to their advantage to maintain your goodwill and resolve the problem quickly so they may continue with other business.
The key ingredients are:
a complete and specific review of the facts
a confident and positive tone.
Assume that the other person is not out to cheat you, but that you have the right to be satisfied with the transaction. Focus on the benefits of solving the problem rather than on the horrors of neglecting your complaint.
As the owner of a small gift shop, I try to provide a pleasant ambiance for customers. For background music, I play "easy listening" and clasical music on my Audio-Tech Pro III sound system. I play both CDs and tapes, but the CD player is not working properly. Please replace this CD unit at no charge.
I purchased the Audio-Tech Pro III system on November 1, 1996, from McNally Sound and Liht at 16325 Lincoln Drive, St. Louis, Missouri 63158about 150 miles from my store. All parts of the unit worked well for a month or so. I first noticed the problem on December 12: the CD would repeat a phrase two or three times in succession before moving on to the rest of the selection. At first I assumed it was a defective CD. On December 13, two customers asked me to turn off the CD player because it was repeating one musical phrase sporadically throughout a classical selection. The next day I checked the unit by setting it on "digital," and sure enough, every CD I played repeated phrases intermittently.
I called Mr. McNally at McNally Sound and Light, but I couldnt take the unit to St. Louis, because my shop is open extra evening and weekend hours for the Christmas holidays. There was no chance for me to take a half day away from my shop between mid-December and the end of our inventory period in early January. However, on January 10, I took the CD unit back to McNally. When I returned on January 17 to pick it up, Mr. McNally told me that he could hear the problem but was unable to fix it. He said it was a manufacturing problem, but since my warranty had expired, he could not replace the unit free of charge.
Enclosed with this letter and the CD component are copies of my original sales form and McNallys January repair order. Please replace, at no charge to me, the defective CD unit. Although the 60-day warranty theoretically expired on January 1, I discovered the problem well within the warranty period. My original decision to purchase Audio-Tech products was motivated by your reputation for both quality products and exceptional service. So I know you will stand behind your product and replace the faulty machine.
Remember that the focus of your message is your audience. Know the law:
|Sales letters are considered binding contracts in many states. Avoid even implying offers or promises that you cant deliver.|
|Making a false statement in a sales letter is fraud if the re cipient can prove that (a) you intended to deceive, (b) you made a statement regarding a fact rather than an opinion or a speculation, (c) the recipient was justified in relying on the statement, and (d) the recipient was damaged by it (in a legal sense). Misrepresenting price, quality, performance is fraud. So is a testimonial by a person misrepresented to be an expert.|
|Using a persons name, photograph, or other identity in a sales letter (or other for-profit publication by your company) without permission constitutes invasion of privacy, in most circumstances.|
|Publicizing a persons private life in a sales letter can also result in legal problems. Dont include information about any patient in a sales letter or brochure without permission.|
Determine selling points and benefits. What are the most attractive features of your service? ** Be aware that your audience may know NOTHING about chiropractic and its benefits! How will they benefit by chiropractic care? Dont assume even a basic knowledge of chiropractic. Look back at Maslows hierarchy and think of these needs and how chiropractic can fill them.
Focus on only a few benefits, singling out one as the hallmark of your campaign.
Getting attention. If you use the AIDA plan, you will need an attention-getting device. Some suggestions:
|A piece of genuine news "According to a study just released by , chiropractic has been shown to benefit|
|A personal appeal to the readers emotions, values:|
|The most attractive feature plus associated benefit:|
|An intriguing number "Three secrets of chiropractic "|
|A concrete illustration with story appeal. "In 1995, Sally Jones couldnt walk. She had been to doctor after doctor, surgery after surgery ."|
|A specific trait shared by the audience. "Most busy people|
|A provocative question: "|
|A challenge "Dont waste another day in pain!"|
|A solution to a problem: "Tired of .?|
The best attention-getter is one that makes the reader look at the rest of the letter. Which of the following three examples seems most interesting?
How would you like straight As this semester?
Get straight As this semester!
Now you can get straight As this semester, with
(Most people find the first option the most enticing, because it invites response, a positive response designed to encourage you to read on. The commanding tone of the second option may make the reader wary. The third, although acceptable, conveys no sense of excitement.
**Emphasize the CENTRAL SELLING POINT** Choose only one central point of emphasis for your letter. Highlight the point in the heading or first paragraph, make it stand out through typography, design elements. Refer to it repeatedly throughout the letter.
To give force to your message use action terms:
Instead of "the NuForm desk chair is designed to support your lower back and relieve pressure on your legs" Write "The NuForm desk chair supports your lower back and relieves pressure on your legs" (The second version uses fewer words and emphasizes reader benefit more directly ("supports").
Use colorful verbs and adjectives that convey a dynamic image.
What about price? What about other terms of sale? (Do you take insurance?)
Supporting your claims
You cant assume that people will believe what you say just because its in writing. You have to prove claims, using facts, statistics, testimonials from satisfied customers. Incorporate both factual and emotional appeals here.
Your overriding purpose is to get your reader to do something. ASK FOR THE SALE!!!
In some instances, you may want to ask for just the first step toward the final buying decision, such as sending for more information or setting an introductory appointment.
Try to persuade your reader to take action right away, without sounding like a used-car sales person!