Do you ever wonder why people just won’t listen to reason?
Sure, you expect to get into arguments with Cousin Russ who religiously listens to the most hairy-chested talk radio. At least with him, you know that if just stay away from politics, you can avoid fisticuffs.
What about your supporters or your customers? Maybe you don’t need to talk about politics with them either. Or, maybe you do, because your group’s mission is about advocacy. Either way, sometimes you can’t seem to get through to them.
You can’t get them to see that your product is better. And cheaper.
You can’t get them to see that your group does more good for more people. And at lower cost.
They just won’t listen to reason. What’s their problem?
But maybe the real question is, What’s your problem? Because if people won’t support your cause or buy your product, it’s definitely your problem, no matter how much others will be deprived having to live without whatever it is you’re offering.
And if you think that people won’t listen to reason, then the problem — yours and theirs and mine too — is that humans are not really rational creatures. Really, we’re quite irrational.
I learned nothing in kindergarten
Indeed, despite the best efforts of teachers from Socrates to Obama, people remain much more influenced by things we all should have grown out of after kindergarten:
- Peer pressure still works: “Everyone else is buying it, so you better get one quick.”
- Stories mean more than data: “I know a guy who went to Canada and said that their healthcare system is terrible” vs “Canadians spend 35% less on healthcare and suffer 12% fewer heart attacks” (I just made this up)
- The bigger the number, the less I care: “100,000 people will die of hunger in Sudan this year” vs “Mohammed, a 12-year old boy, is at risk from famine in Sudan” (this one too)
So, what’s a rational person to do? To communicate with our audiences better, we need to understand how irrational they are and then create messages that they can understand and care about.
Irrational is better
This is an insight from the fascinating field of “behavioral economics,” and its dean is Dan Ariely, an engaging genius currently housed at Duke University. His book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, holds the keys to understanding how people behave in the real world of buying and selling, and not in the false theoretical world constructed by classical economics. For example, classical economics cannot account well for why people often do things that are not in their own best interest, like blowing their life savings in Vegas. Ariely can explain this and other irrational behavior, and that’s why he’s interesting.
Others have applied insights from behavioral economics to communications. A group of these folks wrote a brilliant whitepaper called “Homer Simpson for Nonprofits.” Even if you’re with a for-profit company, you’ll want to download your own copy free — it’s worth the half hour it will take you to read it to better understand how your audiences really think.
Meantime, get the pitch from co-author Alia McKee in this video.