One of the most powerful tactics to change behavior is to persuade people they are (or could be) part of a special group that exhibits the very behavior you want to see.
Many marketing programs are designed to do this. Apple’s Think Different or the Pepsi Generation were designed to splinter people and persuade one group they could be part of a unique, special, group that (luckily) also purchased those products.
The amazing thing is when you create a group of people with desirable attributes; everyone begins to adopt those same attributes to be part of that group.
In psychological terms, this is known as self-categorization.
This works in a wide-range of situations. You need to identify the specific words people want to associate themselves with, emphasize the traits this group shares, and gently highlight examples of these people demonstrating these actions.
A good example is when we recruit speakers for our events. The bane of an event organizers’ existence are speakers who don’t submit their slides until the week of the talk. This doesn’t leave us enough time to give feedback and ensure the content is the right fit for the audience.
Last year I sent an e-mail to speakers highlighting this problem and what professional speakers do (subtly contrasting with amateur speakers).
Every speaker wants to consider themselves as professional in their approach. This list of traits included asking very specific questions about the equipment (what laptop, what keynote/powerpoint, size of audience, lighting, handheld mic), being co-operative in the development, and (most importantly) submitting their slides in time.
Every time a speaker did something we liked, we highlighted the example to the rest of the group as an example of a professional speaker. We received 12 of the 16 presentations 2 weeks in advance – which gave us plenty of time to give feedback.
The challenge here is to find the exact words your group wants to associate themselves with – and then begin to highlight the traits that group shares. You have to drop this in subtly. Ramit Sethi, whose work I admire, often highlights what top performers do. People want to classify themselves as top performers and take actions to match.
I’ve seen examples of what the most productive 5% do and what progressives do or open-minded people do. Can you think of many people that don’t want to be among the most productive, open-minded, progressive people?
This isn’t a one-shot message. It’s a series of communications that subtly guide the audience into the idea that a) there is a group they would like to join b) the group exhibits traits they can emulate and c) there are a LOT of examples of this group. You don’t make the group the focus of the message. You mention it almost in passing and gradually give it greater levels of attention.
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