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Effective Campaign Messaging: Information has Gotta be New, Salient and Meet with Agreement

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You want to win. We all want to win. But unless your client is a popular saint running unopposed or a brand that has cured COVID-19, you’ll have to change, or at least maintain, public opinion in order to win. “Moving the needle” requires communicating a series of persuasive messages to the electorate.

But what’s persuasive? People are exposed to a slew of messages seeking to change their minds all day, but they stop before the water’s edge of being persuaded by them. This is due to a mix of pre-existing beliefs, working concepts and the ways in which humans perceive and frame the receipt of information.

CERC devotes itself to identifying the true persuasive power of messaging. We developed our patent pending MPower system to do that in an elegant and organized fashion. MPower identifies messages that don’t work, even to the point of backfiring, and messaging’s entire spectrum ranging from blockbusters, to solid messages, to somewhat persuasive messages.

We’ve uncovered three traits that almost all persuasive messages have. They’re not earth-shattering, keeping them in mind while developing messaging helps to generate more effective messages and avoid the duds. This quick post describes three fundamental requirements for a message to move beyond simple audience “receipt” into audience “persuasion,” whereby people reformulate their views, and ultimately alter their actions or voting behavior.

Provides New Information
The first requirement of a truly effective message is that it supplies the listener new information that fills a knowledge gap. If a message only reiterates what a target audience already knows, then beliefs might be reinforced – the folks already with you are with you even more — but you’re not growing the pie to get closer to 50% plus one. New facts, or old facts presented from a new perspective — a “twist,” if you will – are necessary. By the way, the information only has to be new to the target, not the communicator.  Sometimes the communicator (candidate, organization, campaign) believes a particular topic is “old news,” but regular voters – the ones that make the decisions that matter — are not paying the kind of attention that stakeholders are. In these situations, step outside the bubble and consider what the target audience already knows.

Is Important
A message needs to contain something that matters to the target audience. The information must fall within their general sphere of serious concerns or it must answer the what’s-in-it-for-me question. As an example, a new needle exchange program may prove meaningful to those who frequent the inner-city, but is likely unimportant for suburban voters less concerned about drug-related social service programs. If suburban voters are part of the target audience, effective messaging would supply information that connects directly to the concerns of those in the suburbs. This may seem like a simple truism, but campaigns often sidetrack themselves on low salience topics. Let’s further recognize that there can be a range of importance attached to a given issue. Those that are “somewhat important” for target voters probably aren’t going to be salient enough for them to care enough about your message. “Very important” topics are probably the threshold needed to build a good message upon, and, of course, an extremely important issue will likely be the catalyst for a blockbuster message.

Solicits Agreement
Messages can provide new information and they can deal with topics that are important to the voter, but a persuasive message must also contain information or a position the voter agrees with. It must be tethered strongly enough to pre-existing beliefs and opinions that the message generates a nod of agreement. The message must “make sense” and that means framing it within the language to which the target audience is accustomed or generally accepts. The message must not clash with the target’s ideological mindset.

Conclusion
We are bombarded with messages so persuading an audience is no easy feat. Yet by keeping these three precepts in mind when crafting your messages, delivering messages that provide new and important information, and which align with a voter’s way of thinking can accomplish it. Need help with that? Contact the experts at CERC.

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