Mindful Messaging

Mindful Messaging

Create a Game Plan

Once you know what is at play, you can catalog what your messaging needs to do. Let’s review the juvenile justice issue of life without parole again.

Messaging Needs:

  • Advocates want to ban this practice.
  • To get the changes they want on the state level, they’ll need conservative lawmakers to embrace the issue.
  • These conservatives have a very strong “tough on crime” worldview that can’t be violated.
  • Juvenile justice advocates will need to find a competing worldview or badge that they can work with to get the change they want.

The game plan juvenile justice advocates came up with was to communicate the messages that adolescents’ brains are not fully formed and that they don’t have the impulse control of adults. Even though the adolescents may have done a very bad thing, we should consider that they are still forming into the people they are going to be and not write them off prematurely. There is still a good chance they can be redeemed. This idea of redemption is a strong worldview among some of the audiences advocates want to engage. It gives their audience a reason to reconsider their tough on crime worldview and acknowledge that it shouldn’t be applied here. Keep in mind, they still hold that worldview. It is a question of whether it should be applied in these instances. The messaging approach suggests that it shouldn’t be by giving them an out: different ages = different brains and different levels of accountability.

For any issue you want to create messaging for, identify what’s at play and what is needed to deal with the circumstance. For example, if you know that the issue you are working on is going to trigger loss aversion, then note that the messaging will need to minimize losses and not just over-emphasize benefits. Once you have this assessment, you can make sure your messaging does what it needs to do.

Questions to help you explore what your game plan needs to account for:

  1. When you did the state-of-play assessment, what were some of the positive reactions and responses you believe your audience has related to this cause that you can utilize?
  2. What are some of the challenging reactions and responses that your audience may have—and why—that you’ll need to navigate so that you don’t lose them or alienate them?
  3. Which reactions are most important for messaging to consider (knowing that your messaging may not be able to address them all)?

You can use message testing to help inform your game plan. For some of these, you can test in a traditional focus group. For others, you’d be better off doing A/B testing to see what people actually respond to, or doing offline experiments that show real-time reactions to messaging. Keep in mind that if you are testing how people will truly react, then you need to try testing when they are most likely to be their real selves and not their aspirational selves. If you test the latter, your messaging may fall short when people revert to implicit beliefs and biases, herd instincts and inherent behavioral responses.