Mindful Messaging

Mindful Messaging

Seeing This in Action

We’ve covered how to understand your audiences better and how your messaging might play with them. Now you are ready to draft messaging that will account for people’s funny mental mind maps, heuristics and quirks. Here are some examples to show you Mindful Messaging in action and inspire you and your messaging efforts.

If people are looking for tribal signals, tap social currency. Social currency is what we share in order to look good to others. This might mean being in the know or part of a trend. The best-known recent example of this was the Ice Bucket Challenge. The organization charity: water also tapped this with their birthday parties campaign, where people use their birthdays to raise money for clean water in countries that need it.

If you want to counter dehumanization, give people an authentic experience to build empathy, like the real-life refugee camp exhibit at the Washington Monument does. Giving people a lived experience makes it memorable and, more important, makes them emotional about an issue. Next time they read the stats about refugees they’ll remember this experience and those stats will likely take on increased meaning. Another good example is Islamic Relief. This story shows how Islamic Relief USA is countering harmful stereotypes by showing up where help is needed and making sure people know who is providing the help. More than a myth vs. fact sheet, this gives audiences an accurate picture of who Muslims living in the U.S. are.

If you want to decrease the chances of triggering the fear of stigma, do what this group did. They changed how they ask for information from people who want waivers for fees they can’t afford for children’s sports. Instead of making families air their life story and talk about their personal struggles, this group accepts their assessment about their ability to pay without a lot of background. This change in messaging strategy worked and enrollment in children’s sports skyrocketed.

If you want to get more women to ask for raises, instead of going over the stat about how much women earn compared to men—which only reinforces the social norm that most women make less—role model the conversation for them. In this example, the messaging tacitly acknowledges that this is a really hard conversation, but also that others in your tribe are cheering for you.

If the issue is too big, resulting in compassion fatigue or psychic numbing, use telescoping, which is focusing on a person or place to break through the fugue and get attention. Groups did this with the photo of the injured Syrian boy Omran Daqneesh in the back of an ambulance. This picture was seen around the world and groups raised funds and called for more decisive action based on the outrage experienced by those who saw the picture.

If self-doubt is sabotaging action and results, embrace what Robert Cialdini calls “pre-suasion” and get audiences in the right mindset before asking them to do something. Pre-suasion is central in this article by David Kirp. He offers messaging interventions that help improve math scores, and these same interventions can be used to increase performance and motivation in other instances. He walks through three experiments. The first reminds students that they’ll get better the harder they work. This gets them to embrace that this is hard and to persevere rather than quit. It does what Cialdini says is important and puts them in the right mindset to do what needs doing. The second has a trusted person saying the students can do better, setting an expectation that students are motivated to strive for. The third asks students to connect what they are doing to something they value—and this reminder of their own self-worth is the most motivational.

If people are dug into their beliefs—perhaps they hate big government and don’t want to expand Medicaid, or they are climate deniers or homophobes—you need to give them an “exit ramp.” Because at the end of the day, you may need them. In this Harvard Business Review piece, Deepak Malhotra warns of the devastating effects of letting hate sink in after the bruising presidential election between Clinton and Trump. He asks, “How can you convince someone to abandon a course of action to which they are emotionally, ideologically, or publically committed?” He then details how to create an exit ramp. Of the seven ideas he has, three stick out: help them save face by creating a safe space for them to change course, give them cover or a reason as to why they changed their mind, and make changing their mind a punishment-free zone, which means no charges of being a flip-flopper or cries of “I told you so.”

Let’s take a look at how many of these strategies are playing out in a campaign for a state park. The Rocky Mountain National Park had visitor problems and they engaged in some Mindful Messaging to motivate people to do the right thing. People were doing all sorts of crazy stuff. The park needed to prompt better behavior. They decided to take a “friends don’t let friends …” approach as a way to do two important things. One is building off the identity of “good friend,” which most people aspire to be. Second, tapping the desire to be a good friend serves as the motivator to act when a person’s inclination may be to mind their own business.

Here’s how they messaged around one of the behaviors they were trying to change. They tapped into the friends don’t let friends philosophy, as well as playing into people’s desire to be seen as “in the know” when it comes to how to do the right thing:

When your very close friend indicates they need to potty, first and foremost suggest an established restroom facility. If you are on a trail and a restroom facility is not nearby then leave no trace of your activity or “business.” Do not step off the trail and leave your “business” for others to see, including the park’s trail and wilderness crews as well as other visitors. If peeing, recommend to your friend to “drip-dry” or if toilet paper is necessary then take the toilet paper out in a baggy, backpack or pocket. If your friend is a frequent pooper, suggest taking care of that before hiking. If nature calls, plan ahead – bring a waste bag, or research tips on how to poop in the woods. Friends don’t let friends go to the bathroom near water sources. Just think, you might be drinking from that water source the next day!

To change another behavior, they used Cialdini’s pre-suasion concept, by getting them to ask a different question that leads to a different, better answer:

When your friends ask, “How close can I get to that elk, deer, bobcat, coyote, badger, bear, marmot …?” suggest they ask a different question, such as “How far should I stay back?” Let wildlife be wild and observe from a distance. Your friends might get closer to wildlife, until the wildlife reacts to their presence. When that happens, it’s too late, they have reached the threshold. The elk, deer, bobcat … might leave the area because of them, affecting wildlife viewing opportunities for others. Let your friends know that approaching wildlife is illegal in Rocky Mountain National Park and it doesn’t matter if they are doing it to take a photograph. There are no exceptions. Recommend investing in a good telephoto lens. Do they feel it’s only a good photograph if they are in the photo with the wildlife? Suggest they take a photo of Rocky Mountain National Park’s entrance sign, followed by great distant photos of wildlife. Their friends on social media will realize that they are having an adventure in a national park: being eight feet from an elk is dangerous, illegal and not necessary to demonstrate an adventuresome spirit.

Here is the full messaging and it is brilliant.