Part I: 

Write a message to persuade your boss to invest capital resources to develop the product or service for sale.

Include secondary research to support your argument and explain what you will do in case the selected product or service does not initially sell as much as expected. Cite and reference sources using APA formatting. 

Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose. 

Explain why you selected the channel. 

Note: Part I is the basis of your Week 5 Persuasive Presentation assignment.

Part II:

Write a sales pitch to sell the product/service to the end consumer. The sales pitch that you write could be part of a marketing campaign, which can be the verbiage for a commercial, a flyer, a message posted on social network, and so on. Make sure to identify the context, as per the examples, in which the sales pitch will take place. 

Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose and state the channel you have chosen. 

Explain why you selected the channel. 

Below is the reading materials

Persuasive Messages

© E. Audras/PhotoAlto

Learning Objectives

After studying this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.
  2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.
  3. Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.
  4. Create compelling internal persuasive messages.
  5. Compose influential external persuasive messages.
  6. Construct effective mass sales messages.
  7. Evaluate persuasive messages for effectiveness and fairness.

Why Does This Matter?

Hear Pete Cardon explain why this matters.

bit.ly.com/CardonWhy9

In many business situations, you hope to persuade others. In internal business communications, you may want your boss, peers, or colleagues to consider or adopt your ideas when their perspectives differ from yours. In external business communications, you will want to persuade your clients, customers, and prospects to use your products and services. Persuasion involves influencing others to see the merits of your ideas and act on your requests, even when they initially resist. In this chapter, we explore strategies for persuading others through writing.

In some ways, all business messages contain an element of persuasion—that is, you are hoping to influence the way others think, feel, or behave. Many of the concepts in this chapter will enhance your ability to make any kind of request. However, the approaches in this chapter are most applicable to situations in which your audience will initially resist your requests.

Throughout this chapter, you will see examples of persuasive messages at Better Horizons Credit Union. The chapter case provides the background.

Chapter Case: Shifting Course at Better Horizons Credit Union

Who’s Involved

© Ingram Publishing

Haniz Zogby, marketing specialist and loan officer

  • Started working at Better Horizons nearly five years ago. She has worked 20 to 30 hours per week while attending college with a major in finance and a minor in event management.
  • Started as a teller. Within a few years, she was promoted to positions of teller supervisor, loan officer, and marketing specialist.
  • Currently working on marketing initiatives under the direction of Christine Russo.

© BananaStock

Christine Russo, president and CEO

  • Has worked at Better Horizons for approximately ten years.
  • Currently interested in increasing the number of young members. With declining numbers of young members, she is concerned that the credit union does not have good long-term prospects.

Situation 1

Christine Wants to Build Support for New Banking Services That Meet the Needs of Younger Members

Christine recognized that people under the age of 30 were not joining the credit union. Christine wanted to write a message to board members about adopting marketing strategies and services that appeal to younger members. She planned to follow up by presenting her ideas in person at an upcoming meeting. The board is composed of longtime members who favor what they consider a “personal,” “friendly,” and “homey” credit union environment. They view moves to online marketing and services as breaking their brand of community and personal touch. The majority also oppose adding too many extra financial services, perceiving these services as “slick” and “too similar to banks.”

Situation 2

Haniz Is in Charge of Recruiting Participants for a Local Charity Event

Christine asked Haniz to be in charge of recruiting credit union members to join this year’s Hope Walkathon to support research on breast cancer. Better Horizons has assembled a walkathon team for this prominent community event each year for nearly a decade. Haniz is writing an email to send to all credit union members. The message will be modified slightly to appear as an announcement on the credit union website as well.

Situation 3

Haniz Needs to Create a Flyer Explaining the Benefits of Credit Union Membership Compared to Banks

Haniz is working on a flyer describing the benefits of membership at Better Horizons Credit Union. The flyer will be part of a packet of materials that is distributed to community members who participate in free financial planning and income tax assistance seminars offered by Better Horizons. Haniz is using the message to highlight the benefits of Better Horizons compared to local banks.

Situation 4

Haniz Is Helping to Develop a Sales Message for Auto Loans

Haniz and several other employees are working on sales messages for auto loans. In recent months, Better Horizon’s senior management decided the credit union should become a “player” in the auto loans market. Few Better Horizons members take advantage of car loans, most assuming that dealer financing is cheaper and easier to get.

Task 1

How will Christine and Haniz write a message to board members that warms them up to ideas about new online services and marketing geared toward gaining younger members? (See the section on internal persuasive messages.)

Task 2

How will Haniz persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon? (See the section on external persuasive messages.)

Task 3

How will Haniz develop a general-purpose flyer that shows the broad benefits of choosing Better Horizons Credit Union over banks? (See the “Constructing External Persuasive Messages” section.)

Task 4

How will Haniz develop sales messages for an auto loan campaign? (See the “Composing Mass Sales Messages” section.)

The Importance of Credibility in an Era of Mistrust and Skepticism

LO9.1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.

While credibility is critical to all business communications, its importance is heightened for persuasive messages. By definition, persuasion implies that you are communicating with someone who does not think or feel the same way as you do. So, your goal is to help your audience members identify with and find merit in your positions. If they question your credibility, they are unlikely to carefully consider your ideas, requests, or recommendations.

Persuasion is becoming more difficult as we live in a time of increasing mistrust. In Chapter 1, we discussed the declining levels of trust for nearly all professional groups, particularly business-related occupations. Michael Maslansky, one of the leading corporate communications experts, has labeled this the post-trust era (PTE):

Just a few years ago, salespeople, corporate leaders, marketing departments, and communicators like me had it pretty easy. We looked at communication as a relatively linear process. … But trust disappeared, things changed. … In a word, trust is out, skepticism is in.1

Over the past decade, Michael Maslansky and his colleagues have examined how language is used to persuade and motivate others. By interviewing hundreds of thousands of employees and customers in some 30 countries, they have found that the language of trust is more important than ever. Furthermore, they have noticed emerging trends in how language impacts trust. Strategies for persuasion that once worked are less effective in the PTE. Other strategies continue to work well. In this chapter, we sort through some of these basic principles of persuasive writing and identify those strategies that are most effective in the PTE.

Applying the AIM Planning Process to Persuasive Messages

LO9.2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.

Persuasion involves extensive planning: analyzing your audience to understand their needs, values, and how they are influenced; developing your ideas as you wrestle with the complicated business issues at hand; and creating a message structure that most effectively reduces resistance and gains buy-in. Many effective business communicators spend weeks and months learning about their target audiences, gathering information, and piecing together persuasive messages.

Understand Your Audience

To convince others to modify their own ideas and accept yours, you need to show that you care about them and that your ideas fit into their interests. This is the approach communication specialist Liz Simpson recommends:

To succeed at the persuasion game, you have to be absolutely committed to understanding the other side’s position as well as your own. Without that willingness to try on the other side’s arguments, you simply cannot be persuasive. From that understanding will come the insights you need to move the other side over to your camp.2

This is true not only for ideas but also for products and services. Your best argument is always one that meets the needs and wants of your audience.

Understanding the needs and values of others is not simple. It requires a strong listening orientation. You will need to ask lots of questions to get beyond a surface understanding about the hopes, expectations, and hidden assumptions of your target audience. Once you know your target audience’s needs and values, you are in a strong position to explain how your product, service, or idea benefits them.

In addition to understanding the needs and values of your target audience, you should consider the psychological principles that impact how people are influenced. Also, you should consider whether you are making a logical appeal or an emotional one in your persuasive messages.

Understand Methods of Influence

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a marketing psychologist, has spent his career studying how people are influenced in business and marketing environments. He has examined research in this area for four decades, plus he spent three years taking undercover jobs in car dealerships, telemarketing firms, fund-raising organizations, and other buyer-seller environments to learn the most influential ways of getting people to say yes. Based on his work, he has identified six principles of persuasion (aside from the price and quality of products and services). These principles include reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.3 Haniz’s message to recruit credit union members for the Hope Walkathon offers an interesting example for applying these various pinciples (see Figure 9.7, p. 258, for her completed message).

Reciprocation is a principle of influence based on returning favors. As defined by Cialdini, “We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”4 Cialdini cited an interesting study in which a professor sent Christmas cards to a random sample of strangers to see what would happen. Many of the card recipients reciprocated, sending cards to the professor without attempting to find out who he was. The study showed that even card receivers who did not know the card sender and who might not interact with the card sender in the future felt compelled to return the favor of sending a card. People tend to feel obligated to pay back others when they’ve received something of value.5

Haniz uses the principle of reciprocation in her message in several ways. For example, she focuses on a lengthy reciprocal relationship that the credit union has with the local breast cancer center, and the walkathon serves as the mechanism that draws the two organizations together. The credit union helps the center by generating walkathon donations, and the center helps the credit union and the larger community through more effective breast cancer treatment and education. Furthermore, the message implies a reciprocal relationship between the credit union and its members by offering various free items, such as a T-shirt, a water bottle, and a cancer guide, to members who are willing to participate in the walkathon.

Consistency is based on the idea that once people make an explicit commitment, they tend to follow through or honor that commitment. In other words, they want to stay consistent with their original commitment. Cialdini cited several studies to make this point. In one, psychologists found that horse racing fans become more confident that their horses would win after placing a bet. Once they made a final commitment, they were further convinced of the correctness of their choice.6

Haniz appeals to commitment and consistency in several ways. Foremost, she appeals to the credit union’s long commitment to the fight against breast cancer. Some credit union members will want to continue to honor this long-standing collective commitment and will appreciate that their credit union is doing so. She also provides links in the message for people to immediately act on their interest in the walkathon. A link to register right now serves as an immediate commitment to participate.

Social proof is a principle of influence whereby people determine what is right, correct, or desirable by seeing what others do. Haniz employs several appeals to social proof in her letter. She describes the level of participation and contribution among members in last year’s walkathon, implying that the popularity and financial impact of this event make it a good cause. Also, the walkathon itself is a type of social proof; the gathering of thousands of people wearing team T-shirts and marching in unison for a cause is powerful imagery.7

Liking is a principle of influence whereby people are more likely to be persuaded by people who they like.8 Haniz appeals directly to this principle by describing Betty Williams, who is a breast cancer survivor, the benefactor of the breast center, a credit union member, and a participant in the walkathon. Betty Williams is presumably a person most people in the community know and like, a woman who many of the credit union members may know from running into her at the credit union or other community events, and a woman who is passionate about an important cause (a reason for liking). Haniz emphasizes in the message that walkathon participants will join this likable and respected community member at the walkathon.

Authority is a principle of influence whereby people follow authority figures. The number of celebrity endorsements in advertising is evidence of how authority can impact persuasion.9 Although Haniz does not appeal to a national celebrity, she does appeal to a prominent local community member—again Betty Williams. With Betty’s level of influence and personal experience combating cancer, she is likely seen as an authority. Furthermore, Haniz also appeals to members to support the Betty Williams Breast Center, a group of expert professionals who collectively are authorities on breast cancer.

Scarcity is a principle of influence whereby people think there is limited availability of something they want or need, so they must act quickly.10 Haniz employs this principle in terms of time. She explains that the walkathon occurs only once each year (limited time period to participate) and that participants must sign up by a given deadline (limited time period to sign up).

You will apply these principles most often in external persuasive messages, and you should always apply them fairly. Cialdini describes them as “weapons of influence.”11 The very term weapons implies that they are powerful and can do harm. In the “Apply the FAIR Test” section near the end of the chapter, we further discuss the appropriate use of these principles.

Persuade through Emotion and Reason

Most people justify their business decisions based on the soundness of ideas, not feelings. Savvy business communicators, however, understand the importance of injecting emotion into their persuasive messages. While they appreciate the place of reason in business and consumer decisions, they understand that resistance to ideas, products, and services is often emotional. Conversely, they are aware that their target audiences often possess strong emotional attachment to competing ideas, products, and services. Thus, effective communicators find ways to appeal to the core emotional benefits of products, services, and ideas.12

Even in internal persuasive messages, emotional appeals are critical, as indicated by Craig Conway, president and CEO of PeopleSoft:

Good communicators have an enormous advantage over poor communicators because so much of running a company is inspirational. … You just have to be able to persuade people that they are a part of something bigger. If you have a creative vision and you can communicate it in a compelling way to get people excited, you will recruit better people as a result. Then, it is easy to convince the world that you have a more dynamic company.13

Part of understanding your audience is identifying the needs and values that resonate emotionally for them.

Typically, internal persuasive messages focus mostly on logical appeals. External persuasive messages, with the exception of those that emphasize price, generally include strong emotional appeals. As you develop persuasive messages, think about how to get the right mix of logical and emotional appeals. Generally, you will supply both but emphasize one or the other. Keep in mind that even when you choose to make strong emotional appeals in written messages, you should generally avoid the tone of mass advertising, where exaggeration, sarcasm, and over-the-top appeals are acceptable and even effective. Later in the chapter, you will notice several messages created by Haniz and Christine—two based more strongly on logical appeals (Figures 9.5 and 9.8) and two on emotional appeals (Figures 9.7 and 9.9).

Develop Your Ideas

Idea development for persuasive messages is critical. Since your audience is resistant to the message, one of your key tasks is to establish credibility. Developing strong ideas in the interest of your audience helps you demonstrate your voice of competence. It involves gaining a deep understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of your ideas, products, and services. In addition, it involves gaining a thorough understanding of competing ideas, products, and services.

Thus, before attempting to persuade others, expert business communicators seek to understand products, services, and ideas in great depth so that they can speak from an authoritative and competent perspective. To address the issue of attracting younger credit union members, Christine and Haniz spend months learning about the strategies that other credit unions use. When Haniz works on a message that promotes her credit union over local banks, she carefully analyzes and compares the major products and services offered by her credit union and those of competing banks. When Haniz works on a message to persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon, she learns all she can about participation in this event and how it helps in the fight against breast cancer.

Components of Persuasive Messages

  • Gain attention.
  • Raise a need.
  • Deliver a solution.
  • Provide a rationale.
  • Show appreciation.
  • Give counterpoints (optional).
  • Call to action.

Set Up the Message Structure

Most business writing is direct and explicit. It is direct in that you begin with a main idea or argument and then provide the supporting reasons. It is explicit in that nothing is implied; statements contain full and unambiguous meaning. When you write directly and explicitly, you help your readers understand your message and you show respect for their time.

Compared to other business messages, persuasive messages are somewhat more indirect and implicit. They are sometimes indirect in that they provide the rationale for a request before making the specific request. They are sometimes implicit in that the request or some of the rationale for the request may be implied. In other words, sometimes the reader needs to read between the lines to grasp the entire meaning. Implicit statements politely ask people to do or think differently. Also, explicitly stating some types of benefits is considered poor form—for example, matters of financial or career gain in internal persuasive requests.14

Attention

The first task of most persuasive messages is to gain the attention of your readers. You can do this in a variety of ways, including asking a rhetorical question, providing a compelling or interesting fact, revealing a compelling statistic, issuing a challenge, or posting a testimonial.15 For internal persuasive messages, the primary means of gaining attention is demonstrating a business need—a gap between what is and what could be.16 You generally have more flexibility in external persuasive messages as you choose your attention-getters. See Table 9.1 for examples of attention-getters Haniz might use for some of her communication tasks.

Table 9.1 Effective Attention-Getters

Type of Attention-GetterExampleRhetorical questionDid you know that average credit union members save $400 per year compared to bank customers?Intriguing statisticIn the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership.Compelling and unusual fact/sYou’ve probably heard car dealers boast about their near-zero percent interest rates—but there’s a catch! By financing with car dealers, you give up your opportunity to receive manufacturer rebates and your power to negotiate on price.ChallengePlease join our team in this year’s Hope Walkathon in the fight against breast cancer.Testimonial“I never knew I could have so much negotiating power with a preapproved loan. By getting my car loan through Better Horizons, I negotiated a great deal with the car dealer. This is the way to buy cars!”Need, Solution, and Rationale

In the body of your message, your first task is to tie your product, service, or idea to the needs of your readers. The best way to reduce the resistance your reader may have is to show that your message meets your readers’ needs. Once you’ve stated the need, you may describe your solution, which is a recommended product, service, or idea. Many readers will remain skeptical unless you provide convincing support. So, you will need to provide a strong rationale, meaning solid reasons why your product, service, or idea really benefits them. After all, you are more than likely attempting to influence skeptics.17

As you structure your message, consider how direct you should be. If your audience members are strongly and emotionally resistant to your solution, consider a more indirect approach so they warm up to your ideas before you suggest a solution. To make your message less direct, provide the rationale before the solution.

Appreciation

At some point in the body of the message, you should validate your readers by showing appreciation for their views and preferences. Validation implies that you recognize and appreciate others’ needs, wants, ideas, and preferences as legitimate and reasonable. By validating your readers, you show respect for them and demonstrate a balanced perspective.18

Counterpoints

Traditionally, communicators overcame objections by providing counterpoints to any of the audience members’ objections. In other words, they showed how their own ideas, products, or services were superior to the competing ideas, products, or services the audience favored.

Overcoming objections with counterpoints, however, is risky in the post-trust era. This approach may unnecessarily carry a me-versus-you tone and delegitimize the readers’ concerns. Michael Maslansky, in his research about emerging trends in sales messages in the PTE, states that validation is “using words to let people know that their concerns are valid,” and that it is the “polar opposite of overcoming objections.”19 He says the “new sales mantra [is to] agree with objections.”20 This perhaps ironic approach shows respect and balance because you validate the potential customer’s feelings and ideas. When you validate your readers, they are more likely to accept the merits of your persuasive message.

Thus, consider carefully whether to include counterpoints to your readers’ objections. When you know people well and believe that you will not create a me-versus-you adversarial stance, tactfully state how your ideas, products, and services outperform those of your readers.

Skilled business communicators understand that building support for their ideas takes time. Especially for persuasion within companies, you will generally use a mix of communication channels. Rarely will your ideas be accepted and enacted with one written message. However, one written message can make a powerful statement and open avenues of communication that lead to acceptance and adoption of your ideas.

Action

You conclude persuasive messages with a call to action, which asks your readers to take a specific step toward the purchase of a product or service or acceptance of an idea. However, a call to action should not be a hard sell; pressuring others is increasingly ineffective in the PTE.21 In external persuasive messages, the call to action is typically a specific and explicit step. In internal persuasive messages, the call to action is sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. It is more likely to be implicit for controversial change ideas and when corresponding with superiors who have ultimate decision-making authority.

Guidelines for Tone for Persuasive Messages

  • Apply the personal touch.
  • Use action-oriented, lively language.
  • Write with confidence.
  • Offer choice.
  • Show positivity.

Getting the Tone and Style Right for Persuasive Messages

LO9.3. Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.

The tone for persuasive messages should be confident and positive, yet at the same time avoid exaggeration or hype. This is tricky! You will no doubt need to make some trade-offs. The more confident and positive you make your message, the more you risk being perceived as pushy or exaggerated. As you reduce confidence and positivity, you risk your product, service, or idea being perceived as weak or unexciting. One benefit of asking colleagues to read your persuasive message before you send it is they can help you decide if you have achieved the right level of confidence and positivity without sacrificing believability.

The writing style of your message should be action-oriented and lively. But again, you risk being perceived as unbelievable or overly enthusiastic if you overdo the language. However, you risk being perceived as dull or unexceptional if you don’t use engaging, lively language. Proofreading by yourself and with the help of colleagues will help you get the right writing style to set your message apart.

Apply the Personal Touch

Recently, a number of competing developers delivered presentations to a property owner, each hoping to persuade him to sell them 4,000 acres of much-sought-after property. The presentations were nearly identical, so the property owner was unsure how to choose the best developer. A few days later, the property owner received a handwritten thank-you note from one candidate. The property owner immediately awarded the deal to that developer because he had taken the time to write a message of appreciation.22

Often, your competitors are nearly identical to you. Your colleagues and customers will be more easily persuaded when you show interest in them personally, speak to them in personal terms, understand their specific needs, and demonstrate that you are seeking benefits for them. Personalizing your messages is not easy, though, as Michael Maslansky points out:

For all of us, selling ideas or products or ourselves begins with a need to talk about something that we have and the audience should need, want, or agree with. The problem is that too often, we focus on the first part—what we want to sell, and too little on the second—why they want to buy … and yet, our audience demands increasingly that messages, products, and services speak directly to them.23

Creating messages that speak directly to customers and colleagues requires that you use language that helps your customers and colleagues feel the product, service, or idea is just for them.24

One of the primary strategies you can use to personalize persuasive messages is your selection of voice—either you-voice, we-voice, I-voice, or impersonal voice (as introduced in Chapter 2). Table 9.2 offers guidance on choosing the appropriate voice. Generally, you-voice is more effective in external persuasive messages to customers and clients because it emphasizes the benefits they receive from your products and services. From the customer’s perspective, the you-voice shows them that they are the center of attention.

Table 9.2 Voice in Persuasive Messages

VoiceAppropriate CasesCautionsExamplesYou-voiceUse in external persuasive messages to emphasize reader benefits.Presumptuousness—assuming you know what is good for someone elseWhen you take out an auto loan, you get a variety of resources to help you in your car shopping, including a free copy of a Kelly Blue Book, access to free Carfax reports, Mechanical Breakdown Insurance (MBI), and Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP).   In this example, you-voice helps show direct benefits to the customers. Overuse across an entire message, however, may come across as presumptuous, overbearing, or exaggerated.We-voiceUse in internal persuasive messages to emphasize shared work goals.Presumptuousness—assuming you share common beliefs, ideas, or understanding with your colleaguesAt Better Horizons, we’ve instilled a personal touch into every aspect of our business. We’ve reinforced this culture with face-to-face services. Our tellers welcome members by name. When members come into the credit union, they know we care about them as people, not just as customers. The warm, friendly, genuine, and personal approach we take to serving our members is why I’m so proud to work here.   In this passage, we-voice instills a sense of shared values, priorities, and goals. We-voice can instill a strong sense of teamwork. When audience members have different perspectives, however, they may resent that you are stating agreement where it does not exist.I-voiceUse in all persuasive messages sparingly.Overuse implies self-centerednessAfter examining the results of other credit unions, I am convinced that these tools can build emotional connections and loyalty with our members.   In this example, I-voice is used to show a personal opinion and shows respect for audience members who are not yet fully peruaded. Frequent use of I-voice across an entire message, however, may come across as emphasizing your interests rather than those of the audience.Impersonal voiceUse in persuasive messages to emphasize objectivity and neutrality.Overuse

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Part I: 

Write a message to persuade your boss to invest capital resources to develop the product or service for sale.

Include secondary research to support your argument and explain what you will do in case the selected product or service does not initially sell as much as expected. Cite and reference sources using APA formatting. 

Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose. 

Explain why you selected the channel. 

Note: Part I is the basis of your Week 5 Persuasive Presentation assignment.

Part II:

Write a sales pitch to sell the product/service to the end consumer. The sales pitch that you write could be part of a marketing campaign, which can be the verbiage for a commercial, a flyer, a message posted on social network, and so on. Make sure to identify the context, as per the examples, in which the sales pitch will take place. 

Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose and state the channel you have chosen. 

Explain why you selected the channel. 

Below is the reading materials

Persuasive Messages

© E. Audras/PhotoAlto

Learning Objectives

After studying this chapter, you should be able to do the following:

  1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.
  2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.
  3. Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.
  4. Create compelling internal persuasive messages.
  5. Compose influential external persuasive messages.
  6. Construct effective mass sales messages.
  7. Evaluate persuasive messages for effectiveness and fairness.

Why Does This Matter?

Hear Pete Cardon explain why this matters.

bit.ly.com/CardonWhy9

In many business situations, you hope to persuade others. In internal business communications, you may want your boss, peers, or colleagues to consider or adopt your ideas when their perspectives differ from yours. In external business communications, you will want to persuade your clients, customers, and prospects to use your products and services. Persuasion involves influencing others to see the merits of your ideas and act on your requests, even when they initially resist. In this chapter, we explore strategies for persuading others through writing.

In some ways, all business messages contain an element of persuasion—that is, you are hoping to influence the way others think, feel, or behave. Many of the concepts in this chapter will enhance your ability to make any kind of request. However, the approaches in this chapter are most applicable to situations in which your audience will initially resist your requests.

Throughout this chapter, you will see examples of persuasive messages at Better Horizons Credit Union. The chapter case provides the background.

Chapter Case: Shifting Course at Better Horizons Credit Union

Who’s Involved

© Ingram Publishing

Haniz Zogby, marketing specialist and loan officer

  • Started working at Better Horizons nearly five years ago. She has worked 20 to 30 hours per week while attending college with a major in finance and a minor in event management.
  • Started as a teller. Within a few years, she was promoted to positions of teller supervisor, loan officer, and marketing specialist.
  • Currently working on marketing initiatives under the direction of Christine Russo.

© BananaStock

Christine Russo, president and CEO

  • Has worked at Better Horizons for approximately ten years.
  • Currently interested in increasing the number of young members. With declining numbers of young members, she is concerned that the credit union does not have good long-term prospects.

Situation 1

Christine Wants to Build Support for New Banking Services That Meet the Needs of Younger Members

Christine recognized that people under the age of 30 were not joining the credit union. Christine wanted to write a message to board members about adopting marketing strategies and services that appeal to younger members. She planned to follow up by presenting her ideas in person at an upcoming meeting. The board is composed of longtime members who favor what they consider a “personal,” “friendly,” and “homey” credit union environment. They view moves to online marketing and services as breaking their brand of community and personal touch. The majority also oppose adding too many extra financial services, perceiving these services as “slick” and “too similar to banks.”

Situation 2

Haniz Is in Charge of Recruiting Participants for a Local Charity Event

Christine asked Haniz to be in charge of recruiting credit union members to join this year’s Hope Walkathon to support research on breast cancer. Better Horizons has assembled a walkathon team for this prominent community event each year for nearly a decade. Haniz is writing an email to send to all credit union members. The message will be modified slightly to appear as an announcement on the credit union website as well.

Situation 3

Haniz Needs to Create a Flyer Explaining the Benefits of Credit Union Membership Compared to Banks

Haniz is working on a flyer describing the benefits of membership at Better Horizons Credit Union. The flyer will be part of a packet of materials that is distributed to community members who participate in free financial planning and income tax assistance seminars offered by Better Horizons. Haniz is using the message to highlight the benefits of Better Horizons compared to local banks.

Situation 4

Haniz Is Helping to Develop a Sales Message for Auto Loans

Haniz and several other employees are working on sales messages for auto loans. In recent months, Better Horizon’s senior management decided the credit union should become a “player” in the auto loans market. Few Better Horizons members take advantage of car loans, most assuming that dealer financing is cheaper and easier to get.

Task 1

How will Christine and Haniz write a message to board members that warms them up to ideas about new online services and marketing geared toward gaining younger members? (See the section on internal persuasive messages.)

Task 2

How will Haniz persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon? (See the section on external persuasive messages.)

Task 3

How will Haniz develop a general-purpose flyer that shows the broad benefits of choosing Better Horizons Credit Union over banks? (See the “Constructing External Persuasive Messages” section.)

Task 4

How will Haniz develop sales messages for an auto loan campaign? (See the “Composing Mass Sales Messages” section.)

The Importance of Credibility in an Era of Mistrust and Skepticism

LO9.1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.

While credibility is critical to all business communications, its importance is heightened for persuasive messages. By definition, persuasion implies that you are communicating with someone who does not think or feel the same way as you do. So, your goal is to help your audience members identify with and find merit in your positions. If they question your credibility, they are unlikely to carefully consider your ideas, requests, or recommendations.

Persuasion is becoming more difficult as we live in a time of increasing mistrust. In Chapter 1, we discussed the declining levels of trust for nearly all professional groups, particularly business-related occupations. Michael Maslansky, one of the leading corporate communications experts, has labeled this the post-trust era (PTE):

Just a few years ago, salespeople, corporate leaders, marketing departments, and communicators like me had it pretty easy. We looked at communication as a relatively linear process. … But trust disappeared, things changed. … In a word, trust is out, skepticism is in.1

Over the past decade, Michael Maslansky and his colleagues have examined how language is used to persuade and motivate others. By interviewing hundreds of thousands of employees and customers in some 30 countries, they have found that the language of trust is more important than ever. Furthermore, they have noticed emerging trends in how language impacts trust. Strategies for persuasion that once worked are less effective in the PTE. Other strategies continue to work well. In this chapter, we sort through some of these basic principles of persuasive writing and identify those strategies that are most effective in the PTE.

Applying the AIM Planning Process to Persuasive Messages

LO9.2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.

Persuasion involves extensive planning: analyzing your audience to understand their needs, values, and how they are influenced; developing your ideas as you wrestle with the complicated business issues at hand; and creating a message structure that most effectively reduces resistance and gains buy-in. Many effective business communicators spend weeks and months learning about their target audiences, gathering information, and piecing together persuasive messages.

Understand Your Audience

To convince others to modify their own ideas and accept yours, you need to show that you care about them and that your ideas fit into their interests. This is the approach communication specialist Liz Simpson recommends:

To succeed at the persuasion game, you have to be absolutely committed to understanding the other side’s position as well as your own. Without that willingness to try on the other side’s arguments, you simply cannot be persuasive. From that understanding will come the insights you need to move the other side over to your camp.2

This is true not only for ideas but also for products and services. Your best argument is always one that meets the needs and wants of your audience.

Understanding the needs and values of others is not simple. It requires a strong listening orientation. You will need to ask lots of questions to get beyond a surface understanding about the hopes, expectations, and hidden assumptions of your target audience. Once you know your target audience’s needs and values, you are in a strong position to explain how your product, service, or idea benefits them.

In addition to understanding the needs and values of your target audience, you should consider the psychological principles that impact how people are influenced. Also, you should consider whether you are making a logical appeal or an emotional one in your persuasive messages.

Understand Methods of Influence

Dr. Robert Cialdini, a marketing psychologist, has spent his career studying how people are influenced in business and marketing environments. He has examined research in this area for four decades, plus he spent three years taking undercover jobs in car dealerships, telemarketing firms, fund-raising organizations, and other buyer-seller environments to learn the most influential ways of getting people to say yes. Based on his work, he has identified six principles of persuasion (aside from the price and quality of products and services). These principles include reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.3 Haniz’s message to recruit credit union members for the Hope Walkathon offers an interesting example for applying these various pinciples (see Figure 9.7, p. 258, for her completed message).

Reciprocation is a principle of influence based on returning favors. As defined by Cialdini, “We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”4 Cialdini cited an interesting study in which a professor sent Christmas cards to a random sample of strangers to see what would happen. Many of the card recipients reciprocated, sending cards to the professor without attempting to find out who he was. The study showed that even card receivers who did not know the card sender and who might not interact with the card sender in the future felt compelled to return the favor of sending a card. People tend to feel obligated to pay back others when they’ve received something of value.5

Haniz uses the principle of reciprocation in her message in several ways. For example, she focuses on a lengthy reciprocal relationship that the credit union has with the local breast cancer center, and the walkathon serves as the mechanism that draws the two organizations together. The credit union helps the center by generating walkathon donations, and the center helps the credit union and the larger community through more effective breast cancer treatment and education. Furthermore, the message implies a reciprocal relationship between the credit union and its members by offering various free items, such as a T-shirt, a water bottle, and a cancer guide, to members who are willing to participate in the walkathon.

Consistency is based on the idea that once people make an explicit commitment, they tend to follow through or honor that commitment. In other words, they want to stay consistent with their original commitment. Cialdini cited several studies to make this point. In one, psychologists found that horse racing fans become more confident that their horses would win after placing a bet. Once they made a final commitment, they were further convinced of the correctness of their choice.6

Haniz appeals to commitment and consistency in several ways. Foremost, she appeals to the credit union’s long commitment to the fight against breast cancer. Some credit union members will want to continue to honor this long-standing collective commitment and will appreciate that their credit union is doing so. She also provides links in the message for people to immediately act on their interest in the walkathon. A link to register right now serves as an immediate commitment to participate.

Social proof is a principle of influence whereby people determine what is right, correct, or desirable by seeing what others do. Haniz employs several appeals to social proof in her letter. She describes the level of participation and contribution among members in last year’s walkathon, implying that the popularity and financial impact of this event make it a good cause. Also, the walkathon itself is a type of social proof; the gathering of thousands of people wearing team T-shirts and marching in unison for a cause is powerful imagery.7

Liking is a principle of influence whereby people are more likely to be persuaded by people who they like.8 Haniz appeals directly to this principle by describing Betty Williams, who is a breast cancer survivor, the benefactor of the breast center, a credit union member, and a participant in the walkathon. Betty Williams is presumably a person most people in the community know and like, a woman who many of the credit union members may know from running into her at the credit union or other community events, and a woman who is passionate about an important cause (a reason for liking). Haniz emphasizes in the message that walkathon participants will join this likable and respected community member at the walkathon.

Authority is a principle of influence whereby people follow authority figures. The number of celebrity endorsements in advertising is evidence of how authority can impact persuasion.9 Although Haniz does not appeal to a national celebrity, she does appeal to a prominent local community member—again Betty Williams. With Betty’s level of influence and personal experience combating cancer, she is likely seen as an authority. Furthermore, Haniz also appeals to members to support the Betty Williams Breast Center, a group of expert professionals who collectively are authorities on breast cancer.

Scarcity is a principle of influence whereby people think there is limited availability of something they want or need, so they must act quickly.10 Haniz employs this principle in terms of time. She explains that the walkathon occurs only once each year (limited time period to participate) and that participants must sign up by a given deadline (limited time period to sign up).

You will apply these principles most often in external persuasive messages, and you should always apply them fairly. Cialdini describes them as “weapons of influence.”11 The very term weapons implies that they are powerful and can do harm. In the “Apply the FAIR Test” section near the end of the chapter, we further discuss the appropriate use of these principles.

Persuade through Emotion and Reason

Most people justify their business decisions based on the soundness of ideas, not feelings. Savvy business communicators, however, understand the importance of injecting emotion into their persuasive messages. While they appreciate the place of reason in business and consumer decisions, they understand that resistance to ideas, products, and services is often emotional. Conversely, they are aware that their target audiences often possess strong emotional attachment to competing ideas, products, and services. Thus, effective communicators find ways to appeal to the core emotional benefits of products, services, and ideas.12

Even in internal persuasive messages, emotional appeals are critical, as indicated by Craig Conway, president and CEO of PeopleSoft:

Good communicators have an enormous advantage over poor communicators because so much of running a company is inspirational. … You just have to be able to persuade people that they are a part of something bigger. If you have a creative vision and you can communicate it in a compelling way to get people excited, you will recruit better people as a result. Then, it is easy to convince the world that you have a more dynamic company.13

Part of understanding your audience is identifying the needs and values that resonate emotionally for them.

Typically, internal persuasive messages focus mostly on logical appeals. External persuasive messages, with the exception of those that emphasize price, generally include strong emotional appeals. As you develop persuasive messages, think about how to get the right mix of logical and emotional appeals. Generally, you will supply both but emphasize one or the other. Keep in mind that even when you choose to make strong emotional appeals in written messages, you should generally avoid the tone of mass advertising, where exaggeration, sarcasm, and over-the-top appeals are acceptable and even effective. Later in the chapter, you will notice several messages created by Haniz and Christine—two based more strongly on logical appeals (Figures 9.5 and 9.8) and two on emotional appeals (Figures 9.7 and 9.9).

Develop Your Ideas

Idea development for persuasive messages is critical. Since your audience is resistant to the message, one of your key tasks is to establish credibility. Developing strong ideas in the interest of your audience helps you demonstrate your voice of competence. It involves gaining a deep understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of your ideas, products, and services. In addition, it involves gaining a thorough understanding of competing ideas, products, and services.

Thus, before attempting to persuade others, expert business communicators seek to understand products, services, and ideas in great depth so that they can speak from an authoritative and competent perspective. To address the issue of attracting younger credit union members, Christine and Haniz spend months learning about the strategies that other credit unions use. When Haniz works on a message that promotes her credit union over local banks, she carefully analyzes and compares the major products and services offered by her credit union and those of competing banks. When Haniz works on a message to persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon, she learns all she can about participation in this event and how it helps in the fight against breast cancer.

Components of Persuasive Messages

  • Gain attention.
  • Raise a need.
  • Deliver a solution.
  • Provide a rationale.
  • Show appreciation.
  • Give counterpoints (optional).
  • Call to action.

Set Up the Message Structure

Most business writing is direct and explicit. It is direct in that you begin with a main idea or argument and then provide the supporting reasons. It is explicit in that nothing is implied; statements contain full and unambiguous meaning. When you write directly and explicitly, you help your readers understand your message and you show respect for their time.

Compared to other business messages, persuasive messages are somewhat more indirect and implicit. They are sometimes indirect in that they provide the rationale for a request before making the specific request. They are sometimes implicit in that the request or some of the rationale for the request may be implied. In other words, sometimes the reader needs to read between the lines to grasp the entire meaning. Implicit statements politely ask people to do or think differently. Also, explicitly stating some types of benefits is considered poor form—for example, matters of financial or career gain in internal persuasive requests.14

Attention

The first task of most persuasive messages is to gain the attention of your readers. You can do this in a variety of ways, including asking a rhetorical question, providing a compelling or interesting fact, revealing a compelling statistic, issuing a challenge, or posting a testimonial.15 For internal persuasive messages, the primary means of gaining attention is demonstrating a business need—a gap between what is and what could be.16 You generally have more flexibility in external persuasive messages as you choose your attention-getters. See Table 9.1 for examples of attention-getters Haniz might use for some of her communication tasks.

Table 9.1 Effective Attention-Getters

Type of Attention-GetterExampleRhetorical questionDid you know that average credit union members save $400 per year compared to bank customers?Intriguing statisticIn the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership.Compelling and unusual fact/sYou’ve probably heard car dealers boast about their near-zero percent interest rates—but there’s a catch! By financing with car dealers, you give up your opportunity to receive manufacturer rebates and your power to negotiate on price.ChallengePlease join our team in this year’s Hope Walkathon in the fight against breast cancer.Testimonial“I never knew I could have so much negotiating power with a preapproved loan. By getting my car loan through Better Horizons, I negotiated a great deal with the car dealer. This is the way to buy cars!”Need, Solution, and Rationale

In the body of your message, your first task is to tie your product, service, or idea to the needs of your readers. The best way to reduce the resistance your reader may have is to show that your message meets your readers’ needs. Once you’ve stated the need, you may describe your solution, which is a recommended product, service, or idea. Many readers will remain skeptical unless you provide convincing support. So, you will need to provide a strong rationale, meaning solid reasons why your product, service, or idea really benefits them. After all, you are more than likely attempting to influence skeptics.17

As you structure your message, consider how direct you should be. If your audience members are strongly and emotionally resistant to your solution, consider a more indirect approach so they warm up to your ideas before you suggest a solution. To make your message less direct, provide the rationale before the solution.

Appreciation

At some point in the body of the message, you should validate your readers by showing appreciation for their views and preferences. Validation implies that you recognize and appreciate others’ needs, wants, ideas, and preferences as legitimate and reasonable. By validating your readers, you show respect for them and demonstrate a balanced perspective.18

Counterpoints

Traditionally, communicators overcame objections by providing counterpoints to any of the audience members’ objections. In other words, they showed how their own ideas, products, or services were superior to the competing ideas, products, or services the audience favored.

Overcoming objections with counterpoints, however, is risky in the post-trust era. This approach may unnecessarily carry a me-versus-you tone and delegitimize the readers’ concerns. Michael Maslansky, in his research about emerging trends in sales messages in the PTE, states that validation is “using words to let people know that their concerns are valid,” and that it is the “polar opposite of overcoming objections.”19 He says the “new sales mantra [is to] agree with objections.”20 This perhaps ironic approach shows respect and balance because you validate the potential customer’s feelings and ideas. When you validate your readers, they are more likely to accept the merits of your persuasive message.

Thus, consider carefully whether to include counterpoints to your readers’ objections. When you know people well and believe that you will not create a me-versus-you adversarial stance, tactfully state how your ideas, products, and services outperform those of your readers.

Skilled business communicators understand that building support for their ideas takes time. Especially for persuasion within companies, you will generally use a mix of communication channels. Rarely will your ideas be accepted and enacted with one written message. However, one written message can make a powerful statement and open avenues of communication that lead to acceptance and adoption of your ideas.

Action

You conclude persuasive messages with a call to action, which asks your readers to take a specific step toward the purchase of a product or service or acceptance of an idea. However, a call to action should not be a hard sell; pressuring others is increasingly ineffective in the PTE.21 In external persuasive messages, the call to action is typically a specific and explicit step. In internal persuasive messages, the call to action is sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. It is more likely to be implicit for controversial change ideas and when corresponding with superiors who have ultimate decision-making authority.

Guidelines for Tone for Persuasive Messages

  • Apply the personal touch.
  • Use action-oriented, lively language.
  • Write with confidence.
  • Offer choice.
  • Show positivity.

Getting the Tone and Style Right for Persuasive Messages

LO9.3. Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.

The tone for persuasive messages should be confident and positive, yet at the same time avoid exaggeration or hype. This is tricky! You will no doubt need to make some trade-offs. The more confident and positive you make your message, the more you risk being perceived as pushy or exaggerated. As you reduce confidence and positivity, you risk your product, service, or idea being perceived as weak or unexciting. One benefit of asking colleagues to read your persuasive message before you send it is they can help you decide if you have achieved the right level of confidence and positivity without sacrificing believability.

The writing style of your message should be action-oriented and lively. But again, you risk being perceived as unbelievable or overly enthusiastic if you overdo the language. However, you risk being perceived as dull or unexceptional if you don’t use engaging, lively language. Proofreading by yourself and with the help of colleagues will help you get the right writing style to set your message apart.

Apply the Personal Touch

Recently, a number of competing developers delivered presentations to a property owner, each hoping to persuade him to sell them 4,000 acres of much-sought-after property. The presentations were nearly identical, so the property owner was unsure how to choose the best developer. A few days later, the property owner received a handwritten thank-you note from one candidate. The property owner immediately awarded the deal to that developer because he had taken the time to write a message of appreciation.22

Often, your competitors are nearly identical to you. Your colleagues and customers will be more easily persuaded when you show interest in them personally, speak to them in personal terms, understand their specific needs, and demonstrate that you are seeking benefits for them. Personalizing your messages is not easy, though, as Michael Maslansky points out:

For all of us, selling ideas or products or ourselves begins with a need to talk about something that we have and the audience should need, want, or agree with. The problem is that too often, we focus on the first part—what we want to sell, and too little on the second—why they want to buy … and yet, our audience demands increasingly that messages, products, and services speak directly to them.23

Creating messages that speak directly to customers and colleagues requires that you use language that helps your customers and colleagues feel the product, service, or idea is just for them.24

One of the primary strategies you can use to personalize persuasive messages is your selection of voice—either you-voice, we-voice, I-voice, or impersonal voice (as introduced in Chapter 2). Table 9.2 offers guidance on choosing the appropriate voice. Generally, you-voice is more effective in external persuasive messages to customers and clients because it emphasizes the benefits they receive from your products and services. From the customer’s perspective, the you-voice shows them that they are the center of attention.

Table 9.2 Voice in Persuasive Messages

VoiceAppropriate CasesCautionsExamplesYou-voiceUse in external persuasive messages to emphasize reader benefits.Presumptuousness—assuming you know what is good for someone elseWhen you take out an auto loan, you get a variety of resources to help you in your car shopping, including a free copy of a Kelly Blue Book, access to free Carfax reports, Mechanical Breakdown Insurance (MBI), and Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP).   In this example, you-voice helps show direct benefits to the customers. Overuse across an entire message, however, may come across as presumptuous, overbearing, or exaggerated.We-voiceUse in internal persuasive messages to emphasize shared work goals.Presumptuousness—assuming you share common beliefs, ideas, or understanding with your colleaguesAt Better Horizons, we’ve instilled a personal touch into every aspect of our business. We’ve reinforced this culture with face-to-face services. Our tellers welcome members by name. When members come into the credit union, they know we care about them as people, not just as customers. The warm, friendly, genuine, and personal approach we take to serving our members is why I’m so proud to work here.   In this passage, we-voice instills a sense of shared values, priorities, and goals. We-voice can instill a strong sense of teamwork. When audience members have different perspectives, however, they may resent that you are stating agreement where it does not exist.I-voiceUse in all persuasive messages sparingly.Overuse implies self-centerednessAfter examining the results of other credit unions, I am convinced that these tools can build emotional connections and loyalty with our members.   In this example, I-voice is used to show a personal opinion and shows respect for audience members who are not yet fully peruaded. Frequent use of I-voice across an entire message, however, may come across as emphasizing your interests rather than those of the audience.Impersonal voiceUse in persuasive messages to emphasize objectivity and neutrality.Overuse

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