The Art Of Persuasion

This post isn’t going to be an opinion piece about recent political events, my personal opinions aren’t that valuable.  With that said, I’m going to veer off a bit into the realm of the political and popular opinion to share some ideas that I think are important and can be applied to your business.

If you’re a moosh cookie, please stop reading, you have been warned.

Hillary Clinton lost the US Presidential Election when she called Donald Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables”.  It was perhaps one of the stupidest things I’ve ever seen in politics.  When you consider that I studied Political Science at University and have been a keen observer of political debate for decades, that’s kind of a big call.

But her media sycophants and followers compounded the issue by constantly referring to Trump supporters as racists, bigots and misogynists.

Collectively, they lost the election with their mindless rhetoric.  Clinton and her supporters lost the unlosable election, Trump didn’t win it – he simply didn’t do anything bad enough to lose.

The issue boils down to persuasion.

In just about any political race 35% of people vote for one side, 35% vote for the other – these people are intractable.  They would vote for their party if their agenda was to kill kittens and send old people to the tar pits.

There are another 10% each way that leans heavily to one side or the other, but in extreme cases, would switch sides.  This election did nothing to change those people – Democrat leaning voters thought Trump was a bigot and Republican leaning voters thought Clinton was in league with the banksters.

That leaves 10% of voters up for grabs.  Then you factor in the electoral college make up and to win, you need to get swing voters in specific states.

That’s where persuasion comes in.

Clinton lost Wisconsin and Pennsylvania – two firm Democrat states.

During the campaign, she didn’t even go to Wisconsin.  Taking people for granted isn’t particularly persuasive.

In Pennsylvania is where she created the biggest problem.  She made a point of saying that she was going to shut down the coal industry because it was was environmentally bad – this played really well in New York and California, but also in Philadelphia where she said it among upper middle-class liberals.

Except in working-class Pittsburgh and the rest of the state, they took that to mean more significant blue-collar job losses.  These people got smashed when Bill Clinton signed NAFTA into law because their steel industry went away.  One coal worker said on TV that he was a steelworker and lost his job, so he took a riskier and lower paying mining job – during a recent mine upgrade, he noticed the steel, which used to be made in Pittsburgh, was imported from Mexico and China.

That’s not a persuasive argument for those people.

But at the same time, you’re making that person choose – you’re either a racist bigot because you want to protect your job or you’re an underemployed miner who’s soon to be unemployed, but you can feel good about losing your job at the altar of climate change.

The Clinton campaign preached to the converted, played small target politics and basically told everyone that a vote for someone other than Hillary made you a racist.

Emails, grabbing women by their genitals, FBI investigations… All peripheral issues.

The crux of the issue was simple – the Clinton side didn’t sell the benefits, they sold the features.  Trump sold the benefit and was wobbly on features.

Don’t believe me?

“I’m going to make America Great Again”.

If you’re disaffected, you probably don’t think America is great right now.  You long for a time when America was greater.  By not specifying what “great again” looked like, Trump let the audience fill in the picture themselves.  He sold hope and let the audience define what hope meant.

“I’m going to build a wall and Mexico is going to pay for it.”

A wall symbolically is something that addresses the fear of most voters about the situation with undocumented alien residents.  It is Trump saying that he’s going to stop it.  I find it interesting that in the 1995 State of the Union speech, Bill Clinton pointed out the same problem with “illegal immigrants”.

The Clinton campaign had almost no response for the immigration issues and the Republicans were effective in their narrative about the Democrat “path to citizenship” model was actually more about the Democrats adding 10m voters – that put fear into the hearts of swing voters.

Fear is a good tool for persuasion.  Subtly, pointing out a fear and saying you’ll stop it is a benefit.

The part about making Mexico pay for the wall was again a benefit.  How?  It was about the President having some swagger and sticking it to foreign countries.  Similar narrative with China.  There are a wide swag of Americans who feel their influence has diminished and that their foreign policy has become soft and too quick to go to war for vested interests.

I could go on and on.

So how does any of this help you in your business?

Well, we were just witness to a masterful example of persuasion on the grandest stage – if you can’t take away lessons from this, you’re not trying!

The first thing is, you can’t take your customers for granted.  Don’t treat your existing customers, no matter how long they’ve been with you like Wisconsin.  You have to reach out to them and make them feel some love.

Next, sometimes you need to sell the idea that people are going to have to take their medicine.  Taking a big swig of cough syrup tastes nasty, but that chesty cough is bad and can lead to pneumonia.  You have to tell them what the benefit of taking the medicine is and you need to find a way to make it a bit more palatable.  That’s why kids are more willing to take Cherry Flavoured cough syrup – even their little minds know they need it, but it can be a bit pleasant.

You need to address your audience’s fears.  The first thing any psychologist will tell you is that to reach people who are fearful, you need to show empathy.  You need to show people that you understand their underlying issue.  Once you demonstrate that you understand their fear, then you can find a way to show them how you’ll turn that around and make their situation better.

Lastly, you need to be super careful about negative selling.  This election campaign (and Brexit for that matter) were lost through overuse of negative selling tactics.  One side telling the audience at large that if they were considering voting for the other side they were xenophobes, racists, bigots, misogynists and overall, just deplorable people.

You see this in business all the time.  You should buy my product because all these other competing solutions suck.  That shopping cart has some unspecified security flaw, this landing page builder doesn’t have this feature, etc… People want to buy something because it makes them feel better, not because you tell them that choosing the alternative makes them stupid or worse.

As business owners, we can inadvertently find ourselves in an echo chamber.  We talk to people who share similar views about things both positively and negatively.  They reinforce our perspectives, opinions and ultimately our biases.  That’s not good for your business because your customers probably see things differently.

You need to learn to persuade people to see things by looking at the world through their eyes and finding a way to offer them solutions to the problems that they see.

This election (and Brexit) have made me even more acutely aware of the power of persuasion and how little people recognize it when they see it.  This is a great opportunity for all of us if we play our cards right!

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