In the spirit and style of any self-respecting talks-to-herself-looney, I thought I’d go ahead and try to answer my own question. How do you tell a Big Truth? A truth that requires you to stop believing a whole lot of other things in order to believe this new replacement thing…
A few possible tactics spring to mind:
Tell a Lot of Little Truths
This is the backbone of any marketing campaign that relies on ‘pillars’ or thinks of itself as ‘educational’ – we’ll tell you about these things that we think are really important about our brand and product, and in the end you will be willing to drop everything in favor of us.
Sometimes, I suppose, that works. When marketers attempt to educate you about the product, they are trusting in the notion that an ‘educated’ consumer is, first, something people want to be, and second, a quality that runs in their favor. In my cervical cancer vaccine example from a couple of days ago, maybe this means backing up and spreading a few different messages:
- Eureka! We discovered something amazing! A virus causes a kind of cancer! It’s not about heredity or diet, it’s about a virus!
- You know, this virus is really common, and there are lots of kinds of it. That wart you had frozen off your finger last year? Same kind of virus as what we’re talking about here, only this version causes cancer… weird/kinda scary, right?
- Having a strong immune system helps some people suppress this virus on their own; but you take vitamins to keep up your immune system, right? You get your vaccinations as a kid to help your immune system fight off chicken pox and things like that, right? Same idea.
- An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Get your kids inoculated now, then breathe easy.
- Sex is intensely personal, private, and it’s a big deal. It shouldn’t be entered into lightly – but it shouldn’t be inherently dangerous, either. Let’s make it a little safer, so when our kids finally do become sexually active adults, they aren’t at unnecessary risk.
- More people are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year than you think – and while regular screenings will catch early signs of the disease, they don’t prevent cancer. This vaccine prevents cancer.
- Caught early, this kind of cancer is treatable – but a lot of the time it isn’t caught early enough. Complications of treatment for cervical cancer run from fertility/pregnancy complications to hysterectomy to death. It’s serious.
- And so on…
The problem with an ‘educated’ consumer is that there is so much information available, and so much of it is conflicting, that a consumer who tries to educate herself about a particular product may find herself even more confused. Confusion, I would argue, is the worst experience a person can have cognitively. Confusion leads to frustration, skepticism, mistrust. Confused people don’t understand why they are confused – we tend to believe that everything should be understandable, clear, simple. When something is complicated, contradictory, or controversial, people keep it at arm’s length. Educated consumers take one of two paths – endless ‘research’ in which they take in all the he-said/she-said without a way of judging which side is right, or sitting out the debate until an authority can weigh in.
This is related to two things I spend a lot of time thinking about: prototyping and iterating. People do better with a prototype than with a concept. Put the thing in their hands, implement the program, install the device, require the vaccine, launch the site/campaign/app/etc. The implementation doesn’t have to be 100% perfect, but the product has to work.
In the case of the vaccine, the governor of Texas skipped the parental hand-wringing by mandating it for school-age girls. It was highly controversial, parents were outraged, doctors rushed to get adequate supplies, and so on. But it temporarily took the decision out of their hands and placed it into the government’s. The state already mandates other childhood vaccinations, and the governor felt strongly that the high incidence of HPV infection and cervical cancer diagnoses in Texas constituted a public health interest in mandating the vaccine. However, in the end, the state legislature overrode this executive order, stalling mandatory vaccination until 2011. Most states managed to kill or stall implementation of a mandatary vaccination scheme; even those states with opt-out provisions still find their bills lost in committee.
In the case of electric vehicles, the fact that federal dollars are available for pilot programs in providing charging stations and other incentives for driving electric vehicles, that many of the major manufacturers are going ahead with development of EVs and plug-in hybrids, and that all of this is happening nowish, all combined to leave people feeling, frankly, resigned to the new reality. It felt like it was out of their hands, and therefore was all perfectly acceptable; maybe there would be some inconveniences, maybe they’d be annoyed, maybe things wouldn’t be perfect – but since it’s not up to them, they might as well just go along.
People do a pretty good job of adapting to change once it’s here, no matter how much time and effort they spend resisting the change.
I have an idea for a mobile app. I like the idea, a lot of people I’ve spoken to like the idea, and now I just need to figure out how to implement it. But – there are some people who don’t love this idea. Every once in awhile I encounter someone who doesn’t think it’s fantastic, and while this bruises my fragile little ego, the bigger lesson I take from it is that I’m not doing a good job of helping them picture what the app will be like. I tell them what it does and what it’s for, but they can’t picture it – they can’t see it in their minds, imagine themselves or their friends using it, create an imaginary world in their minds in which this thing exists.
In my previous roles using a lot of qualitative research to help clients, I’ve seen this phenomenon frequently. Some people are really good at taking the kernel of an idea and running with it – imagining the universe in which this idea is fully implemented, in which they use it and like it, or in which other people use it and like it. And some people struggle with this exercise – they simply can’t imagine what it would be like. They aren’t on board with filling the gaps for you, the inventor or the creative director or marketer. They need someone to draw them a picture.
I wasn’t convinced about the iPad, the notion of a tablet computer, an oversized iPhone, until I saw this image:
That posture, sitting in a partial reclining position, feet just a bit up, reading the paper, and doing everything through gestures – that was enough. I didn’t need the technology – I needed that posture. I needed to sit like that and do that stuff. I could already do that stuff, I just couldn’t do that stuff while sitting like that. Am I making myself clear? It wasn’t about the object, it was about me. I could imagine myself sitting on a couch with that object, doing that stuff, in a comfortable position – and this was, for me, revolutionary.
It’s similar to why I bought my Kindle – check out this image:
Reading books on a digital device? Yeah, okay, big deal. But reading books on a digital device without any glare? Sitting on the beach reading books on a digital device? Now you’re talking. In fact, this is my biggest peeve when it comes to the iPad – the glare on that screen when I’m in the park can be almost painful. But this image once again was less about the device and more about me – I could imagine myself doing exactly what she’s doing, and the benefit (no glare) was compelling.
Helping people imagine what their life will look like, how they will move through the world, which chair they’ll sit on and whether they can wear sunglasses in this new world are incredibly important aspects of helping people get comfortable with any new Truth. I suspect it’s just as important for helping people prepare themselves for a Big Truth.
And this, I suppose, is why product demonstrations and testimonials will never really go out of style – they are effective means of helping us imagine ourselves in the universe of that brand or product, in a world where this new Truth is accepted. Marketers can help here in establishing and managing expectations, in making the abstract concrete, accessible.
What else? What other modes can we employ in helping people put aside old ideas in order to adopt new ones?