Same same, but different…

How can we use language to change behaviour?

It’s a big question. It is where communication meets psychology. What motivates people, what messages tap into their motivations?

One of the most valuable things to understand about getting a group of people to change its behaviour is that what you want them to do may be different to what they need to hear.

Even if you all agree on the desired outcome your audience may need to have the goal framed in a particular way in order for it to feel worthy or achievable.

For example, if you want me to stop speeding in my car you have to build a powerful case for why I should stop speeding.  The TAC uses ‘Speed Kills’ to link the ‘reckless/fun’ or ‘mindless/I’m running late’ act of driving too fast with its potentially fatal side effects. All with two words. If you said exactly what you wanted me to do you would have said “Don’t speed” or “Slow down”. No cut through here. Conversely you could argue that more people are injured on the road than die, and that injury is a bigger issue for society. In this instance you might say “Speed injures” or “Speed maims”. Neither of which are going to really catch your attention. ‘Speed Kills’ is effective because it connects the behaviour (speeding) with a result we would rather avoid (death).

What you need people to do is different to what they need to hear in order to do it.

If you would like to use communication as a effective tool to achieve your objective then you need to be clear on:

What you are trying to achieve

Who you are trying to communicate with

What you need them to do

What they need to hear in order to do it.

Approaching language in this way sets you up to succeed.

Another example of this is when Midnightsky worked with a client who was in conversation with businesses about the (proposed) Emissions Trading Scheme. They wanted to get businesses to reduce their carbon footprint.

They were asking businesses to “prepare to operate in a carbon constrained future”. In consultation with our client we established that, whilst fear was a possible motivator for business to act, when combined with environmental messages it was potentially a turn off. We shaped a new message around the possible financial benefits of reducing their carbon footprint encouraging the businesses to be “ready for the opportunities of the carbon economy”. Same same, but oh so different!

One person who is very effective at using language in this way is Jamie Oliver. Next month we will have a look at how he has used language to successfully change behaviour.

How does you or your business communicate? Is what you are saying motivating your audience to take action?

Check out more stories in the category: Knowledge Bank