Now that you’ve identified the market segments you are going after, and gotten feedback from members of those segments as to the best way to sell to them, it’s time to put that information to use. Specifically, you will adapt your message and materials so that you can make the strongest possible sell to your segments. The things you should pay attention to are the:
• Content of your message
• Form of your message, including appearance
• Your pitch (i.e., the specific request that you are making of your audience)
Content of Your Message
Content of your message. If you’re selling unionization to people who value higher pay above everything else, then you should emphasize that benefit relentlessly in all of your speeches, fliers, posters, table displays, publicity and other outreach. Relentlessly: with big fonts, relevant images, etc. There should be no doubt at all in your customers’ minds that higher pay is the primary thing that you’re selling.
Conversely, if health insurance is most important, you should emphasize that relentlessly.
Getting the content of your message right is also about making sure your message is phrased in such a way that your audience can relate to it. Getting the language and phrasing exactly right is enormously important in marketing, since even a single “off” word can greatly decrease your message’s effectiveness. Remember: bad marketing actually repels people. You need to be particularly careful about this when addressing people of a different age, sex, class, ethnic, national or religious background than you. One of my (white) colleagues once referred to people of color as “minorities” in a press release he wrote and got an angry letter back. (In marketing, by the way, you assume that for every angry message you get there are ten or twenty other angry people who didn’t bother to write.)
In Bridging the Class Divide, Linda Stout writes, “The first step in bridging class barriers that keep us apart is to respect each other’s languages. Language creates probably the biggest barrier to building an inclusive movement, and overcoming this barrier is absolutely critical to success in organizing.”
You should show every piece of marketing “collateral” you generate—every flier, brochure, video, poster, etc.—to several trusted audience members, friends or colleagues and get their feedback and suggestions before you use it on your audience. Showing it to a diverse group of people is best, since some may catch problems that the others may miss. You may often feel that you don’t have the time to do this, but it is vital that you not skip this step. It is the easiest way to ensure that your marketing is effective, and that you don’t inadvertently repel people.
Another way to match your message to your audience is to explicitly reference the group you’re targeting in the text of your message. Businesspeople know that even a tiny bit of personalization can greatly increase sales over a generic message. For example, a flier with the headline, “Special Deal on Cell Phones for North Beach Residents!” will typically sell many more cell phones, in North Beach, anyway, than a flier whose headline reads, simply, “Special Deal on Cell Phones!”
This works just as well for activists. So, instead of advertising your next film event as, “Wilderness Preservation,” advertise it as, “Wilderness Preservation in North Beach and Beyond” or, better yet, “How Preserving the North Beach Woodlands can Help Maintain Your Property Values.” The last one, as I’m sure you recognize, is not just personalized, but directly addresses what is probably an urgent need for the audience.
Form of Your Message, Including Appearance
Getting the form and appearance of your message right is as important, or more so, than getting the words right. That’s because many people will glance at your materials and make a snap judgment, based on its appearance, on whether they even want to bother reading.
Look at any popular consumer product, such as a can of soda, and what you are seeing is literally the result of hundreds or thousands of carefully considered decisions. The size, shape and weight of the can; the design, colors and fonts used; and, of course, the color, taste, carbonation and other attributes of the beverage itself: all were extensively researched and tested on actual consumers to make sure that the end product would sell as well as possible.
You should take similar care with any materials you use as part of your activism. The color, fonts, layout and other attributes of printed materials are important, as are the production values of any audiovisuals. If your document is jammed full of text, with narrow margins and little white space, few people will bother to read it. And if your film has a pounding hip hop audio track, it’s likely to repel a lot of older audience members.
Again: what’s important here is what your audience likes and responds to, not what you do.
Professional salespeople, when confronted with a tough sale, always break it down into smaller, easier ones. Then they make those smaller sales one at a time, until they have accomplished their big sale.
Social change, by definition, is a tough sell, and so almost every activist sale should be broken down into smaller ones. If you’re running a union drive, for example, the first sell might be to get the person to talk with you for five minutes; the next might be to get them to read your literature; the next might be to get them to attend a meeting; the next might be to get them to sign the organizing petition; and the next might be to get them to advocate to a couple of coworkers. If you ask for these things one at a time, you are likely to get what you want. If you ask for them all at once, you’re likely to frighten, offend or alienate your audience.
When I sell vegetarianism to my audiences, I never ask them to stop eating all meat, dairy and egg products immediately. That would be an unreasonable, not to mention disrespectful, request, and it would most likely kill the sale. Instead, I ask them to replace just two meals or ingredients a week with vegetarian alternatives. Then, when they’ve accomplished that, I ask them to replace two more. And then two more. . . .
I also provide my audiences with all the information and resources they need to make the change. For instance, I usually give out a handout with some suggestions on it: that they replace ice cream with Tofutti or sorbet, for example; or butter (one of the unhealthiest foods around, after all) with healthy olive oil or butter-like “vegan spread”; or meat dishes with vegetarian ones the next time they order Chinese or Indian take-out. I even tell them the exact brand of vegan spread I prefer and where to find it in the supermarket refrigerator section. It’s important to give your audience all the information they need to take the action you desire, because even a slight amount of confusion or uncertainty can kill a sale.
Peter Singer reports about Henry Spira devising a similarly carefully crafted pitch during his demonstrations against the American Museum of Natural History:
The demonstrators carried placards and gave out leaflets describing the experiments. They did not ask people to refuse to go into the museum. That would have put most visitors in a difficult situation, since the visitors had come there, often with their children, looking forward to seeing the museum’s displays. Instead the demonstrators made use of the fact that the museum had no fixed charge. Admission was by donation, but the museum suggested a donation of $3.00. The picketers gave visitors a penny and suggested that they use it as their donation. In that way, the visitors could show in a tangible way their opposition to the experiments, save themselves some money, and still see the museum.
Brilliant. And I love that Spira and his group actually gave the visitors the penny.
Always make it as easy as possible for your customer to take the action you desire.