The ‘persuasion equation’

Getting from ‘A’ to ‘B’

Any attempt to influence others needs to start by understanding where they’re coming from. How an individual or group currently feels, thinks and acts about the topic you’re trying to change.

If we get this wrong, our message will be ignored, or worse, it’ll widen the divide between them and us.

This was particularly clear in our recent vaccines work but applies more generally.

Influence is moving someone willingly from ‘A’ to ‘B’.

But it needs to start by understanding what’s happening at ‘A’.

This is where the persuasion equation comes in.

The Persuasion Equation





What’s happening to people at their starting point (‘A’) determines the potential for your message to be effective. It can be thought of as a combination Trust, Personal Values and the Cultural Context.

Understanding this will help you appreciate their position and help you shape your influence or comms strategy.

Let’s look at each in turn:

1. Trust

When seeking to influence an audience it’s important to understand their existing level of trust towards you and your message.

We also need to understand who and what they already trust (and don’t) and why. Who are their go-to, trusted sources and credible voices? It’s these that will help us understand why they trust the way they do.

Social reveals what people notice, listen to, or disregard. It shows what they trust enough to share with others, what they seek and need. It helps see the ‘where’, ‘what’, ‘who’ and ‘how’ trust is formed. The way people interact and respond to content reveals how it matters.

Taking the vaccine project as a case study. We saw how different groups arrived ‘at the vaccine issue’ with very different basic positions on trust. For example, the Pro-vaccine group tended to be more trusting, with a basic faith in authority and institutions (government, scientists, large organisations). It shapes their appetite and need for information (less granular but from the ‘right’ people), the channels they look to (mainstream media), what they would reject and why.

These were in direct opposition to the Anti-vaccine group, who have an innate scepticism and reject all that the Pro group hold dear.

 2. Values

The next component in our equation is Personal Values.

This is our moral compass, intrinsic beliefs, and our sense of right and wrong. Unpicking the different value systems among your audiences helps you understand and navigate your relationships with them. It helps you know what matters on a deep, personal level and the causes you can help them stand for.

Social allows a lens into these often quite nebulous value concepts. It shows us why they matter, the issues they relate to, the emotions they stir and how malleable or not they are. This points to the buttons to press to motivate and convince, and the ones to avoid.

The vaccine debate revealed underlying, basic values around civic duties vs. personal rights that are deeply held and, for many, non-negotiable. An approach that breaks these rules will lose the support of groups and fail to influence uptake.

3. Context

The final part of the equation is the cultural context in which people live.

These are the broader issues that matter, things that accumulate over time, and that are influenced by the world around us. It’s the stories we’re told and the experiences we have.

Unpacking the social dynamics, and the cultural and historic backdrop affecting your audience, helps us interpret the underlying drivers of opinion, emotion and behaviour.

Social reveals the wider subjects or events that become attached to topics we’re interested in – they form an essential part of the comments and stories people share.

The vaccine debate is strongly influenced by what came before (e.g. social fragmentation, Brexit, historic conflicts and regimes), and what has been happening this year (e.g. the US election, social unrest and demonstrations).

Unlocking the potential

If we’re looking to influence the behaviours of others, to help them willingly move from ‘A’ to ‘B’, we need to know where to start.

Social data can help. When analysed in the right way, it can give you a deep understanding of each part of the equation (trust, values, context). It will show you how they operate in your market and for your audiences. It will reveal the foundations of what you’ll need to influence people.

If you’d like to know more about how to create influence, then please get in touch.


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