Arguments and outcomes

The purpose of marketing is to cause change. If we’re trying to build a movement, raise money for a non-profit, sell a product, change lifestyles, build community–these are all marketing activities that exist to change the way people act.

The project usually begins with clarity. The cause is just, the harm is real, the product is better. The work is worth doing, there’s an urgent need for change, it’s real.

But sometimes, the original arguments, as valid as they are, don’t work. In fact, they rarely do. People don’t all line up to donate or work out or sign up from the very start. You can put in the energy to have your pitch get heard, but the early ones often fall flat. It’s only as the arguments become more clear, or change, that they begin to resonate.

And yet we can get stuck with a certain orthodoxy. An early argument can become the only argument. The story that the group tells from the start is the right one, and anything else is a disappointing compromise, even if it leads to the action you sought in the first place.

In general, there are three things that cause people to change their actions:

  • Status roles
  • Affiliation
  • Convenience

Status roles involve whether this action will move someone up or down in the estimation of their peers or competitors.

Affiliation is related to status, but more specific. It’s “people like us do things like this.” In the words of the Rolling Stones: He can’t be a man because he doesn’t smoke, the same cigarettes as me.

And convenience is the hallmark of a semi-lazy decision–it’s just easier.

Using these three drivers, you can look at the spread of helmets in the NHL, or electric cars in California or Nike sneakers everywhere. We can see it in the decline in smoking in some communities, or the rise of a popular style of music as well.

The originators of these and other ideas didn’t begin with status, affiliation or convenience, but that’s what ended up working.