Put the Mind Into Marketing

By: Newton Holt

The seven "Rs" of changing people's minds.

Marketing is not about selling. Marketing is about changing behavior, especially in the association and nonprofit world.

More specifically, marketing is about changing minds. If you have members (which you do), you've already succeeded in changing minds. You've made someone make the shift from "this association membership isn't valuable to me" to "this association can help me with my career." But how did you do that? Whether you know it or not, you did it through understanding, at least on a fundamental level, the field of study called behavioral science.

Behavioral science is just as important to effective marketing as basic math is to complex accounting. Fortunately, you don't have to be a neuroscientist or sociologist to use the lessons that behavioral science teaches us about human behavior and compelling customers to act. One particular resource that is salient and useful for the association marketer is Changing Minds: The Art and Science of Changing Our Own and Other People's Minds, by Howard Gardner.

Gardner, a professor at Harvard University, explains how to change the minds of others, whether the change is simple or complex. His theory is based on seven "levers" of mind change (all conveniently beginning with the letter "R"):

  • Reason. Appeal to one's intellect through the use of "sheer logic, analogies, or the use of taxonomies."
  • Research. Use compelling data to forge an argument. Gardner writes that research need not be formal; "it need only entail the identification of relevant cases and a judgment about whether they warrant a change of mind."
  • Resonance. Use stories and examples that "feel" right and hit home with your audience. Look, for example, at the myriad politicians who use their stories of growing up poor to make their messages resonate with those in similar situations. Like them or not, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were masters of resonance.
  • Representational redescription. Tell your story in a variety of ways so that it resonates with a variety of audiences. Writes Gardner, "A change of mind becomes convincing to the extent that it lends itself to representation in a number of different forms." In other words, how can you best tailor your message to a specific audience? What method will resonate best with a particular group of people? One size does not fit all.
  • Resources and rewards. Convince the audience that the use of their resources will result in reward (in the case of associations, you need to convince members that their dues dollars are worth it). Writes Gardner, this is best accomplished through using the other "Rs"; they do not operate in isolation. Rather, the seven Rs work together as a system. So if you've employed the other Rs effectively, people are more likely to give of their resources to obtain a greater reward.
  • Real-world events. Use what is actually going on to illustrate your argument rather than a solitary, vacuum-packed value proposition. This plays into reason and resonance, especially. Be a news junkie and soak up everything you can about the state of your industry and the state of the world.
  • Resistance. Identify the factors that may cause others to resist your efforts and find ways to counteract them—by using the other six Rs, naturally.

Newton Holt is a former senior editor of Associations Now and a freelance writer, editor, and strategist. Email: [email protected]

For a full interview with Howard Gardner on the art and science of changing minds, see "Human Potential: Shift—The Science of Changing Minds," Executive Update, May 2004.