Who are many CEOs and sales executives most similar to?
a) Al Gore
b) Bob Kerry
c) Bob Dole
The answer is all of the above. The reason is that most CEOs and sales executives, like unsuccessful political candidates, present litanies of facts, figures, and rational reasoning to try to persuade people, and they overlook (or dismiss) the power of emotions.
They rely on dispassionate logic. Yet, neuroscientists and psychologists have proven that the more “rational” a message, the less likely it is to trigger the emotional circuits in our brains that activate behavior and decisions.
The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of a Nation by psychologist and political scientist Dr. Drew Westen is a fascinating read about the science and practice of persuasion in American politics, particularly about how the Democrats, with the exception of Bill Clinton, have blown it so many times by relying on dispassionate reasoning and policy discussions rather than connecting with people on an emotional level.
People decide by how they feel about you. (Or your company or party.) Republicans and many consumer products marketers are masters at this; most Democrats, business-to-business and professional services are not.
Aside from being a political junkie from a communication strategy perspective, I found the book interesting because the principles of political persuasion are the same for business, and are becoming even more relevant in our video, podcasting, blogging world. Most companies obsessively talk about their products, capabilities, roadmaps, strategy du jour ( Six Sigma, anyone?), and obvious trends (“we’re all about helping customers reduce risk and cut costs.”). But they fail to first connect with people, be they customers or employees, in an emotional way that engenders feelings of competency, trust, and liking.
In my book Beyond Buzz, chapter 3 (“Make Meaning Not Buzz”) explores why emotion is the superhighway to making meaning and understanding. Westen’s exploration of scientific research goes much deeper in showing why the mind is hardwired to tune into emotionally compelling appeals vs. rational reasons, and offers strategies on how to appeal to that neural network of often unconscious decision making.
Here are some takeaways from the book that I found especially interesting for those of us in in business.
On getting attention
“We do not pay attention to arguments unless they engender our interest, enthusiasm, fear, anger or contempt. We are not moved by leaders with whom we do not feel an emotional resonance.”
On driving behavior
“Emotion is one of the most potent sources of motivation that drives human behavior. It is no accident that the words motivation and emotion share the same Latin root, movere, which means to move.”
Thinking beyond the message itself
“The implications of these findings suggest that the choice of words, images, wounds, music, backdrop, tone of voice and a host of other factors is as likely to be as significant to the electoral success of a campaign as content.”
The right feelings vs. the best argument
“As decades of survey research demonstrate, people are driven in the voting booth by their feelings, and these feelings reflect the extent to which they believe a party of candidate is attending to their interests and values.”
“The data form political science is crystal clear: people vote for the candidate who elicits the right feelings, not the candidate who presents the best argument
Beware messaging by focus group
“Virtually every word that came out of his mouth [Gore, 200 presidential campaign] had been market-tested using focus groups and hand-dials indicating when listeners liked and didn’t like what he ways saying in practice debates. Unfortunately, the more his words seemed market-tested, the less genuine they seemed. And the less genuine he seemed, the less likable
The appeal of being clear
“Political scientist Larry Bartels found, as expected, that voters prefer candidates whose values and policies match their own preferences. But he also found that voters prefer candidates who are clear on what they believe, even if it is not what they believe.”
4 questions that matter in deciding
“Voters tend to ask four questions that determine who they will vote for…Candidates who focus their campaigns on the top of this hierarchy and work their way down generally win.
- How do I feel about the candidate’s party and its principles?
- How does this candidate make me feel?
- How do I feel about this candidate’s personal characteristics, particularly his or her integrity, leadership, and compassion?
- How do I feel about this candidate’s stands on issues that matter to me?
Now, take a look at the sales deck your sales reps are using, the speech your CEO recently gave to employees or partners, the marketing messaging “playbook,” the “look and feel” of your company’s PowerPoint style .
- How do they make people feel about your company?
- Do they tell a compelling story in words and images – or are they a rationale laundry list of capabilities, products, competitive advantages and other dispassionate facts and figures?
- Do people like telling your story? Or are they dispassionate and not genuinely engaged with the ideas?