Anchoring and other fussy important considerations

What goes first?

Second? Last? (Never?)


I’ve known Ken O’Quinn, Writing with Clarity, for centuries.

We met through IABC (the International Association of Business Communicators).

Ken’s from Portland, Maine (incredible food town, if you get the chance). I live in Rhode Island. All the IABC meetings were around Boston, so we met in the middle, tired but not exhausted.

Ken’s worth listening to. He has clients like Facebook, Chevron, John Deere. He works with CEOs, so they don’t trip over their blah-blah-blah tongues. And his consulting has always been international, extending recently to Singapore and other Far East destinations.

I admire Ken’s panache. Here’s his cut line: “Turn corporate sludge into focused, compelling writing.” He was the first (male) consultant I knew who discarded the stupid tie (in the mid-1990s; ignore the photo). He was working heavily with high tech at that time. None of his clients wore ties. So, wisely….

Ken O’Quinn wrote me recently to ask: “I’m curious how you suggest that people arrange their information in, let’s say, a one-page letter or email when they are trying to advocate a position.”

Here’s what I said to Ken….

I’ve got a few things running around inside my head when I lay out a one-pager or an email.

One is anchoring.

I know whatever I say first can sway the argument. Do I talk about the problem first? Do I talk about the solution first? Do I flatter the reader first? (Ding! Ding! Ding!)

Another is “get their attention,” as the orthodox AIDA formula prescribes.

If you watch commercial TV or sponsored YouTube, you know all about AIDA. You’ve been the unwitting (probably unwilling) victim of AIDA all your life. Yes, sorry to say, as a consumer, you are one of Pavlov’s dogs. Me, too, by the way. (It’s a curable stimulus/response issue.)

Advertisers will do ANYTHING (what’s legal, anyway; or at least mostly legal; actually, know what? they don’t give a hoot as long as they can get away with it) to get you to STOP doing whatever you ARE doing right now in your daily life and INSTEAD pay attention to their offer … which will always be something fabulous like a better detergent or a new drug that has more side effects than Jupiter has moons (63).

Talking to Ken O’Quinn: Another consideration is from neuroscience ~ where I learned that people make a basic decision in favor or against within a couple of seconds … so I ponder how I’ll use the first 2-3 seconds of someone’s attention to nudge them in the direction I hope they’ll go.

Triggers (not the horse)

Then [I’m still talking to Ken] I know, too, that there are the usual emotional triggers I can play with: anger, fear, hope, so on.

I pack those into my nose cone.

What comes first matters a lot. What comes last matters itsy-bitsy, in terms of response. [Unsure? Review the article on “anchoring.”]

And then there are the “identity” hooks, based on the research of Dr.s Jen Shang and Adrian Sargeant.

I ask myself, “Will what I am at this moment writing connect with the 2 or 3 or 6 or 7 (or a dozen even) different identities that might reasonably comprise a single person’s sense of self?”

Are they reading my words and thinking, “Yes! That’s me!”

Are they thinking:

“This fits into my circle, my community, my nationality, my state (US) or provincial (Canada) identification, my political profile, my hopes. Is it social proof from people I admire and hope to emulate? Does this fit well into how I was raised? Is there a synthetic family like college that requires my attention and participation?”

Am I connecting with their HIPSTER identity? Their HUMANITY identity? Their WARRIOR identity? Their GROUP identity? … and so many more.

Not recommended, Ken

The one thing I do NOT recommend is arranging your information/argument logically, marching point by point toward a reasonable conclusion.

Logic is for debates and essays and the classroom.

It’s not for the real world.

In the bump and grind of fundraising and advocacy (the thing you specifically asked about), you QUICKLY give prospective donors and volunteers and supporters and fellow-travelers and movement-joiners important URGENT jobs to do.

And you do that repeatedly: at the TOP, in the MIDDLE, at the END of whatever it is you’re saying (email, social media post, direct mail, website) … if you HOPE to maximize response.

Don’t be subtle: bottom line.

My very, very best….

~ tom

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