- Fri, February 11 2011
- Filed under: Marketing essentials
When I speak about compelling people to action, I keep coming back to the principle of urgency. It’s one thing to get someone to want to do something—it’s quite another to get someone to do something, now.
Some new research suggests one context when it’s perhaps best to make your issue sound far into the future - and far from urgent: when you are trying to get people to do something they’re likely to resist.
If your coworkers volunteer for a weekend at a local homeless shelter, their evaluations of that task are likely to differ depending on whether you’re asking about the upcoming weekend or a weekend eight months from now. If you are asking them about the upcoming weekend, your coworkers are likely to focus on the concrete costs they will incur if they agree to volunteer. For instance, they may focus on the fact that they won’t have the opportunity to go shopping, watch television, or catch up on sleep due to their volunteering. On the other hand, if you are asking your coworkers about volunteering on a weekend eight months from now, they are much more likely to evaluate the proposition at a much more general level, including how the request relates to their own general values, morals, and ideology. What this translates to is that those considering the request to volunteer months from now are less likely to ask themselves whether they want to do it and more likely to ask themselves whether they should do it (“Is it the right thing to do?”). Realizing that being helpful is consistent with their values, they are more likely to say yes and to follow through with that commitment.
People are more likely to agree to a gas tax that happens four years in the future than one happening this year. And research by Richard Thaler and Shlomo Benartzi has showed they could drastically boost participation rates in 401(k) plans when instead of asking workers to participate in the program immediately, they asked workers to commit to putting a portion of their future salary increases into the plan:
Although this program was successful for many reasons, one central reason is that it effectively shifted workers’ thoughts about the program from the concrete costs associated with it (“I’ll have less money in my paycheck each month.”) to how this program would help them achieve their broader values and goals (“I should do this because it’s important and the right thing to do for my family.”)
Bottom line? If you have a tough call to action, let people put it off to another day. They might just say yes.