Are Democrats just bad at communication?
Consider all the hand-wringing after the release of the Mueller Report. There were 448 pages of documented evidence of shady dealings by a presidential candidate and his minions before and after the 2016 election and the 2017 inauguration.
Before and after its release, Democrats in Congress, on talk shows, and in the press touted the findings of the Mueller Report virtually non-stop for nearly two years.
And the president’s approval ratings went from approximately 42% before the release of the report to approximately 42% afterward.
Does this mean that Democrats’ messaging about the contents of the Mueller Report was poor communication?
There was a great deal of Democratic eloquence that was much appreciated by other Democrats. But that eloquence went unheard and/or unappreciated by just about everyone else.
If Democrats’ intent was to sway the opinions of people who were not Democrats, then the messaging was ineffective. Not necessarily bad. Just ineffective.
Well, if we divide the world of non-Democrats into two groups–Republicans and Independents–the messaging of the Democrats may have been eloquent but it was poorly constructed and targeted to reach those non-Democrat audiences.
Republicans tend not to be interested in anything Democrats have to say because Democrat messaging typically revolves around how wrong Republicans are. And not just wrong, but often evil, mean-spirited, uninformed, misled, immoral, and an existential threat to the founding principles of American democracy.
Who wants to pay attention to attacks on their character?
Independents tend not to be interested in anything Democrats have to say because Independents are just not very interested in politics, and especially not partisan politics (except when it smacks of scandal or World Wrestling Federation-style entertainment).
So, how could Democrats communicate their messages to these audiences? Here are three research-based* ways to reach people who just aren’t interested.
1. Repetition of Short Simple Phrases. Even when you’re not paying attention, things that are repeated over and over seep into your awareness. Once you’ve heard “Crooked Hillary” for the 1000th time, the words start to seem like they belong together.
“Most corrupt president in history” was a frequently repeated phrase at the most recent Democratic presidential debate. That might be a little too wordy and polysyllabic for maximum effectiveness, but the repetition is on the right track.
Repeated showings of video clips with repetitive messages like this one can also be effective, especially if captioned with an easily remembered phrase such as “He reaps what he sows.”
2. Emotionally Charged Images. Logic may be the favorite persuasive tool of intellectuals, but logical arguments never win the opposing side’s hearts. This strategy also works best when combined with repetition and short, memorable phrases.
For instance, imagine the power of a photograph of one or more of the children who were separated from their parents at the southern border and held in cages? Imagine it shown with a caption of “Who locks up innocent children?”
Or a photo of a downcast Kurdish family in the ruins of their home with a caption of “Who abandons their allies?”
3. In-Group Tribal Spokespeople. Republicans don’t listen to Democrats, but they do listen to Republicans or people they believe speak for their view of the world. This makes Mitt Romney a potentially powerful figure in American politics as the year 2019 comes to a close.
Mitt may not speak to or for everyone, but thanks to the magic of videotape, other prominent Republicans can be used to deliver important messages to Republicans. One example is this clip of Senator Lindsey Graham describing what he considers an impeachable offense.
Can Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh be moved to speak truth to power, or about it? Stay tuned.
* If you’re interested in the research on which these suggestions are based, feel free to get in touch.
We hear a lot about political polarization these days. Editorial pages and pundits and Uncle Fred on his Thanksgiving Day soapbox express quite a bit of wishing that our politicians would pay more attention to the reasonable, norms-loving moderates in the middle.
But is there anybody there?
In his book, The Partisan Sort: How Liberals Became Democrats and Conservatives Became Republicans (2009, U of Chicago Press) Matt Levendusky suggests that almost everyone has chosen up sides.
To make it easier for inattentive, unstudious, and busy-with-other-stuff normal folks to figure out which party more closely aligns with their worldview, party leaders have redefined and amplified the differences between what it means to be Republican and Democrat.
And, especially lately, they’ve also implied that the opposing party is an existential threat to “our” way of life.
Now, before you go “so I guess that means people should be more attentive and studious about politics,” there’s some convincing research suggesting that the more you pay attention to politics, the more partisan you get.* So maybe that’s been happening too.
Either way, while our sentiments may make us wish for a return to a comforting centrist sensibility in our national politics, it looks like we’re running short on centrists to lead that return.
The following chart (Figure 1) was constructed using data from the American National Election Survey (ANES). It shows that, where politics are concerned, things are no longer normal.
As can be seen in Figure 1, the values for political party identification exhibited almost a perfect reverse of a normal distribution.
This may have been a function of the survey question, which asked respondents to identify themselves as one of the following: “Strong Democrat,” “Not Strong Democrat,” “Lean Democrat,” “Independent/other/undecided,” “Lean Republican,” “Not Strong Republican,” or “Strong Republican.”
Apparently, partisans did not seem to want to characterize themselves as “Not Strong.”
And hardly anyone was willing to be “Undecided.”
* Check out the work of Markus Prior
One of the problems with being the smartest person in the room is that you learn to expect that no one else in the room has anything of value to add, and that <sigh> you have to expend soooo much energy getting those people who keep speaking up to just stop talking and listen to you and understand that your way is the right way.
I’ve been the smartest person in the room enough times to appreciate that.
But one of the other problems with being the smartest person in the room is your automatic response to treat other people’s ideas and thoughts as inferior competitors to your own—to be ignored, or shouted down, or rebutted—instead of contributions that just might add some value.
The unfortunate result is that you never get the benefit of that potential added value. You are condemned to produce work that is only as good as what you can envision yourself—or would be that good if only everyone else would cooperate.
And you never get to experience producing work that is better than you could have imagined if you hadn’t limited yourself to being the only valid source of vision and ideas and thoughts.
I still find myself in situations where I feel like I’m the smartest person in the room. (As a college professor teaching undergraduates, sometimes it feels as though I’m the only awake person in the room.)
But I’ve learned a few things in recent years, and they were not all easy lessons.
Sometimes I’m not the smartest person in the room. (Statistically not likely, but at least once in a hundred rooms it is probably true.)
Even when I am the smartest person in the room, several people in the room probably know more about some things than I do. (Contemporary music fans and Facebook users come to mind immediately.)
As smart as I am, I don’t have eyes in the back of my head, or ten feet in front of me, or around the next corner. I can’t see how I am appearing to others, or hear whether I am making sense to them based on their experience and play. I can’t see what they are seeing with their eyes or from their points of view.
While I may be extremely, incomparably, brilliantly smart, my intelligence does not cancel out the value and wisdom carried by everyone else. A three-year-old toddler knows more about some things than I do. I have blind spots. I also have “I didn’t consider that” spots.
I have many really, really smart ideas. They might, in fact, be better than all the individual ideas of everyone else in the room. And if developing the best ideas were an individual competition, mine might win.
But most work projects—and most human interactions (and most lives)—are not individual competitions. Every single one of my really, really smart ideas can probably be made better by adding value from other people’s ideas. Or to them.
Of course, I can’t envision it, because I’m only as smart as I am. If I were smarter, I might be able to see that, working together, we can create something better and greater than any of us can envision. Even the smartest person in the room.
Marketing 101: To the Navel and Beyond
Whether you’re a for-profit business, a not-for-profit service provider, or a not-making-enough-profit individual, it’s a good idea to do a frequent review of your fundamental marketing objectives and your plans for achieving them.
I’m a fundamentalist at heart. Except when it comes to religion, I think learning and applying fundamental principles on a consistent basis is the surest route to the Promised Land.
(But let’s leave religion alone for now. It presents some interesting marketing challenges, and we can get into a discussion of the difference between fundamentalism and dogmatism, but let’s save it for another time.)
If we’re going to take the fundamentalist approach, let’s start with a basic definition of “the Marketing Concept.” For an individual or organization, it means developing your products and services (including your distribution, pricing and promotion strategies for those products and services) to satisfy the needs and wants of targeted customers as well as your own needs and wants.
The difficulty with fundamentalism is that the fundamentals are so, well…fundamental. They’re so basic that, like the concrete foundation of a building, they can get obscured by all the stuff we pile on top.
Goal #1: Survive and Thrive
To provide the best products and services for its customers and stakeholders, an organization first has to exist. And to provide livable wages and a nurturing environment for its staff members, it must continue to exist.
Customer focus is important, but an organization cannot long provide value to customers if its business plan, or lack thereof, involves killing itself and its staff members.
Fundamental #1: Our own wants and needs
Many of my colleagues and clients (mostly in the fields of healthcare and higher education) complain that, when it comes to developing marketing plans, a lot of the leadership decision-makers they work with never get beyond examining their own navels.
I’m not sure they’re even getting that far.
Most often, they’re distracted by their own products or services. They focus on “how can we sell this?” instead of “what does the organization want and need, and how can this new [thing, idea, direction] help us achieve our long-term objectives?”
Or they’re distracted by some new development in the marketplace: a new technology, a new government regulation, a new social media tool, a new competitor. And their response addresses the immediate opportunity or threat without addressing fundamental wants and needs.
Long vs Short
The problem often comes down to a conflict between short-term gain and long-term objectives. Unless an organization’s long-term objectives—those fundamental wants and needs—are clearly defined and consistently revisited, too many decisions will be made strictly on the basis of short-term gain under the assumption that any gain must be beneficial.
Firing half your staff will reduce costs and increase profits on a short-term basis, but it may not be a good decision in the long-term. For a hospital or a community college, there might be short-term gains achieved by adding a new 256-slice CT scanner to compete against that hospital in the next town, or building new dorms to compete against four-year colleges. But would those be the best capital investments if Fundamental #1 was consulted first?
Maybe so. But maybe no.
The Navel Battle
Marketing, according to the American Marketing Association, is all about developing mutually satisfying exchange relationships with customers. Most marketers focus most of their attention on learning all they can about how to satisfy their chosen customers, and rightly so. But many forget that adverb: “mutually.”
The more fully the exchange relationship satisfies both sides, the more successful it will be. Marketers who do not fully appreciate their own wants and needs can only achieve success by accident, and accidents do not tend to last very long.
It is tempting for leaders to insist their staff members focus on satisfying all their customers’ needs, but unless the organization addresses its own needs (and those of its staff members), no one will be satisfied in the long run.
You’ve improved your patient-care processes and outcomes but you’re still not happy with your patient satisfaction scores. And now, with CMS reimbursements increasingly tied to those scores, the pressure is rising to raise them.
Fortunately, the fields of psychology and behavioral economics may offer some easy-to-implement solutions to improve patient satisfaction scores both coming and going.
Start at the beginning
People’s memories are selective. They remember the beginnings and endings of things far more vividly and intensely than the middles.
The beginnings are particularly important, because they set up the patient’s expectations for everything that is to follow. It’s called “affect priming.”
If the beginning is stressful and unpleasant, the rest of the stay will have much repair work to do. Therefore, it is best to address patient satisfaction from the very beginning—the patient’s arrival at the hospital.
Address the parking situation: Worrying about finding a place to park is an issue that affects patients as well as their families. A free valet parking service can remove this worry and help create a caring first impression.
Careful maintenance of parking lots—to make them easily accessible, clean and safe— and liberal parking validation policies will also address this important opportunity to make a good first impression.
Greet everyone with a “Hello, can I help you?” Even people who spend a lot of time visiting hospitals can have a hard time finding their way around. Making every visitor feel welcomed and taken care of must become everyone’s priority.
Specially trained volunteers and/or dedicated staff “Welcome Ambassadors” can make a real difference in visitors’ experience.
Add some branded swag to the intake and admission process: In addition to making people feel welcome, giving them some branded items at intake can help them feel a stronger and more positive connection to you.
The act of accepting the gift of a branded pen (and/or other items such as tote-bags, socks, tee-shirts, baseball hats etc.) creates a sense of endorsement and mutual regard on the part of a patient. (It also helps if the intake and admission process is streamlined and friendly, of course!)
Your Last Chance
Research by Daniel Kahnman and Donald Redelmeier1 has shown the power of happier endings. They found that adding a period of greater comfort to the end of a painful experience influenced subjects to remember their pain levels as less intense.
Even when they made the overall unpleasant experience longer, ending it more pleasantly made the whole experience seem more pleasant.
The takeaway from this research is simple: Making the last few hours of a hospital stay more pleasant can change a patient’s lasting impression of the entire stay.
Here are a few last-day strategies that can pay big patient-satisfaction dividends:
Special last day meals: Food is always one of the most memorable (and not always pleasant) things about a hospital stay. Special meal treats on the last day before discharge, like an extra-specially made desert, can help make patients feel as though they have been treated with special care.
Special last day farewells: It is easy for a patient to feel anonymous, especially in a large institution like a hospital. Post the discharge schedule at all unit stations, and make it a priority for all members of every shift – and every discipline, including support and non-clinical personnel – to review the list and stop in to offer some “goodbye” best wishes.
The 30 seconds it will take will yield long-lasting and highly positive memories for the patient—and for your staff members as well.
Special last day treats and gifts: The same discharge schedule can be used as a distribution schedule for more branded swag items like those mentioned above in association with intake.
Tote bags are especially handy at discharge, especially if they are needed to carry some parting gifts—all carrying your hospital’s logo imprint, of course. Specially branded cookies and cupcakes (decorated with your logo as icing) can also help patients leave with good memories of their stay.
Health care includes showing you care
We’ve all seen studies that show that patients who have good communications with their care-givers rate the quality of care they receive higher. That’s another area worth focusing on for raising patient satisfaction scores (and certainly worth a few future posts).
Good communication makes for good relationships, and both circle back to the “affect priming” mentioned at the beginning of this post. If you show people you care about them on Day One, they will feel more cared about through their entire stay (and afterward, when they answer those HCAHPS survey questions).
You show you care by being interested—genuinely interested—in how they feel and what they have to say. Which means that it’s not enough to start off that first contact with, “Hello, can I help you?”
You also need to listen to what comes next.
Kahneman, Daniel; Frederickson, Barbara L.; Schreiber, Charles A. & Redelmeier, Donald A. (1993) When more pain is preferred to less: Adding a better end. Psychological Science, 4(6), pp. 401-405
Redelmeier, Donald A. & Kahneman, Daniel (1996) Patients’ memories of painful medical treatments: real-time and retrospective evaluations of two minimally invasive procedures. Pain, 66(1), pp. 3-8
How good are you at quotation punctuation?
Everyone who writes news releases for a living knows the value of quotations.
But surprisingly few people graduating from college today can actually punctuate sentences with quotations in them.
Here are 10 punctuation challenges. A pro should be able to get all 10 correct.
(1) im proud to be an american citizen said afrim defiantly
(2) our company was founded on the principles of quality and value he said
(3) what do you mean said Johnson raising an eyebrow
(4) responding to the question CEO robert johnson said theres no evidence linking my company to those accidents
(5) you look like you like pizza said luigi you came to the right place
(6) the only difference between my generic product and theirs said johnson is the name on the label
(7) i want you to read the raven a poem by edgar allen poe said the professor
(8) the professor turned suddenly and said I want to make sure you read the raven
(9) have any of you ever read the raven he asked
(10) in a long quotation said professor gans find a way to let the reader know who is speaking as early as possible the professor drank some amber liquid from a flask he had hidden in his pocket and continued no later than the end of the first sentence he said
How did you do?
To download the quiz and answers in pdf form, click here.
Risk Communication Can Be Risky
Environmental Safety and Public Health Policy-Makers Often Make Matters Worse
Communication of science-based information to the general public…particularly health-related information…is a well-studied field.
This may be because it is so often done so poorly.
Many public behavior interventions, especially those based on intuition, “common sense,” political persuasion or religious belief, tend to focus on presenting a rational, logical argument for complying with a specific behavioral request.
Researcher Timothy D. Wilson cites “D.A.R.E.” and “Scared Straight” interventions…famous and widely adopted programs intended to reduce crime and drug use among young people…as examples of programs that “make perfect sense, but… are perfectly wrong, doing more harm than good. It is no exaggeration to say that commonsense interventions [such as these] have prolonged stress, raised the crime rate, increased drug use, made people unhappy, and even hastened their deaths.” (Source: Wilson, 2011, Redirect: The surprising new science of psychological change. New York: Little, Brown & Co.)
Unfortunately, this “boomerang effect” is too common in public policy communications. Public policy communicators would do well to read the government’s own manual on risk communication, which ought to be stapled to every keyboard in every PR department in every science, health and environmental organization in the English-speaking world.
Risk Is Attractive
Nike’s 5-minute animated World Cup commercial urges its audience to “Risk Everything,” basically because the safe route is boring. And clearly, there are a lot of risk-seekers out there.
While the animation and execution are exquisite, the storyline is predictable to the nth degree—but who cares? As an exercise in appealing to its targeted demographic: GOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLL!
The product shots are also very appealing. These are not the soccer cleats I wore in high school, and the shirts and shorts look as though world-cup-worthy pectorals, abs and glutes are included at no extra charge.
All this being said, the spot ought to be worrisome to conservatives, control freaks (including many sports coaches) and public health advocates. The reason it should be worrisome is not because of the spot’s likely influence on an easily-manipulated demographic—actually, soccer players are a rather stubborn lot. This spot is not going to change them in any way except maybe to increase their motivation to buy another pair of cleats.
No, the scarier scenario is that the spot is an accurate reflection of the risk-seeking ethos of an entire generation. In the spot’s storyline, risking everything is the only way to beat the practiced but predictable perfection of the clones (who could also be the minions of the Matrix, or the Man, or your parents).
But in real life, the associated behaviors are:
- Going for the low-percentage spectacular dunk rather than the safe but boring lay-up
- Riding the motorcycle without the helmet
- Not buckling those seat belts
- Not vaccinating your kids
- Not stopping to unroll that Trojan
- Not settling for the status quo.
Small wonder so many campaigns aiming to reduce risky behaviors actually serve to increase them. Maybe the control freaks and health communicators would do better if they positioned those undesired behaviors as something other than risky.
How about stupid? Or shameful? Or embarrassing?
As Nike is trying to tell them, risky is just too attractive.
A favorite breakfast spot
Local historians claim that Henry Hudson stopped here while looking for China. Not likely he mistook Stockport for his destination. But he might have had breakfast here too.
The railroad tracks in the foreground belong to Amtrak’s Hudson River line, mentioned in Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind.” Just out of camera range were a couple of blue herons hunting for fish in the shallows at the river’s edge.
Data Driven Marketing
Are we making our choices and decisions based on our own objective, rational, informed analysis of each situation?
Most of the time, probably not.
Here are links to a couple of interesting Ad Age articles that show what some marketers are paying attention to.
A case for responsive web design
In this article by Patrick Moorhead, shoppers who like to consult their smart phones about buying decisions are identified as more valuable than those who do their buying-decision-research at their desktops. BUT… not so much better as to suggest ignoring those desk-jockeys. Enter the responsive web site! (Like this one, for instance.)
All facts are not created equal
Are you driven by data? Or are you driven crazy by data? In this Kate Kaye interview with historian-turned-data-cruncher Kevin Lyons, it becomes clear that the ability to gather and present data is not sufficient to provide real value. Not when dealing with an exponential expansion of available data. The trick is finding the relevant data amongst all the irrelevancies and not-quite-relevancies. (Sounds like there is a lot of opportunity to fudge those numbers. Look for an up-coming post on “Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics.”)