Communication at its best is not just the exchange of information. It’s the mastery of getting information through to our audience. To accomplish this, we first need to attract its attention. And then we must convince that audience that what we have to say is worth maintaining an interest.
To communicate with effectiveness we need to develop some skills in the art of persuasion. Unlike manipulation, which is coercing people to do things our way, even though it may not be in their best interest, persuasion is the art of influencing others to do things that are in their best interests and perhaps ours, as well.
Successful people in advertising and sales understand that to sell a product or service, they must focus on its benefits, which can be thought of as solutions to human problems or needs, often psychological ones. For example, toothpaste is not sold simply on the basis of its features—like white, comes in a tube—but rather the benefits the user enjoys, such as a brighter smile that will “win others’ approval” or “attract the opposite sex,” when using a particular brand.
Abraham Maslov developed a hierarchy of needs expressed in his book “Motivation and Personality,” which is still a widely used model in psychology and management training. A diagram of this hierarchy looks like this:
Notice the needs at the top of this pyramid are more abstract and altruistic than those at the base. At the peak of the pyramid is self-actualization, which according to Maslow’s observations; refers to “focusing on becoming the best person that one can possibly strive for in the service of both the self and others.” To give an example, an individual might want to become a skilled physician or an astronaut to serve the greater good.
At the bottom of the pyramid are physiological needs, such as hunger and thirst. According to his theory, all the needs at the lower end of the pyramid must be filled before those at higher levels. In other words, as humans we have the potential to share high ideals, including the desire to help others, but our basic needs for food, water, and shelter must be satisfied before we can implement serving our more selfless objectives.
Whenever you communicate to persuade others that something will be in their best interests, you must appeal to their specific needs. This means you must think about your particular audience. Put yourself in their shoes. Use research: ask your potential audience questions to ascertain their greatest needs. Then ask yourself how your product or service offers a solution in meeting those needs. If you’re starting from scratch, without a product or service in mind, create one that will benefit your audience in terms of serving your clients’ or customers’ psychological needs (and perhaps physiological needs as well). The more exacting, in-depth, and detailed a description you use to address those needs, the more likely you’ll succeed in resonating with others, convincing them that you have an effective solution to their problem(s).
Persuasion becomes even more of an art form when you 1) personalize your message so that your audience can easily relate to it; 2) use a story to illustrate your message; 3) use a demo; 4) present fascinating evidence, and; 5) present you message in a context that’s relevant to your specific audience.
If you combine these strategies with positive, compassionate energy in delivering your message, you’ll not only be a master persuader, you’ll be providing your audience with something that offers a real answer to its deepest needs.