Impressions Matter

Thinking & writing about belief, behavior, and change

Why you should care how people change their minds


When the presidential election swung into full force last fall, the usual accusations of flip flopping surfaced.

Obama reversed previous promises to make civil liberties a priority, to the point of authorizing unconstitutional wiretaps and indefinite detentions without formal charges. Romney made close to 180 degree turns on abortion and climate change. Both positioned themselves differently on key issues than earlier in their careers, sometimes to their detriment sometimes to their aid.

Some experts even suggested that both candidates embrace and even use it to their advantage.

Changes in attitude and behavior are often much smaller and less noticeable. For most of us, changing our minds doesn’t involve the stakes of a presidential election. But it does involve an interaction between what we believe internally, who we believe ourselves to be, what we believe about the world around us, and how we receive and internalize information and cues.

I wrote last week about how impressions happen when everyone’s looking at the other hand, and that holds true for decision making as well. At lunch a friend and I were talking about his parents’ belief in Creationism and how his mom mentioned for the first time that evolution might be accurate. I wondered how they came to incorporate the idea in their worldview, and what influences / information was responsible for it.

Research shows that when the human brain is faced with contrary information or data, our response is to reject it.

It’s fairly common knowledge that we respond favorably to storytelling, and emotional context setting. But there’s something even more important than storytelling: familiarity and consistency.

For PR, marketing and communications professionals this has a real world application, which can be roughly summed up as being there when it counts, or as Ken Mueller points out,  “Real-Time Marketing is the New Normal. In the past this was often interpreted as a discrete consumer / product interaction, where the goal was to sell when someone needed something. Social media and the web has extended this idea to being there even when customers and potential customers are not actively shopping around.

And that’s the point of being familiar and consistent. Creating head to head combat in someone’s brain isn’t very helpful, because they’re likely going to stick with what they already know. But if they are familiar with you and you are part of their environment, even if you disagree or present contrary information they are more likely to consider the information/input.

I’ll close with a story I overheard about John Deere while traveling in the Midwest last week. Supposedly someone from a small company went to visit John Deere to try and get their business. She was greeted by a polite but unimpressed executive who thanked her, accepted a business card and sent her on her way. Over the course of a couple of years she dropped by whenever she was in town, had a similarly polite interaction and left another business card. One day the phone rang, and when she picked it up was surprised to hear the John Deere executive on the other end, asking if she could deliver a presentation. When she arrived, the executive explained they were looking for a new vendor, listened to her presentation and hired her company on the spot. In surprise, she asked “what made you think of us? I made several trips through and it seemed like you were uninterested.” The executive opened his desk, showed her a drawer that included several of her business cards, and said “Our last vendor stopped being available, I couldn’t get them to return a phone call, and they never checked in. You made a point of doing the opposite, so I already know from experience your company is consistent, and cares about being there when I need you.”

It’s hard to say if the story is true (it could just be a fun anecdote) but it illustrates the importance of being there, and not just when it’s convenient / there is a narrow interaction ready to happen. More brands / organizations could learn from it. For the brands that are already social web savvy, there’s a world of interesting data/information available.

Do you have a story of a time when “being there” made a difference?


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This entry was posted on February 19, 2013 by in data, Impressions, sentiment analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , .
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