Influence: Art or Science?

Moving an audience to think or act in a certain manner is, of course, easier said than done. Massive marketing and advertising teams have flubbed big business campaigns even with copious amounts of consumer research or immensely innovative creative teams.

We see it all too often — the insurance giant whose brilliantly cinematic advertisement elicits all the wrong emotions from its audience, or the fast food chain whose advertisements are hilarious to all the wrong audience members. In the sphere of selling ideas, even the most masterfully prepared speeches can fail to stir an audience, just as even the most ground-breaking research can fall on deaf ears.

It’s not surprising that so many communications messages fail. Consumers are bombarded with information, taglines, jingles, images and graphics so constantly that they have learned simply not to acknowledge them. In fact, “banner blindness,” which affects roughly 86% of consumers, has started to spread to social media. Recent reports show only 20% of branded Facebook content elicits any sort of emotional response. To consumers’ exacting minds, these messages are just another ticking clock or clicking keyboard to be tuned out.

So how do we, as communicators, influence them? Are successful communicators artists in the way they affect consumers, or scientists?

Communicators must aim to reach in order to influence. A message must first reach an audience, and then each individual member of it in order to make an impact. The former requires the precision, the analysis and the method of science, while the latter requires the creativity, the insight and the complexity of art.

So it comes as no surprise that the answer to the exhausted “art vs. science” debate on strategic communications is unequivocally both. And though this question may be a stale one, it’s still crucial in composing a message that will sway an audience and impact them in a meaningful way.

It can be easy for companies and communicating groups to get caught up in one aspect of communication, even when they know fully well that the best messages require aspects of both art and science. To be successful in influencing an otherwise-impervious audience, you need a strong team of complementary talents — the “scientists” to pinpoint your audience and the “artists” to truly touch their hearts and minds. After all, the most beautifully constructed messages will never reach anyone without research. And even if your message does reach a million people, there is no inspiration to act without vision and intuition.

Influence, therefore, lies at the intersection of the two.

In order for a communicating group to spend its time, money and manpower most effectively, the two should form a constant feedback loop. Audience analysis forms the strategic foundation on which the creative plan can be built. Once these campaigns reach audiences, they must be constantly measured to continue the feedback loop to influence and improve future messages.

Without this feedback loop and the give and take of both art and science in communications, copious amounts of consumer research and immensely innovative creative teams can and do go to waste. Each is rendered useless without the other. Successful communicators are those with the ability to connect the dots between the analytics and the creative insights — the perfect blend of art and science that results in meaningful influence.

    Three tips for striking the right balance:

  1. Give your creative team direction with a specific, research-based brief.

  2. Do your follow-up research to make sure your message is reaching the right people in the right ways. Don’t be afraid to tweak and improve your strategy.

  3. Leverage the power of the creative visionaries — they are the key to developing a story that leaves a lasting impact.

Sara Naatz, Fellow, H+K Strategies Belgium

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