Ideas that Mobilize

A few months back I wrote a post entitled Ideas that Sell:  Does Thought Leadership Really Drive Revenue? Now, I’m curious about another idea-related question. Can thought leadership really drive action? Why do some ideas result only in talk? What distinguishes ideas that mobilize from those that don’t?

I know that different ideas serve different purposes. Some inform. Others inspire. Some do both. But in a perfect world, ideas have the power to change us – i.e., they help us think in new ways and adopt new behaviors.

Unfortunately, we’ve all seen good ideas disappear without effecting change. Sometimes this happens because an idea isn’t properly supported (i.e., there’s insufficient time or funding, the idea lacks sponsorship, there’s no call-to-action or the required action is confusing). Other times ideas die because of irrational forces such as fear and inertia. In many cases, the result is wasted opportunity.

For B2B marketers – especially those of us who work in sectors such as healthcare and financial services where consumers are increasingly responsible for managing their own risks and funding their own decisions – the price of ideas that fail to mobilize is particularly high. We’ve spent a decade educating opinion leaders on key issues – i.e., credit card/consumer debt, retirement savings shortfalls, the obesity epidemic, the importance of early detection, low rates of drug compliance. But, widespread behavior change has been slow and uneven.

There’s a temptation (which I fall prey to at times) to think that more effort = more action. “If I just worked harder and spoke more forcefully,” we tell ourselves, “I’d see more action.” But that’s not always the case. We live in a post-marketing world – i.e., we’re long on messages (and, in some cases, effort), but we’re still short on progress.

In response, there have been several recent and notable books on change. Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, Switch, for example, focuses specifically on “how to change things when change is hard.” Other books I’ve read recently on change include John Kotter’s Leading Change and Our Iceberg is Melting, Mark Earl’s Herd and Jonah Lehrer’s How we Decide.

While each of these authors has his/her own point-of-view on change and behavior, there are certain common threads. Among them:

  • Get the end-customer involved/engaged. By reaching out directly to the end-customer (through conversations, contests, forums), you achieve two goals – i.e., you capture his/her attention and you help him/her self-identify as a “change agent.”
  • Paint a clear, memorable picture of the future. Help customers understand where you’re taking them and feel that it’s worth the effort.
  • Emphasize bright spots. Identify successes. Communicate them broadly – and replicate them wherever possible.
  • Make action easy (and/or inaction hard). Create a clear call-to-action and simple (if possible automatic) opt-in features that make action the default.
  • Don’t let up. Group behavior is contagious. Help it spread through clear communications, ongoing calls-to-action and positive reinforcement.

Of course, the ideas communicated must be strong and inspiring. Marketing and communications alone can’t mobilize audiences around an uninspiring idea. But, for issues with clear goals and persuasive benefits – e.g., retirement security, clean energy, preventative medicine, early detection – idea-based marketing plays a big role in the change equation.

Examples of idea-based campaigns that have had (or are beginning to have) an impact include the numerous green campaigns (An Inconvenient Truth, Energy Star, Don’t Mess with Texas), the Partnership for a Drug-free America and the broad-scale introduction of 401(k) auto-enrollment following the passage of the Pension Protection Act of 2006.

Which idea-based campaigns mobilize you?  Why?

To reach Meg:
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