A message is more effective when folks identify with it.

Can properly crafted phrasing cause an audience to sympathize or identify with a message on a personal level? I think so. And those kinds of messages can be more effective at changing behavior too.

That's not to say there aren't many ways to get a good influential result. Marketers might use "scarcity" as a way to prod customers to buy now before it is too late. Or, there is the ole' "everybody else is doing it" jump-on-the-bandwagon approach which is also pretty effective. For now, let's focus on "self identification" as a message driver.

We are all familiar with the neighborhood "slow the hell down, so my kids don't get killed" signs. A very reasonable plea. I have twin girls of my own, and even I forget to drive super slow on neighborhood streets from time to time. I'm sure I'm not alone. Our neighbors try to remind us with a variety of neighborhood signs, but which messages work best?

photo 3
photo 3

Message Technique: Direct & Simple

Well, if nothing else, this is pretty clear. Definitely a good reminder for any driver losing himself to a good Metallica song as he barrels through a quiet neighborhood. The picture of the children gives you the reason for the command. It is always good to know the reasons behind a request.

photo 2
photo 2

Message Technique: Fear

Okay, now this is great. We are taking it up a notch. The first sign is similar to the first example, but right below that you have a very passive aggressive, almost ominous declaration: "You are being watched, Sir."  It is the equivalent of an "or else." Fear is a great tool for motivation, but it can backfire if construed as childish or socially tacky.

Yard Sign: "Drive Like Your Kids Live Here"
Yard Sign: "Drive Like Your Kids Live Here"

Message Technique: Self Identification

Now this one has all the hallmarks of being simple and direct. It is firm. It is only vaguely threating. Above all, as a parent I immediately get apicture of my own children in my head...not someone else's. I have a feeling even the childless would be able to fill in the blank, your kids, with a potential future version of their mini-self. Just looking at this sign makes my right foot want to press down on a brake pedal.

What About "Self Identification" In Actual Marketing?

The yard signs are a nice vehicle to get my point across, but it begs the question: how can this be applied in the real world of marketing? I think one of the best examples out there is the Subaru They Lived on-air campaign. The ads place the viewer directly into the shoes of a family who survived a terrible crash – tying their survival and that of many others to the live-saving features that make the Subaru a terrific car.

The excellent book Influence by Robert B. Cialdini, Ph.D. teaches the following techniques: scarcity, social proof, authority, commitment, reciprocation. And I'll cover them in future posts. But there wasn't any mention of Self Identification (or some better label). I think it is worthy of consideration. Which message example do you think is most effective?