Designing and Promoting Organizational Change: Three Marketing Methods To Move The Elephant

Marketing, especially in the public and social sectors, often targets changing the behavior of individuals and groups. We all know that changing behaviors is hard. If change was easy, we’d all lose weight, save more money for retirement and get enough sleep at night. As a marketer, how do you design and promote organizational change?

In their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, brothers Chip and Dan Heath explain the psychological of change using an analogy of an elephant, its rider, and a path. (The Heath brothers borrow this analogy from NYU Professor Jonathan Haidt‘s work in the psychology of morality.) You can watch the short video above to learn more, but here’s a quick summary.

People Use Two Different Systems for Making Decisions

We all decide using both a rational system and an emotional system. The rational system is like a rider on top of the big, powerful elephant of emotions. Getting people from one attitude, belief or behavior to another is like getting a rider and elephant down a path from one point to another. The rider / rational system needs to know the direction in which to steer, but the elephant / emotional system must also be willing and engaged. It also helps if the external environment, the path, is as clear and simple as possible.

Three marketing practices help you move the elephant down the path:

  • Promotion is how you deliver rational information to the driver and emotional motivation to the elephant. Rational information tells your audience what behavior to change and what steps to take. Emotional motivation gives your audience a personal reason to act on the rational information.
  • Using organizational narrative in promotion is a powerful way to motivate the elephant. Stories embed information in an emotional context that resonates with audiences. Identifying a villain in your story gives your communications emotional impact.
  • Design is how you shape the path for an easy journey. A product, a service, or a combination of both may be necessary to help your audience change. Sometimes, it make be sufficient to design the explicit process you want your audience to follow to change.

Use Both Decision Making Systems to Motivate Change

In the social and public spheres, activities like policy papers and conferences can be all rationality and no emotion, a rider without an elephant. On the other hand, activities like street demonstrations can be all emotion and no rationality, an elephant with no rider and no path.

In the end, joining emotion to reason gives your marketing the power to motivate change.

(You can buy Switch and other books mentioned in this blog in the bookstore.)