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Countering The Issue Apathy That Kills 99% Of All Campaigns

There’s just no softer way to say it – most audiences are apathetic to any issue that doesn’t directly affect them. That’s why 99% of issue advocacy campaigns fail even before they begin.

Fully understanding why consumers care about the things they do and don’t care about the things they don’t is the first step in building better issue-based campaigns that drive better results.

Let’s start with the basics: not all people DON’T care. Chances are, however, that these people are already familiar with the issue. Many marketing communications professionals look to the people that care as their primary audience and, in certain cases, this is effective. When you have a plan to activate these people to lend their time, connections, and even fortune to a cause, this can be a great strategy.

However, more often than not, marketing communications professionals look to speak to these people that care as a way to “ignite the voices of their grassroots community.” This approach is admirable but is many times equivalent to over-watering a flower garden, washing out your message rather than inciting growth.

If you can’t reach the people who care, who is left?

One often overlooked constituency is people that maybe haven’t made up their mind on an issue. This strategy is often where we find the bulk of the audience where you can turn apathy into something more productive. You just have to know how to re-position the issue into something these people DO care about.

In order to accomplish this, we start with the basics of consumer decision-making…

  1. I care about me. – I am being asked to care about something else
  2. There’s stuff online about the thing I’m being asked to care about
  3. Does it pertain to me?No. – I’m going to ignore the issue. (50% of your audience)
    Yes. – This pertains to me but I’m going to ignore it anyway. (10% of your audience)
    Maybe. – This might pertain to me but I need more information (40% of your audience).

You see that 40%? That’s the sweet spot.

Yes, that 10% is important too but usually these set of consumers make snap judgments and ignore further overtures. The 40% though remain pliable, if you know how to serve up information on your issue that somehow pertains to them.

This 40% though is also why 99% of all issue-based campaigns fail. Organizations want to dwell on and talk about the issues that are important to THEM and that only incites more apathy.

To avoid this, take a closer look at our consumer-decision tree. The moment you make your appeal to consumers in terms they understand – in other words when you make it all about them – is the moment they start to care.

Keep in mind; most audiences don’t care about scientific studies, what bevies of experts have to say, or even the sympathetic consumer case studies. They care about themselves.

These consumers care about saving money, they care about spending more time with their family, they care about caring for their loved ones, they care about doing something for the greater good. Starting to re-position your issue so it hits on the reasons it impacts them is the key to unlocking the 40%.

That’s why opposition voices are sometimes so effective. They start by framing the issue in terms that audiences care about. They play on fears about health, they show the nasty effects of the issue on poor, cute fuzzy little woodland creatures, and generally tug at every heart string they can find. In short, they appeal to the audience’s heart.

Many marketing communications professionals, though they have a lot of heart, many times aren’t great at appealing to the heart.

This is particularly true when you’re dealing with trade groups when bottom-lines are threatened. Most organization executives and boards’ instincts are to counter with appeals to the head – with science. That approach is well intentioned but is ultimately ineffective vs. things like threats to the a fore mentioned cute, fuzzy woodland creatures.

The good news is that the 40% we mentioned do turn out to be reasonable. Their very nature tells them to give someone a chance when they talk about the issues that impact them. In other words, if issue-based campaigns appeal to the heart, and backs up their campaigns with the same science, facts, and expertise they were going to use anyway – the issue campaign succeeds.

The fact that most consumers just don’t care about anything other than themselves is a tough truth for some marketing communications professionals – particularly those run by people passionate about an issue.

However, when we start thinking about re-positioning campaigns to appeal to what consumers DO care about, our success rates start to look a lot, lot better.

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