Write a message to persuade your boss to invest capital resources to develop the product or service for sale.
Include secondary research to support your argument and explain what you will do in case the selected product or service does not initially sell as much as expected. Cite and reference sources using APA formatting.
Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose.
Explain why you selected the channel.
Note: Part I is the basis of your Week 5 Persuasive Presentation assignment.
Write a sales pitch to sell the product/service to the end consumer. The sales pitch that you write could be part of a marketing campaign, which can be the verbiage for a commercial, a flyer, a message posted on social network, and so on. Make sure to identify the context, as per the examples, in which the sales pitch will take place.
Select the appropriate channel for delivering your message based on context, audience, and purpose and state the channel you have chosen.
Explain why you selected the channel.
Below is the reading materials
© E. Audras/PhotoAlto
After studying this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
- Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.
- Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.
- Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.
- Create compelling internal persuasive messages.
- Compose influential external persuasive messages.
- Construct effective mass sales messages.
- Evaluate persuasive messages for effectiveness and fairness.
Hear Pete Cardon explain why this matters.
In many business situations, you hope to persuade others. In internal business communications, you may want your boss, peers, or colleagues to consider or adopt your ideas when their perspectives differ from yours. In external business communications, you will want to persuade your clients, customers, and prospects to use your products and services. Persuasion involves influencing others to see the merits of your ideas and act on your requests, even when they initially resist. In this chapter, we explore strategies for persuading others through writing.
In some ways, all business messages contain an element of persuasion—that is, you are hoping to influence the way others think, feel, or behave. Many of the concepts in this chapter will enhance your ability to make any kind of request. However, the approaches in this chapter are most applicable to situations in which your audience will initially resist your requests.
Throughout this chapter, you will see examples of persuasive messages at Better Horizons Credit Union. The chapter case provides the background.
© Ingram Publishing
Haniz Zogby, marketing specialist and loan officer
- Started working at Better Horizons nearly five years ago. She has worked 20 to 30 hours per week while attending college with a major in finance and a minor in event management.
- Started as a teller. Within a few years, she was promoted to positions of teller supervisor, loan officer, and marketing specialist.
- Currently working on marketing initiatives under the direction of Christine Russo.
Christine Russo, president and CEO
- Has worked at Better Horizons for approximately ten years.
- Currently interested in increasing the number of young members. With declining numbers of young members, she is concerned that the credit union does not have good long-term prospects.
Christine Wants to Build Support for New Banking Services That Meet the Needs of Younger Members
Christine recognized that people under the age of 30 were not joining the credit union. Christine wanted to write a message to board members about adopting marketing strategies and services that appeal to younger members. She planned to follow up by presenting her ideas in person at an upcoming meeting. The board is composed of longtime members who favor what they consider a “personal,” “friendly,” and “homey” credit union environment. They view moves to online marketing and services as breaking their brand of community and personal touch. The majority also oppose adding too many extra financial services, perceiving these services as “slick” and “too similar to banks.”
Haniz Is in Charge of Recruiting Participants for a Local Charity Event
Christine asked Haniz to be in charge of recruiting credit union members to join this year’s Hope Walkathon to support research on breast cancer. Better Horizons has assembled a walkathon team for this prominent community event each year for nearly a decade. Haniz is writing an email to send to all credit union members. The message will be modified slightly to appear as an announcement on the credit union website as well.
Haniz Needs to Create a Flyer Explaining the Benefits of Credit Union Membership Compared to Banks
Haniz is working on a flyer describing the benefits of membership at Better Horizons Credit Union. The flyer will be part of a packet of materials that is distributed to community members who participate in free financial planning and income tax assistance seminars offered by Better Horizons. Haniz is using the message to highlight the benefits of Better Horizons compared to local banks.
Haniz Is Helping to Develop a Sales Message for Auto Loans
Haniz and several other employees are working on sales messages for auto loans. In recent months, Better Horizon’s senior management decided the credit union should become a “player” in the auto loans market. Few Better Horizons members take advantage of car loans, most assuming that dealer financing is cheaper and easier to get.
How will Christine and Haniz write a message to board members that warms them up to ideas about new online services and marketing geared toward gaining younger members? (See the section on internal persuasive messages.)
How will Haniz persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon? (See the section on external persuasive messages.)
How will Haniz develop a general-purpose flyer that shows the broad benefits of choosing Better Horizons Credit Union over banks? (See the “Constructing External Persuasive Messages” section.)
How will Haniz develop sales messages for an auto loan campaign? (See the “Composing Mass Sales Messages” section.)
The Importance of Credibility in an Era of Mistrust and Skepticism
LO9.1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion.
While credibility is critical to all business communications, its importance is heightened for persuasive messages. By definition, persuasion implies that you are communicating with someone who does not think or feel the same way as you do. So, your goal is to help your audience members identify with and find merit in your positions. If they question your credibility, they are unlikely to carefully consider your ideas, requests, or recommendations.
Persuasion is becoming more difficult as we live in a time of increasing mistrust. In Chapter 1, we discussed the declining levels of trust for nearly all professional groups, particularly business-related occupations. Michael Maslansky, one of the leading corporate communications experts, has labeled this the post-trust era (PTE):
Just a few years ago, salespeople, corporate leaders, marketing departments, and communicators like me had it pretty easy. We looked at communication as a relatively linear process. … But trust disappeared, things changed. … In a word, trust is out, skepticism is in.1
Over the past decade, Michael Maslansky and his colleagues have examined how language is used to persuade and motivate others. By interviewing hundreds of thousands of employees and customers in some 30 countries, they have found that the language of trust is more important than ever. Furthermore, they have noticed emerging trends in how language impacts trust. Strategies for persuasion that once worked are less effective in the PTE. Other strategies continue to work well. In this chapter, we sort through some of these basic principles of persuasive writing and identify those strategies that are most effective in the PTE.
Applying the AIM Planning Process to Persuasive Messages
LO9.2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages.
Persuasion involves extensive planning: analyzing your audience to understand their needs, values, and how they are influenced; developing your ideas as you wrestle with the complicated business issues at hand; and creating a message structure that most effectively reduces resistance and gains buy-in. Many effective business communicators spend weeks and months learning about their target audiences, gathering information, and piecing together persuasive messages.
Understand Your Audience
To convince others to modify their own ideas and accept yours, you need to show that you care about them and that your ideas fit into their interests. This is the approach communication specialist Liz Simpson recommends:
To succeed at the persuasion game, you have to be absolutely committed to understanding the other side’s position as well as your own. Without that willingness to try on the other side’s arguments, you simply cannot be persuasive. From that understanding will come the insights you need to move the other side over to your camp.2
This is true not only for ideas but also for products and services. Your best argument is always one that meets the needs and wants of your audience.
Understanding the needs and values of others is not simple. It requires a strong listening orientation. You will need to ask lots of questions to get beyond a surface understanding about the hopes, expectations, and hidden assumptions of your target audience. Once you know your target audience’s needs and values, you are in a strong position to explain how your product, service, or idea benefits them.
In addition to understanding the needs and values of your target audience, you should consider the psychological principles that impact how people are influenced. Also, you should consider whether you are making a logical appeal or an emotional one in your persuasive messages.
Understand Methods of Influence
Dr. Robert Cialdini, a marketing psychologist, has spent his career studying how people are influenced in business and marketing environments. He has examined research in this area for four decades, plus he spent three years taking undercover jobs in car dealerships, telemarketing firms, fund-raising organizations, and other buyer-seller environments to learn the most influential ways of getting people to say yes. Based on his work, he has identified six principles of persuasion (aside from the price and quality of products and services). These principles include reciprocation, consistency, social proof, liking, authority, and scarcity.3 Haniz’s message to recruit credit union members for the Hope Walkathon offers an interesting example for applying these various principles (see Figure 9.7, p. 258, for her completed message).
Reciprocation is a principle of influence based on returning favors. As defined by Cialdini, “We should try to repay, in kind, what another person has provided us.”4 Cialdini cited an interesting study in which a professor sent Christmas cards to a random sample of strangers to see what would happen. Many of the card recipients reciprocated, sending cards to the professor without attempting to find out who he was. The study showed that even card receivers who did not know the card sender and who might not interact with the card sender in the future felt compelled to return the favor of sending a card. People tend to feel obligated to pay back others when they’ve received something of value.5
Haniz uses the principle of reciprocation in her message in several ways. For example, she focuses on a lengthy reciprocal relationship that the credit union has with the local breast cancer center, and the walkathon serves as the mechanism that draws the two organizations together. The credit union helps the center by generating walkathon donations, and the center helps the credit union and the larger community through more effective breast cancer treatment and education. Furthermore, the message implies a reciprocal relationship between the credit union and its members by offering various free items, such as a T-shirt, a water bottle, and a cancer guide, to members who are willing to participate in the walkathon.
Consistency is based on the idea that once people make an explicit commitment, they tend to follow through or honor that commitment. In other words, they want to stay consistent with their original commitment. Cialdini cited several studies to make this point. In one, psychologists found that horse racing fans become more confident that their horses would win after placing a bet. Once they made a final commitment, they were further convinced of the correctness of their choice.6
Haniz appeals to commitment and consistency in several ways. Foremost, she appeals to the credit union’s long commitment to the fight against breast cancer. Some credit union members will want to continue to honor this long-standing collective commitment and will appreciate that their credit union is doing so. She also provides links in the message for people to immediately act on their interest in the walkathon. A link to register right now serves as an immediate commitment to participate.
Social proof is a principle of influence whereby people determine what is right, correct, or desirable by seeing what others do. Haniz employs several appeals to social proof in her letter. She describes the level of participation and contribution among members in last year’s walkathon, implying that the popularity and financial impact of this event make it a good cause. Also, the walkathon itself is a type of social proof; the gathering of thousands of people wearing team T-shirts and marching in unison for a cause is powerful imagery.7
Liking is a principle of influence whereby people are more likely to be persuaded by people who they like.8 Haniz appeals directly to this principle by describing Betty Williams, who is a breast cancer survivor, the benefactor of the breast center, a credit union member, and a participant in the walkathon. Betty Williams is presumably a person most people in the community know and like, a woman who many of the credit union members may know from running into her at the credit union or other community events, and a woman who is passionate about an important cause (a reason for liking). Haniz emphasizes in the message that walkathon participants will join this likable and respected community member at the walkathon.
Authority is a principle of influence whereby people follow authority figures. The number of celebrity endorsements in advertising is evidence of how authority can impact persuasion.9 Although Haniz does not appeal to a national celebrity, she does appeal to a prominent local community member—again Betty Williams. With Betty’s level of influence and personal experience combating cancer, she is likely seen as an authority. Furthermore, Haniz also appeals to members to support the Betty Williams Breast Center, a group of expert professionals who collectively are authorities on breast cancer.
Scarcity is a principle of influence whereby people think there is limited availability of something they want or need, so they must act quickly.10 Haniz employs this principle in terms of time. She explains that the walkathon occurs only once each year (limited time period to participate) and that participants must sign up by a given deadline (limited time period to sign up).
You will apply these principles most often in external persuasive messages, and you should always apply them fairly. Cialdini describes them as “weapons of influence.”11 The very term weapons implies that they are powerful and can do harm. In the “Apply the FAIR Test” section near the end of the chapter, we further discuss the appropriate use of these principles.
Persuade through Emotion and Reason
Most people justify their business decisions based on the soundness of ideas, not feelings. Savvy business communicators, however, understand the importance of injecting emotion into their persuasive messages. While they appreciate the place of reason in business and consumer decisions, they understand that resistance to ideas, products, and services is often emotional. Conversely, they are aware that their target audiences often possess strong emotional attachment to competing ideas, products, and services. Thus, effective communicators find ways to appeal to the core emotional benefits of products, services, and ideas.12
Even in internal persuasive messages, emotional appeals are critical, as indicated by Craig Conway, president and CEO of PeopleSoft:
Good communicators have an enormous advantage over poor communicators because so much of running a company is inspirational. … You just have to be able to persuade people that they are a part of something bigger. If you have a creative vision and you can communicate it in a compelling way to get people excited, you will recruit better people as a result. Then, it is easy to convince the world that you have a more dynamic company.13
Part of understanding your audience is identifying the needs and values that resonate emotionally for them.
Typically, internal persuasive messages focus mostly on logical appeals. External persuasive messages, with the exception of those that emphasize price, generally include strong emotional appeals. As you develop persuasive messages, think about how to get the right mix of logical and emotional appeals. Generally, you will supply both but emphasize one or the other. Keep in mind that even when you choose to make strong emotional appeals in written messages, you should generally avoid the tone of mass advertising, where exaggeration, sarcasm, and over-the-top appeals are acceptable and even effective. Later in the chapter, you will notice several messages created by Haniz and Christine—two based more strongly on logical appeals (Figures 9.5 and 9.8) and two on emotional appeals (Figures 9.7 and 9.9).
Develop Your Ideas
Idea development for persuasive messages is critical. Since your audience is resistant to the message, one of your key tasks is to establish credibility. Developing strong ideas in the interest of your audience helps you demonstrate your voice of competence. It involves gaining a deep understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of your ideas, products, and services. In addition, it involves gaining a thorough understanding of competing ideas, products, and services.
Thus, before attempting to persuade others, expert business communicators seek to understand products, services, and ideas in great depth so that they can speak from an authoritative and competent perspective. To address the issue of attracting younger credit union members, Christine and Haniz spend months learning about the strategies that other credit unions use. When Haniz works on a message that promotes her credit union over local banks, she carefully analyzes and compares the major products and services offered by her credit union and those of competing banks. When Haniz works on a message to persuade credit union members to join the Hope Walkathon, she learns all she can about participation in this event and how it helps in the fight against breast cancer.
Components of Persuasive Messages
- Gain attention.
- Raise a need.
- Deliver a solution.
- Provide a rationale.
- Show appreciation.
- Give counterpoints (optional).
- Call to action.
Set Up the Message Structure
Most business writing is direct and explicit. It is direct in that you begin with a main idea or argument and then provide the supporting reasons. It is explicit in that nothing is implied; statements contain full and unambiguous meaning. When you write directly and explicitly, you help your readers understand your message and you show respect for their time.
Compared to other business messages, persuasive messages are somewhat more indirect and implicit. They are sometimes indirect in that they provide the rationale for a request before making the specific request. They are sometimes implicit in that the request or some of the rationale for the request may be implied. In other words, sometimes the reader needs to read between the lines to grasp the entire meaning. Implicit statements politely ask people to do or think differently. Also, explicitly stating some types of benefits is considered poor form—for example, matters of financial or career gain in internal persuasive requests.14
The first task of most persuasive messages is to gain the attention of your readers. You can do this in a variety of ways, including asking a rhetorical question, providing a compelling or interesting fact, revealing a compelling statistic, issuing a challenge, or posting a testimonial.15 For internal persuasive messages, the primary means of gaining attention is demonstrating a business need—a gap between what is and what could be.16 You generally have more flexibility in external persuasive messages as you choose your attention-getters. See Table 9.1 for examples of attention-getters Haniz might use for some of her communication tasks.
Table 9.1 Effective Attention-Getters
|Type of Attention-Getter||Example|
|Rhetorical question||Did you know that average credit union members save $400 per year compared to bank customers?|
|Intriguing statistic||In the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership.|
|Compelling and unusual fact/s||You’ve probably heard car dealers boast about their near-zero percent interest rates—but there’s a catch! By financing with car dealers, you give up your opportunity to receive manufacturer rebates and your power to negotiate on price.|
|Challenge||Please join our team in this year’s Hope Walkathon in the fight against breast cancer.|
|Testimonial||“I never knew I could have so much negotiating power with a preapproved loan. By getting my car loan through Better Horizons, I negotiated a great deal with the car dealer. This is the way to buy cars!”|
Need, Solution, and Rationale
In the body of your message, your first task is to tie your product, service, or idea to the needs of your readers. The best way to reduce the resistance your reader may have is to show that your message meets your readers’ needs. Once you’ve stated the need, you may describe your solution, which is a recommended product, service, or idea. Many readers will remain skeptical unless you provide convincing support. So, you will need to provide a strong rationale, meaning solid reasons why your product, service, or idea really benefits them. After all, you are more than likely attempting to influence skeptics.17
As you structure your message, consider how direct you should be. If your audience members are strongly and emotionally resistant to your solution, consider a more indirect approach so they warm up to your ideas before you suggest a solution. To make your message less direct, provide the rationale before the solution.
At some point in the body of the message, you should validate your readers by showing appreciation for their views and preferences. Validation implies that you recognize and appreciate others’ needs, wants, ideas, and preferences as legitimate and reasonable. By validating your readers, you show respect for them and demonstrate a balanced perspective.18
Traditionally, communicators overcame objections by providing counterpoints to any of the audience members’ objections. In other words, they showed how their own ideas, products, or services were superior to the competing ideas, products, or services the audience favored.
Overcoming objections with counterpoints, however, is risky in the post-trust era. This approach may unnecessarily carry a me-versus-you tone and delegitimize the readers’ concerns. Michael Maslansky, in his research about emerging trends in sales messages in the PTE, states that validation is “using words to let people know that their concerns are valid,” and that it is the “polar opposite of overcoming objections.”19 He says the “new sales mantra [is to] agree with objections.”20 This perhaps ironic approach shows respect and balance because you validate the potential customer’s feelings and ideas. When you validate your readers, they are more likely to accept the merits of your persuasive message.
Thus, consider carefully whether to include counterpoints to your readers’ objections. When you know people well and believe that you will not create a me-versus-you adversarial stance, tactfully state how your ideas, products, and services outperform those of your readers.
Skilled business communicators understand that building support for their ideas takes time. Especially for persuasion within companies, you will generally use a mix of communication channels. Rarely will your ideas be accepted and enacted with one written message. However, one written message can make a powerful statement and open avenues of communication that lead to acceptance and adoption of your ideas.
You conclude persuasive messages with a call to action, which asks your readers to take a specific step toward the purchase of a product or service or acceptance of an idea. However, a call to action should not be a hard sell; pressuring others is increasingly ineffective in the PTE.21 In external persuasive messages, the call to action is typically a specific and explicit step. In internal persuasive messages, the call to action is sometimes explicit and sometimes implicit. It is more likely to be implicit for controversial change ideas and when corresponding with superiors who have ultimate decision-making authority.
Guidelines for Tone for Persuasive Messages
- Apply the personal touch.
- Use action-oriented, lively language.
- Write with confidence.
- Offer choice.
- Show positivity.
Getting the Tone and Style Right for Persuasive Messages
LO9.3. Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence.
The tone for persuasive messages should be confident and positive, yet at the same time avoid exaggeration or hype. This is tricky! You will no doubt need to make some trade-offs. The more confident and positive you make your message, the more you risk being perceived as pushy or exaggerated. As you reduce confidence and positivity, you risk your product, service, or idea being perceived as weak or unexciting. One benefit of asking colleagues to read your persuasive message before you send it is they can help you decide if you have achieved the right level of confidence and positivity without sacrificing believability.
The writing style of your message should be action-oriented and lively. But again, you risk being perceived as unbelievable or overly enthusiastic if you overdo the language. However, you risk being perceived as dull or unexceptional if you don’t use engaging, lively language. Proofreading by yourself and with the help of colleagues will help you get the right writing style to set your message apart.
Apply the Personal Touch
Recently, a number of competing developers delivered presentations to a property owner, each hoping to persuade him to sell them 4,000 acres of much-sought-after property. The presentations were nearly identical, so the property owner was unsure how to choose the best developer. A few days later, the property owner received a handwritten thank-you note from one candidate. The property owner immediately awarded the deal to that developer because he had taken the time to write a message of appreciation.22
Often, your competitors are nearly identical to you. Your colleagues and customers will be more easily persuaded when you show interest in them personally, speak to them in personal terms, understand their specific needs, and demonstrate that you are seeking benefits for them. Personalizing your messages is not easy, though, as Michael Maslansky points out:
For all of us, selling ideas or products or ourselves begins with a need to talk about something that we have and the audience should need, want, or agree with. The problem is that too often, we focus on the first part—what we want to sell, and too little on the second—why they want to buy … and yet, our audience demands increasingly that messages, products, and services speak directly to them.23
Creating messages that speak directly to customers and colleagues requires that you use language that helps your customers and colleagues feel the product, service, or idea is just for them.24
One of the primary strategies you can use to personalize persuasive messages is your selection of voice—either you-voice, we-voice, I-voice, or impersonal voice (as introduced in Chapter 2). Table 9.2 offers guidance on choosing the appropriate voice. Generally, you-voice is more effective in external persuasive messages to customers and clients because it emphasizes the benefits they receive from your products and services. From the customer’s perspective, the you-voice shows them that they are the center of attention.
Table 9.2 Voice in Persuasive Messages
|You-voice||Use in external persuasive messages to emphasize reader benefits.||Presumptuousness—assuming you know what is good for someone else||When you take out an auto loan, you get a variety of resources to help you in your car shopping, including a free copy of a Kelly Blue Book, access to free Carfax reports, Mechanical Breakdown Insurance (MBI), and Guaranteed Auto Protection (GAP).|
|In this example, you-voice helps show direct benefits to the customers. Overuse across an entire message, however, may come across as presumptuous, overbearing, or exaggerated.|
|We-voice||Use in internal persuasive messages to emphasize shared work goals.||Presumptuousness—assuming you share common beliefs, ideas, or understanding with your colleagues||At Better Horizons, we’ve instilled a personal touch into every aspect of our business. We’ve reinforced this culture with face-to-face services. Our tellers welcome members by name. When members come into the credit union, they know we care about them as people, not just as customers. The warm, friendly, genuine, and personal approach we take to serving our members is why I’m so proud to work here.|
|In this passage, we-voice instills a sense of shared values, priorities, and goals. We-voice can instill a strong sense of teamwork. When audience members have different perspectives, however, they may resent that you are stating agreement where it does not exist.|
|I-voice||Use in all persuasive messages sparingly.||Overuse implies self-centeredness||After examining the results of other credit unions, I am convinced that these tools can build emotional connections and loyalty with our members.|
|In this example, I-voice is used to show a personal opinion and shows respect for audience members who are not yet fully persuaded. Frequent use of I-voice across an entire message, however, may come across as emphasizing your interests rather than those of the audience.|
|Impersonal voice||Use in persuasive messages to emphasize objectivity and neutrality.||Overuse may depersonalize the message||The basic difference between credit unions and banks is that credit union members own and control their credit unions whereas bank account holders have no stake or control in their financial institutions.|
|In this example, impersonal voice helps show objectivity. An entire persuasive message in impersonal voice, however, may fail to connect on a personal level with the audience.|
Writing in the you-voice to customers is more than just a stylistic choice. It forces you to consciously consider the readers’ needs and wants. It forces you to personalize the message for them. By contrast, the we-voice in external messages can focus too much attention on your company and de-emphasize benefits to the customer. Notice the difference in overall tone in the two messages in Figures 9.4 and 9.5 (pp. 255–256). In the less-effective example, the you-voice is hardly used at all compared to the dominating we-voice. In the more-effective example, the you-voice takes center stage over the we-voice. The extensive use of you-voice in the more-effective message sends a strong meta message: This message is about you.
Another method of personalizing a message is to make your statements tangible. By definition, tangible means something can be touched; it is material or substantial. In a business communications context, making the statement tangible implies that the readers can discern something in terms that are meaningful to them. This allows the reader to sense the impact on a personal level.25 You often can achieve a tangible feel by combining you-voice with specificity. Consider the examples in Table 9.3, from messages that Haniz is working on for the credit union.
Table 9.3 Making Tangible Statements
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|Credit unions save members about $8 billion a year thanks to better interest rates and reduced fees.||On average, credit union members save $400 each year compared to bank customers thanks to lower loan rates and fees.|
|The benefit is not tangible. Customers are not sure what the benefit would be for them personally.||This benefit is tangible; the customers know how much they will save on an individual level.|
|In recent years, many credit unions have lost membership because younger individuals are not attracted to them.||In the past five years, we’ve lost over 200 members—over 10 percent of our membership. And we simply aren’t attracting younger members.|
|This statement focuses on a general trend for credit unions but does not indicate an impact on a particular credit union.||This statement invokes a sense of what is happening right here at our credit union. Identifying the amount (as well as a percentage) helps the reader discern the impact.|
|We provide lower rates on car loans. Our car loan rates are between 1.5 and 1.75 percentage points less than at any of the banks in town.||You pay lower rates on car loans. You can get car loan rates at Better Horizons that are 1.5–1.75 percentage points less than at any other bank in town. Consider the savings:
|This statement doesn’t help the customers understand how much in dollars they would save on a car loan at Better Horizons.||This statement allows customers to easily think about how much savings they would receive by getting a car loan with Better Horizons.|
As you reread your message, keep in mind the following advice from sales specialist Ralph Allora: “Read the letter aloud. If it doesn’t sound like you’re having a conversation with the client over the phone, then you’re not using the right tone.”26 This in part is a test of whether you have personalized your message enough.
Use Action-Oriented and Lively Language
In persuasive messages, you have somewhat more license to write creatively. Focus on using action-oriented and lively words to achieve a sense of excitement, optimism, or other positive emotions. Use strong nouns and verbs to add to the excitement of the message. Some sales messages sound dull because of overuse of and reliance on words such as provide and offer.27 Across the entire message or thought, the action-oriented and lively language should emphasize a central theme. See Table 9.4 for examples from documents Haniz is working on for two of her projects.
Table 9.4 Using Action-Oriented and Lively Language
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|The Betty Williams Breast Center has a nationally accredited program for treatment of breast cancer.||The Betty Williams Breast Center runs a nationally accredited program for treatment of breast cancer.|
|The weak verb has implies little action on the part of the Betty Williams Breast Center.||The action verb runs implies a full-fledged and active effort on the part of the Betty Williams Breast Center.|
|Better Horizons has always been known for its personal approach to our members. Our transactions have always occurred through face-to-face services. Our tellers are friendly to all members.||At Better Horizons, we’ve instilled a personal touch into every aspect of our business. We’ve reinforced this culture with face-to-face services. Our tellers welcome members by name. When members come into the credit union, they know we care about them as people, not just as customers.|
|Uses unexciting, weak verbs: has been known, have occurred, are (notice how passive verbs detract from a sense of action and engagement). The central theme of personalized service does not come through. For example, consider the contrast between our tellers are friendly versus our tellers welcome members by name.||Uses a positive, diverse set of action verbs: instilled, reinforced, welcome, care. Uses adjectives and nouns to further emphasize a central theme of personalized service: personal touch, face-to-face services, name.|
Write with Confidence
As you display more confidence in your idea, your product, or your service, you can more effectively influence your audience. Effective persuaders provide compelling and simple reasons for action. They should show confidence in these ideas, as illustrated in Table 9.5, again with examples from two of Haniz’s projects. Emotionally, the writer’s confidence allows the audience to gain confidence in the message. In internal persuasive messages, expressing confidence in key players, who can make the change occur, is crucial. These key players include upper-level executives who will actively endorse and authorize resources as well as those managers and employees who will put the ideas into motion.28
Table 9.5 Writing with Confidence
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|At our upcoming board meeting, I would like to discuss possible ways of appealing to younger members. We can talk about how various strategies might appeal to this group.||At our upcoming board meeting, I will present a vision of how we can build marketing strategies and product offerings to appeal to younger members. These strategies will not only attract younger members to our credit union but also increase our business across other age groups.|
|These statements are an attempt to achieve an other-orientation; they show sensitivity to involving others in the decision making. However, they show no confidence in the ideas or policies that the audience resists.||These statements imply confidence in the change message: These are ideas and policies that will make a difference. Furthermore, the writer can make them happen. The argument is logic-based but also contains an excitement about possibilities.|
|Please think about how Better Horizons can help you in your banking.||We encourage you to stop by Better Horizons and make direct comparisons with your current bank. You’ll find that banking with Better Horizons saves you money, provides convenience when you travel, and offers services to meet nearly any banking need.|
|This nonspecific request sounds weak and unconfident. It gives the reader an excuse to easily dismiss the message.||This request lays down a challenge to make direct comparisons, confidently implying that Better Horizons can outperform competitors. It then directly states specific benefits to the potential member.|
Michael Maslansky and his research team have examined the reactions of tens of thousands of customers and clients to many types of written messages. In this section, we illustrate a few findings from the financial industry. For example, in Figure 9.1, you see four statements that were sent to respondents. In the hypothetical scenario that was presented to them, a company is attempting to do a good thing—give its employees an opportunity to put money in a retirement account.
Figure 9.1 Most-Effective Statements to Persuade Skeptical Employees (Creating Salary Deduction for 401(k) Scenario)
Source: Adapted from The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics by Michael Maslansky, Scott West, Gary DeMoss and David Saylor, Copyright © 2010 by Van Kampen Investor Services, Inc. Used by permission of Prentice Hall, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Note: The survey involved a hypothetical situation where employers would automatically deduct 7 percent of an employee’s salary and place it into a 401(k). This process would help employees save money for the future. The employees would have the option to opt-out.
The four statements state essentially the same thing but are phrased differently. Each is written fairly well and appeals to some individuals. The statement that appeals to the most people (40 percent) emphasizes choice rather than intent. It uses the you-voice rather than the we-voice, which is preferable for many messages written to consumers (this is most similar to a consumer situation). It contains three short sentences with 7, 2, and 27 words. The emphasis on choice (other-orientation), use of you-voice (other-orientation), and simple language combine to make this the most influential statement. By contrast, the other options each contain one long sentence (30, 36, and 27 words).
In the PTE, customers and clients consider choice an indicator of credibility. They view simple language (not implying lack of sophisticated knowledge) as a display of transparency and respect. In contrast, they view overly complex language as potentially deceptive.29 Similarly, effective persuasive messages avoid statements that may be perceived as pressure tactics. Hard sells are increasingly ineffective in a PTE, especially in written format.30 Compare Haniz’s less-effective and more-effective persuasive statements in Table 9.6, all of which you will see again in her messages located later in the chapter.
Table 9.6 Emphasizing Choice
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|You owe it to the women in your lives to make a difference.||You can help make a difference for women here in our community.|
|This appeal focuses on obligation and pressure. Most readers will not respond positively.||This appeal focuses on volunteerism and contribution to the community without telling the reader what to do.|
|The walkathon will be held on Saturday, October 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Central Park. Do your part to improve the lives of women in our community!||The walkathon will be held on Saturday, October 6 at 9:00 a.m. at Central Park. Please join Betty and the rest of the Better Horizons team for a day of fun, excitement, and hope!|
|This request is a guilt trip; it emphasizes the readers’ duty.||This request recognizes the readers’ choice to participate in a fun and exciting approach to a good cause.|
In persuasive messages, always be careful about being perceived as presumptuous—unfairly assuming that you know or even share the thoughts, feelings, and intentions of others. Many people are easily offended when you presume to know or even dictate how they will think, feel, or react to your messages.31
Positivity in persuasive messages helps your audience focus on the benefits rather than the drawbacks of what you are trying to promote. Maslansky and his team’s research helps demonstrate that subtle changes to more positive wording are generally more persuasive. For example, they asked consumers to identify which of three pairs of phrases were more persuasive in promotional material about investment options.
In the first pair of statements, 90 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you have enough money as long as you live was more effective than the statement managing longevity risk. Overwhelmingly, the consumers thought the benefit (having long-term financial security) was more influential than the possible drawback (avoiding financial loss).
For the second pair of statements, 81 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you can afford to maintain your lifestyle was more persuasive than the statement managing inflation risk. Similarly, the vast majority of consumers in the case thought that the benefit (maintaining your lifestyle) was more compelling than the drawback (possibly losing your current buying power).
For the third pair of statements, 63 percent of consumers thought the statement making sure you can participate in the gains while reducing your downside risk was more persuasive than managing market risk. In this case, consumers were more positively influenced by the statement about risk (a drawback) when it was preceded by a phrase about gains (the benefit).32
In addition to being positive, avoiding superlatives gives you the best chance of persuading your audience. Phrases such as best product on the market, state-of-the-art technology, or best-in-class service sound increasingly hollow. Maslansky’s research with consumers shows that terms such as comfortable retirement rather than dream retirement; protection rather than guarantee; financial security rather than financial freedom; effective rather than best of breed are more persuasive.
Consumers perceive too-good-to-be-true statements as attempts to convince them of “the merits without making a rational argument. And they [too-good-to-be-true statements] fail because they suggest an inherent bias that ruins the integrity of the communicator.”33 Table 9.7 highlights the kinds of phrases that are increasingly ineffective with today’s skeptical consumers. Table 9.8 contrasts messages from Haniz’s projects that persuade with and without exaggeration.
Table 9.7 Statements to Avoid in the Post-Trust Era
|Type||Examples That Don’t Work|
|Trust me||“Trust me” or “We speak your language”|
|Unbelievable||“Your call is important to us” or “We care about our customers”|
|Too good to be true||“This is the right product for you” or “We give you guaranteed results”|
|Excuses||“What you need to understand is …” or “Our hands are tied”|
|Explanations||“This was taken out of context” or “I can explain”|
|Fear tactics||“Are you concerned about the security of your family?” or “Act now or you’ll miss this opportunity”|
Source: Adapted from The Language of Trust: Selling Ideas in a World of Skeptics by Michael Maslansky, Scott West, Gary DeMoss and David Saylor, Copyright © 2010 by Van Kampen Investor Services, Inc. Used by permission of Prentice Hall, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Table 9.8 Avoiding Exaggeration and Superlatives
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|You can trust us at Better Horizons to make your financial dreams come true.||As a nonprofit, member-controlled financial institution, Better Horizons can provide you with higher rates on savings accounts, better terms on loans, and lower fees.|
|This statement uses phrases that seem unbelievable (you can trust us) and exaggerated (make your financial dreams come true). It is positive but not plausible.||This statement focuses on specific benefits and uses words that nearly all people view positively (nonprofit, member-controlled, savings, better, lower fees). It is both positive and plausible.|
|Pay attention to these facts or risk losing money to banks.||Consider some of the following reasons to join Better Horizons and start saving today.|
|This statement focuses on fear and applies pressure. Most customers would consider the writer not credible.||This statement is inviting and nonthreatening. It uses pressure-free (consider) and positive (join, start saving) words.|
Creating Internal Persuasive Messages
LO9.4. Create compelling internal persuasive messages.
Internal and external persuasive messages contain many common elements: they gain attention, raise a need, deliver a solution, provide a rationale, show appreciation for differences of opinion, give counterpoints, and call readers to action. Nevertheless, internal and external persuasive messages differ in some ways (see Table 9.9). Internal messages more often focus on promoting ideas, whereas external messages more often focus on promoting products and services. Also, internal persuasive messages tend to be slightly more direct and explicit, and they tend to be based on logical appeals. In contrast, external persuasive messages tend to be slightly more indirect and implicit, and they tend to be based on emotional appeals.
Table 9.9 Components of Internal and External Persuasive Messages
|Internal Messages (Typically for Ideas)||External Messages (Typically for Products and Services)|
|Attention||Overview of a business problem||Catchy statement|
|Need||Description of a business problem||Description of unmet needs or wants of your customers|
|Solution||Description of how your idea or policy addresses the business problem||Description of how your product or service benefits customers|
|Rationale||Elaboration about why your idea or policy is the best option||Elaboration about why your product or service will benefit the customer|
|Appreciation||Appreciation for decision makers’ perspectives and resistance to your ideas||Recognition of customers’ resistance to your product or service|
|Counterpoints||Explanation of why your ideas are better than competing ideas (typically those of decision makers who comprise your target audience)||Explanation of why your product/service is better than competing products/services (typically those favored by the target audience)|
|Action||Recommendations for a course of action or further discussion about an idea or policy||Description of a specific step for the customer to take toward purchase of a product or service|
Christine, with the help of Haniz, constructed a letter to warm board members to the idea of adding new financial products and using more online and social networking tools to better reach younger members. Most board members are resistant to this message because they fear depersonalizing Better Horizons, which is known for its warm, community-oriented business model. In the less-effective message (see Figure 9.2), Christine is generally positive. However, she shows little confidence in the new ideas. The message generally contains short, dull, and nontangible comments.
In the more-effective message (see Figure 9.3), Christine personalizes the letter, addressing each board member individually, and begins with a tangible business problem. Then, she tactfully discusses her ideas and concludes with calls to action. The message contains conviction and vision without sounding too pushy. It uses a variety of implicit approaches to persuade board members that online services and social networking do not undermine personalized service. This message will open avenues for more constructive conversations when Christine meets with the board members in person.
In the more-effective message, Christine chooses to send the message in two forms. She sends it as a letter first (depicted in Figure 9.3) and as a follow-up email a few days later. In letter format, the message feels more personalized and shows the importance of the message. Likewise, it allows Christine to provide a printed-out enclosure as a courtesy.
Constructing External Persuasive Messages
LO9.5. Compose influential external persuasive messages.
Haniz writes two external persuasive messages. The first is a flyer for community members who are participating in free financial planning and tax assistance workshops sponsored and led by Better Horizons. The second is an email encouraging Better Horizons members to join the Hope Walkathon. The first message uses more logical appeals. It deals with reasons Better Horizons is a better option than local banks. The second message uses more emotional appeals. It focuses on pride in team and community, a sense of contribution to an important cause, and an exciting and hope-filled activity. It contains many facts but relies most heavily on garnering feelings of dedication and enthusiasm.
Notice the differences between the less-effective and more-effective examples in Figures 9.4 and 9.5. In the less-effective message (Figure 9.4), most components of persuasive messages are present except for a show of appreciation and a call to action. However, it employs we-voice when the potential customer should be the entire focus of the message, and it does not provide tangible benefits.
By contrast, in the more-effective flyer (Figure 9.5), Haniz wrote a message that employs you-voice and describes tangible benefits to focus the entire message on the customer. The formatting makes each benefit stand out. The tangible statements help the customer quickly identify with the worth of the benefits; for example, saving $680 on a car loan (more-effective message) is a far clearer benefit than paying 1.5 to 1.75 percentage points less (as in the less-effective message).
The more-effective example also provides an influential appreciation statement (the less-effective example provides no appreciation statement) that anticipates the thoughts of skeptical consumers. In italics, it asks, With all these benefits, why wouldn’t everyone choose credit unions? This validates the thinking of customers who might otherwise dismiss all these benefits as too good to be true. The paragraph explains why some people prefer banks and encourages customers to make direct comparisons themselves. Finally, the message concludes with a call to action—a cash reward to new members who join before September 1. Most effective sales messages provide incentives to motivate purchase of products or services.
Now notice the differences between the less-effective and more-effective external persuasive messages in Figures 9.6 and 9.7, both of which use emotional appeals to rally people to sign up for the Hope Walkathon. In the less-effective example (Figure 9.6), Haniz includes several statements that readers could perceive as guilt trips. It uses a series of extremely negative terms within the first few sentences (i.e., deadliest, cancer deaths) without providing hopeful words, an approach that could lead readers to think participating in the walkathon would make little difference. Furthermore, the message is not personalized. Rather than focusing on the local and credit union communities, it exclusively examines the problem in a national context.
In the more-effective example (Figure 9.7), the message is far more personalized, upbeat, positive, and pressure-free. Instead of citing national statistics, it provides statistics about the local community and the credit union. It places more emphasis on Betty Williams, who is tied to the community and credit union. It describes the fun and excitement the reader will feel being part of a team. It does not avoid some of the negative terms (i.e., deadliest, diagnosed) associated with breast cancer; however, it uses far more positive and constructive words and phrases (i.e., hope, prevention, treatment, survival, you can make a difference, 95 percent) to create an overall hopeful and inspiring message. While both messages contain a call to action, the call to action in the more-effective example includes a direct link to sign up online. The more-effective example provides other links as well so readers can learn more about the walkathon and the Betty Williams Breast Center.
Advances in technology offer businesspeople many innovative options for delivering persuasive messages. The Technology Tips box on page 259 focuses on the use of video messages for internal messages, but video can also be a powerful tool for delivering external messages, persuasive and otherwise.
Video sharing sites such as YouTube allow anyone to create and share video clips. The widespread popularity of YouTube reflects a deep desire by most people to be seen and heard. It also demonstrates the power that visual imagery can play in developing messages. Most companies have used YouTube, other social networking websites, and their own websites to distribute video marketing messages for many years. They have also realized the power of online videos for training and internal announcements.
Recently, however, companies have started giving employees the option of developing video podcasts. One of the first known such efforts was that of Microsoft, which in 2007 launched Academy Mobile, a YouTube-like website just for Microsoft employees and only for internal use. Employees can exercise their creativity to develop videos that increase camaraderie and share organizational knowledge. They can also gain strong name recognition within their companies.
Developing videos and podcasts in the workplace offers opportunities to persuade others and demonstrate thought leadership. When given the chance to share videos and podcasts in the workplace, keep these tips in mind:
Focus on the message. Plan your video message the same way as any other message: Analyze the needs of your colleagues (audience analysis), gather and analyze the most relevant information (idea development), and piece together the video message in a compelling and influential manner (message structuring).
Learn the software. Developing well-produced, professional videos takes more than a camera. Learn about video-editing software (such as Camtasia). Also, watch video podcasts created by popular colleagues (those colleagues who have a lot of followers).
Use the tools strategically. Develop video messages that benefit your company and your career. While entertainment value is important, your primary goal should be to educate your colleagues about a shared workplace challenge. Remember the online reputation that you seek. What skills and knowledge do you want to be known for? What personal traits do you hope to accentuate? How can you present yourself as a thought leader?
Composing Mass Sales Messages
LO9.6. Construct effective mass sales messages.
Even if you are not in a marketing position, you may participate in developing mass sales messages—messages sent to a large group of consumers and intended to market a particular product or service. Often in the form of mass emails, online ads, or sales letters, these messages generally have low success rates (ratio of number of purchases to number of message recipients). For example, a company sending out 7,000 sales letters may achieve only a 2 percent success rate (140 sales directly attributable to the mailings)—enough to make the effort profitable. Since mass emails and online ads are much less expensive than hard-copy sales letters (costs generally involve purchasing consumer email lists and online ads but no paper or postage), expected success rates may be much lower.
A secondary benefit of mass sales messages is that even when consumers do not respond with immediate purchases, these messages can raise a company’s brand awareness. Consumers may keep the company in mind when making a purchase one, two, or more years in the future. On the other hand, many consumers resent mass sales messages. Excessive sales letters and spam emails may lower brand value in some cases.
Structure of Mass Sales Messages
- Gain attention.
- Generate interest.
- Build desire.
- Call to action.
While most of the principles from this chapter apply to sales messages, the structure of mass sales messages is adjusted to increase the success rate. Even modest improvements in the success rate—for example, from 2 percent to 3 percent—can make tens of thousands of dollars’ difference in revenue. The model used most successfully for mass sales messages is the AIDA approach: attention, i nterest, d esire, and a ction. This approach begins and ends like other persuasive messages; it must first gain attention and it should end with a specific call to action.
Typically, the attention-getter needs to be livelier and even more provocative than with internal persuasive messages. After gaining attention, the next step is to build interest and curiosity. Then, the sales message should focus on building desire. That is, you want the potential customers thinking, “I want this product or service.” You conclude with a specific call to action that the potential customer can take to begin the purchase process.
Most effective sales messages contain a central sales theme. Like other messages, sales messages are strongest when they contain a coherent, unified theme that consumers can recognize quickly. However, whereas your colleagues and clients who know you will grant you a window of 30 seconds or so to provide your main point, recipients of mass sales messages may give you only a few seconds. Thus, your sales message should stick to a single, recognizable theme that resonates within seconds.
One of the most common sales themes is price. Sales messages that focus on price tend to emphasize it immediately, generally in the attention-getter. Sales messages that emphasize other attributes typically de-emphasize price by making a brief mention of it near the end of the message. Some sales messages omit any references to price. This is a risky strategy for mass sales messages since most consumers expect at least some information about price right away.
In Figures 9.8 and 9.9, you can see two mass sales messages that Haniz and her colleagues created to promote the credit union’s auto loans. In the first message (Figure 9.8), the central selling theme is price: Better Horizons Credit Union’s auto loans cost less than dealer financing. So, the attention-getter focuses on this theme in the subject line and opening paragraph. The first paragraph arouses interest by pointing out the perhaps underappreciated fact that accepting low-rate dealer financing generally involves sacrificing rebates and negotiating power. The prominent and well-designed table likewise increases interest with its easy-to-process comparison between getting an auto loan versus dealer financing. The final paragraphs build desire by showing the ease and perks of getting an auto loan and providing information about how to apply right away. This sales message primarily makes a logical appeal.
In the next sales message (Figure 9.9), Haniz and her colleagues highlight a different sales theme with a primarily emotional appeal. In this message, they focus on going car shopping with confidence and strength, directly addressing an anxiety many car shoppers have of getting taken advantage of when making a car purchase. The emotional appeal involves several influence strategies, including social proof (with the testimonial of a satisfied member who has saved money by taking out an auto loan) and reciprocation (with the warm offer to get help from a loan officer and an invitation to “work as a team” against the car dealers). You typically have much more freedom of creative expression in mass sales messages than you do with other types of persuasive messages. Haniz uses this creative license with metaphorical language tied to playing cards (“upper hand,” “dealer holds the cards”) and driving (“take you for a ride,” “get in the driver’s seat”).
Reviewing Persuasive Messages
LO9.7. Evaluate persuasive messages for effectiveness and fairness.
Always carefully review your persuasive messages, especially since nearly all of them are high-stakes communications. They can potentially provide you with more professional opportunities and enhanced credibility, or they can close off future opportunities and diminish your credibility. Likewise, because you are a representative of your organization, your persuasive messages may raise or decrease customer loyalty, revenues, and brand value.
Get Feedback and Reread
Persuasive messages are directed to others who resist your ideas, products, or services. Read your message carefully. Imagine yourself in your audience members’ position and consider how they would respond. Make sure you ask trusted colleagues to read your messages. Ask them how they would respond and how they think you can better construct the message to get your intended results. You may be best served to seek out trusted colleagues who may be resistant in the same way as your audience. These colleagues may provide the most insight to you about crafting your message carefully.
Apply the FAIR Test
Persuasive messages can be intentionally designed to manipulate colleagues and customers. In a business communications context, manipulation involves attempting to influence others by some level of deception so you can achieve your own interests. You may face many strong temptations to manipulate others through persuasive messages—to elevate your career, get a commission on that extra sale, get that bonus for exceptional performance, or pad your ego for being right.
By applying the FAIR test, you can avoid sending persuasive messages that manipulate others. This is especially the case for sales messages because any misrepresentation of your product or service is unethical. Use Figure 9.10 as a guide as you discuss with your colleagues whether your persuasive messages are fair. And by considering the experience of a business professional (see the Communication Q&A on this page), you can learn to be more thoughtful and skillful when crafting persuasive messages.
Figure 9.10 Are Your Persuasive Messages FAIR?
Facts (How factual is your persuasive message?)
- Have you presented all the facts correctly?
- Have you presented information that allows colleagues, customers, and consumers to make informed decisions that are in their best interests?
- Have you carefully considered various interpretations of your data? Have you assessed the quality of your information?
Access (How accessible or transparent are your motives, reasoning, and information?)
- Are your motives clear or will others perceive that you have a hidden agenda? Have you made yourself accessible to others so that they can learn more about your viewpoints?
- Have you fully disclosed information that colleagues, customers, or consumers should expect to receive?
- Are you hiding any information that casts your recommendations in a better light? Are you hiding real reasons for making certain claims or recommendations?
- Have you given stakeholders the opportunity to provide input in the decision-making process?
Impacts (How does your communication impact stakeholders?)
- Have you carefully considered how your ideas, products, and services will impact colleagues, customers, and consumers?
- Have you made recommendations to colleagues, customers, and consumers that are in their best interests?
Respect (How respectful is your communication?)
- If you were the customer or the colleague, would you feel that the tone of the message was appropriate?
- Does the message offend or pressure? Does it show that your colleagues’ and customers’ needs are important?
- Would a neutral observer consider your communication respectful?
Pete Cardon: Can you describe a situation in which you had to persuade others about an idea that ended up having a big impact for your company?
Ron Fuller is an information technology consultant. Following college he spent six years as a flight instructor, two years as a manager of the Olympic bobsled track, and a year as a stock trader. Then he found his passion: databases. He worked for six years at Microsoft and now works as an independent data management consultant, helping companies to better understand their businesses and their customers.
© Eric Audras/Getty Images
Ron Fuller: When I worked at Microsoft, I had to persuade my general manager [GM] to not require my team to use a first-version product because it was simply not capable of supporting our needs. That was very difficult because GMs at Microsoft are expected to showcase new products in their own operations, so the pressure on my team was intense. After several weeks of testing, evaluation, and discussion, we found ourselves in a high-profile meeting where we were expected to declare our intentions to adopt the product. I was painfully torn between my clear obligation to do as instructed by management and what I felt was also an obligation to our large base of users within the company. Each member of my team, when called under the spotlight, agreed to adopt the new product while acknowledging the reservations. When it was my turn, I also agreed. However, I also spelled out as tactfully as I could the negative consequences for thousands of our pre-sales support engineers around the world. In light of this argument, the GM relented. Within one year, it became clear that this was the best outcome because the system my team created instead became one of the largest and most popular content distribution systems within the company.
PC: How do you prepare to sell an idea? How do you gather information about it? Do you learn about the people you’re going to make the pitch to?
RF: Understanding the interests of the person you are trying to persuade is the most important part of formulating your pitch. The GM in my example was completely aware that adopting the new product would be problematic for thousands of field engineers and enormously costly for the company. But to him the cost was worth the benefit, at least from the perspective of his career. He wanted the news releases and analyst reports to highlight his use of the new product. The disaster that would follow would not command near the attention and would be seen, if seen at all, as an internal technical matter. It would not directly impact his performance review, his budget, nor his influence within the company. In the end, only a high-profile disclosure that he had been fully and publicly advised of the consequences in advance persuaded him to recalculate his interests.
PC: In your experience, what are some of the common mistakes employees make when trying to sell their ideas within a company?
RF: Failing to appeal to the interests of the right decision makers is probably the most common mistake. Often an employee will have a good idea, but if the people who make the decisions don’t see it as being in their interest, the idea won’t go very far. It’s important to understand that the interest of the company and the interests of decision makers within management are not always the same thing. They usually should be, and often are, but not always.
Chapter Takeaway for Persuasive Messages
LO 9.1. Describe the relationship between credibility and persuasion. (pp. 240–241)
Delivering effective persuasive messages improves your reputation for personal credibility.
|It shows competence when you know everything about your product, service, or idea.||It shows caring when you explain how your product, service, or idea benefits others.||It shows character when you provide completely reliable and honest information.|
LO 9.2. Explain the AIM planning process for persuasive messages and the basic components of most persuasive messages. (pp. 241–245)
Courtesy of Peter Cardon.
AIM Planning Process
Audience Analysis: Identify the needs of your audience and learn how it is influenced.
Idea Development: Gather extensive information about the products, services, and ideas that you are writing about.
Message Structuring: Gain attention, tie needs to benefits, provide rationale, show appreciation, and call your audience to action.
|Components of Persuasive Messages|
|Types of Attention-Getters|
See examples of attention-getters in Table 9.1.
LO 9.3. Explain how the tone and style of persuasive messages impact their influence. (pp. 245–252)
|Guidelines for Tone and Style for Persuasive Messages|
LO 9.4. Create compelling internal persuasive messages. (pp. 252–255)
|Components of Internal Persuasive Messages|
LO 9.5. Compose influential external persuasive messages. (pp. 255–259)
|Components of External Persuasive Messages|
LO 9.6. Construct effective mass sales messages. (pp. 259–261)
|Structure of Mass Sales Messages|
LO 9.7. Evaluate persuasive messages for effectiveness and fairness. (pp. 262–263)
Research and Planning for Business Reports
© Juice Images/Getty Images
After studying this chapter, you should be able to do the following:
- Explain how planning and conducting business research for reports impacts your credibility.
- Create research objectives that are specific and achievable.
- Explain principles of effective design for survey questions and choices.
- Develop charts and tables to concisely display data and accentuate key messages.
- Evaluate the usefulness of data sources for business research.
- Conduct secondary research to address a business problem.
- Evaluate research data, charts, and tables for fairness and effectiveness.
Hear Pete Cardon explain why this matters.
In your career, you’ll be responsible for reading and preparing an amazing variety of business reports. Common types include business plans, project reports, status or progress reports, financial plans, marketing plans, strategic plans, and technical reports. Reports can range from a single page to thousands of pages. One characteristic is common to all types: the purpose is to provide sound information, analysis, and advice to decision makers.
Compared to most daily business correspondence, reports are considered more reliable, authoritative, thorough, and final. As decision-making tools, they are typically commissioned by and written for middle-level or upper-level managers or external stakeholders (i.e., loan officers, stockholders). Because of their role in decision making, most reports take much more time to create than daily business correspondence. Furthermore, many reports are written collaboratively since they contain complex information that requires the talents and resources of many professionals.
Many reports rely on business research. A person who can conduct business research will have many opportunities for success and advancement. Research is the process of searching for knowledge. In business, you may want to know how consumers think and feel; understand employees’ attitudes about a new policy; forecast sales based on past performance and carefully selected assumptions; use internal data to identify consumer behavioral patterns; or examine data to address a variety of business problems.
Conducting and reporting research can enhance your credibility in a variety of ways. You demonstrate an often rare competency in the workplace when you can zero in on core business problems and collect and analyze data that relates to these problems. You show caring by involving key decision makers in the process and conducting research that meets their needs. Also, your character is significantly enhanced when decision makers recognize that they can count on you to deliver results in an objective and unbiased fashion.
In this chapter, we consider several approaches to planning and conducting research for reports. Overall, the purpose is to gather and analyze data that will drive excellent decision making and high organizational performance. First, we focus on setting research objectives, a process that ensures you identify the most relevant data for your business goals. Then, we examine the processes of primary and secondary research to ensure that you will gather reliable data. We also discuss how to effectively present numerical and other information in charts, graphs, and tables so that your complex data is easy to understand and supports your key messages. Read the following case, which serves as the basis for examples provided in Chapters 12 and 13.
LO12.1. Explain how planning and conducting business research for reports impacts your credibility.
Jeff Anderton, marketing assistant
- Has worked at the Prestigio for three months
- Roles include marketing of meetings and conventions to professional groups and tracking customer satisfaction
- Graduated a year ago with a marketing major and statistics minor
© Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images LLC
Andrea Garcia, general manager
- Has worked as general manager for one year
- Started at the Prestigio nearly nine years ago in a position similar to Jeff’s marketing assistant position
- Expects thorough data and analysis before making decisions
The Prestigio is a four-star hotel that gains much of its business from conventions and meetings. In recent years, it has lost revenue in nearly all areas. In particular, for each of the past two years, the Prestigio has lost between 5 and 10 percent in revenues for conferences. Thus, Andrea wonders if they need to reevaluate their strategy on meetings. She is concerned about the drop in business and wants good research to understand how to move forward.
Andrea recently asked Jeff to work on three marketing research projects. She expects him to complete them in roughly three months.
For the first project, she wants Jeff to analyze guest satisfaction at the Prestigio compared to its three chief competitors: the Grand Swan, Great Falls, and Wyatt. She wants Jeff to use an online hotel rating system to conduct the analysis. Andrea also wants to know if satisfaction ratings have improved in relation to two recent initiatives: increasing the guest-to-staff ratio and increasing the amount of customer-service training. Jeff determines that he can best gather the data with primary research, through a survey he will develop.
For the second project, Andrea wants Jeff to conduct a survey about guest satisfaction among conference attendees. She is particularly interested in guests for three-day conferences. One issue she wants to address is their purchase of and satisfaction with Internet service in their guest rooms. As with the first task, Jeff decides that the best way to address Andrea’s research objectives is to develop a survey.
For the third project, Andrea wants Jeff to gather information about eco-friendly or green meetings. Traditionally, the Prestigio has not focused on green meetings. However, in the past year, Andrea has noticed that meeting planners and other guests frequently inquire about green meetings. She wants to know if the Prestigio should invest more resources in such options. Jeff will use a combination of primary and secondary research to address the research objectives for this project.
Gather and analyze guest satisfaction ratings for the Prestigio and its competitors.
Conduct a survey of recent conference attendees to evaluate conference satisfaction.
Gather information about best practices in green meetings.
Analyzing Your Audience for Business Reports
The planning stage for many types of business reports—especially those based on research—often takes months, even years. Like other communications, you can apply the AIM planning process to develop your message based on good ideas that meet the needs of decision makers.
The first step in developing research-based business reports is identifying what decision makers want to accomplish. In many cases, they will commission the reports and have clear goals in mind. In other cases, they do not have clear goals. In all cases, you should spend time with your target audience of decision makers to carefully consider their primary business goals, research objectives, and expectations.1
During the research and report writing process, consider updating decision makers and involving them in the process. This increases the likelihood that you will develop a report that is useful to them.
Developing Your Ideas with Primary Research
With a clear understanding of what decision makers want from reports, you are ready to begin research. For important business decisions, gathering data can take weeks, months, and even years. Since many reports are intended to aid high-stakes decision making, getting the right information, analyzing it correctly, and making related recommendations needs to be done carefully and completely.
Business research can be broadly categorized as primary and secondary. Primary research refers to the analysis of data that you, people from your organization, or others under your direction (i.e., consultants) have collected. Secondary research refers to the analysis of data collected by others with no direction from you or members of your organization.
Primary research is generally most reliable and useful for your business reports because you can focus it to meet your specific research objectives and get feedback directly related to your organization and its needs. However, conducting primary research is often time-consuming, intrusive, and expensive. In some cases, primary research might suffer from a bias toward preexisting opinions and beliefs. For example, a marketing director who is convinced that a new product will be successful when it hits market may misinterpret consumer research to fit his/her preexisting opinions. Common types of primary research include analysis of internal data, survey research, focus groups, interviews, and case studies.
In this chapter, we focus on one of the most common types of primary research: surveys. Survey research is increasingly common because of the ease with which online surveys can be administered (see Technology Tips on page 361). Generally, survey research involves administering written questionnaires. Most survey questions are closed questions: They restrict respondents to certain answers (rating scales, multiple choice, etc.). Some survey questions are open-ended questions, allowing respondents to answer in any way they choose. Closed questions can be more easily quantified and analyzed. However, open-ended questions allow you to understand an issue in more depth.
Developing Research Objectives
LO12.2. Create research objectives that are specific and achievable.
Once you have identified what your audience of decision makers needs, you will carefully define your research problems. Defining research problems involves stating your research objectives in specific, targeted, and achievable statements. Notice in Table 12.1 how Jeff develops research objectives for two of his research projects.
Table 12.1 Creating Research Objectives
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|Determine how satisfied our conference guests are.||Determine guest satisfaction among conference attendees for key conference amenities and services.|
|This objective is not specific enough. The statement does not lead to a focused approach to research.||This objective is specific. The statement leads to a focused approach to research.|
|Understand green meetings.||Identify key trends impacting the market demand for green meetings held at hotels.|
|This objective is not specific. It is too broad and lacks context.||This objective is specific. It focuses on a context that is relevant to the Prestigio.|
With online survey technology readily available and easy to use, you will likely have many opportunities to use it in the workplace. Surveys are particularly useful because you can quickly get the responses of dozens if not hundreds of colleagues, current or potential customers, or members of other groups of interest. Online surveys are a nice tool because you can automatically dump all the data you collect into a spreadsheet. Of course, online surveys are not always convenient or possible, so you will sometimes use traditional paper-and-pencil questionnaires.
LO12.3. Explain principles of effective design for survey questions and choices.
Principles for Survey Questions
- Simple to answer
- Exhaustive and unambiguous
- Single idea
Ideally, you will have opportunities to learn about effective survey design, data collection, and analysis in some of your university courses. If you don’t have this opportunity, many excellent books can help you develop your survey research skills. However, to develop your survey skills, you will need more than how-to knowledge. You also need to practice several times; there’s no substitute for conducting several surveys and using the data to solve business problems in the workplace.
Generally, surveys should be short. Rarely can you get accurate data from surveys that take longer than five minutes to complete. Most consumer research questionnaires contain fewer than five or six questions. If the survey takes too long, respondents may become impatient and provide less-than-accurate responses or skip questions. The exception is when you pay respondents to take a survey. The obvious drawback is the high cost.
Another key to getting reliable data is designing the survey questions effectively. Survey questions should be (a) simple to answer, (b) non-leading, (c) exhaustive and unambiguous, and (d) limited to a single idea.
Survey Questions Should Be Simple to Answer
As you design most surveys, envision respondents who are eager to complete the items quickly and who will spend minimal time thinking about any given item. Survey questions should contain short questions and response options. Thus, respondents should be able to read the entire question in 10 to 20 seconds and select a response that matches their true opinions and feelings within just a few seconds. In Table 12.2, you will notice how Jeff is developing survey questions for his research about guest satisfaction.
Survey Questions Should Be Non-Leading
Be sure the questions in your survey are non-leading. A leading question is one that suggests an answer. Often, the leading question is designed to gain a preferred response from the survey designer’s perspective. Sometimes, leading questions are phrased to imply how a respondent should answer. For example, the following leading question would likely lead many respondents to provide insincere answers: As a citizen in the country with the most per capita carbon emissions in the world, how interested are you in learning about green meeting options? Leading questions often do not allow respondents to provide their genuine thoughts or impressions. So, leading questions in surveys can produce unreliable and unusable information (see Table 12.3).
Table 12.3 Creating Non-Leading Survey Questions
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|To show my support for the green meeting movement, I would recommend the Prestigio as a good site for a business conference.
||I would recommend the Prestigio as a good site for a business conference.
|This survey question is leading. It suggests to respondents a correct or right answer. It would not provide reliable or useful results.||This survey question is non-leading. It does not suggest or manipulate a response. It would likely provide useful data.|
Survey Choices Should Be Exhaustive and Unambiguous
Survey choices should be complete. Being exhaustive means that all possibilities are available, and being unambiguous means that only one choice is appropriate (see Table 12.4).
Table 12.4 Creating Exhaustive and Unambiguous Survey Choices
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|These choices are neither exhaustive nor unambiguous. They are not exhaustive because respondents who are 65 and over would not have a choice to select. They are not unambiguous because two of the choices overlap (C and D); in other words, a person who is 50 could select either option.||These choices are both exhaustive and unambiguous. Any respondent of any age would find just one correct response.|
Survey Questions Should Contain One Idea
Survey questions that contain more than one idea are difficult for respondents to answer (see Table 12.5).
Table 12.5 Creating Survey Questions with a Single Idea
|Less Effective||More Effective|
|How much do you know about green meetings and possible savings on these meetings?
||How much do you know about green meeting options for your business?
|This question contains two ideas: (1) what the respondent knows about green meetings; and (2) what the respondent knows about possible savings on green meetings. This is confusing to the respondent and impossible for the researcher to interpret.||This question contains one idea. As a result, the question is easy for the respondent to answer and easy for the researcher to analyze.|
Furthermore, they are impossible to correctly analyze. Notice Jeff’s completed survey in Figure 12.1.
Analyzing Your Data
Once you’ve conducted your surveys, your next step is to analyze the data. This job may feel exhilarating. Or it may feel overwhelming and even daunting. Even small sets of data from relatively few survey questions can be analyzed and configured in nearly limitless ways. As you develop your primary research skills, consider the following advice:
- Learn as much as you can about forecasting and other forms of statistical and quantitative analysis. Unless you apply good principles of analysis, you can easily get flawed results. Furthermore, unless you are careful, you can without any intention of doing so allow your preconceived ideas and biases to affect how you interpret the data.
- Learn as much as you can about spreadsheet, database, and statistical software. You likely will have a course in spreadsheet software (i.e., Excel). Make the most of this training and continue experimenting with it to feel comfortable analyzing data. Also, develop a basic understanding of databases. All companies store tremendous amounts of information in databases. If you understand basic database design, you will know what types of information you can extract to answer your research questions. Finally, statistical software (i.e., SPSS, SAS, SYSTAT) can help you conduct analyses far more rapidly and efficiently than can spreadsheet software.
- Rely on others in your analysis. You will likely work with colleagues who have quantitative analysis skills in certain disciplines and for certain types of business problems, and you can turn to them for technical help. Also, you can turn to others for analytical help, because when you analyze data in a group, you are less likely to inadvertently misinterpret the data.
- Stay focused on your business problem and look for the big picture. Often, company databases or survey data contain so much information that you can easily be overwhelmed by the many ways to use it. As you discipline yourself to focus on your key research problems, you are less likely to get bogged down looking at tangential issues.
Communicating with Charts and Tables
Nearly all business activities and goals are measured and quantified: profit and loss, operating expenses, marketing expenditures, employee turnover, performance evaluations, market share, budgets, customer behavior, quality, and so on. Simply put, business executives and managers communicate with numbers. Some management experts even describe the ability to communicate numbers as a core managerial competency. Thus, in this section, we’ll focus on using charts and tables to communicate numerical information.
After conducting survey research or other forms of business research, you typically have many statistics and figures that you could include in reports to decision makers. However, presenting this information effectively is challenging. In fact, most managers are poor at communicating numerical information. Also, while business managers tend to like numbers, few listeners and readers can absorb a lot of them at one sitting. As one communication expert mentioned to managers, “The chances are good that you love numbers a lot more than most of your audience members do. … Overloading your audience members with data is a sure way to guarantee they’ll forget almost everything you say.”2 Although most managers communicate with numbers with the intention of persuading and inspiring, they most often end up confusing or boring their audience.
The most fundamental mistake that executives and managers make when communicating with numbers is failing to focus on the main message, which tends to be nonnumerical. Phrases such as, “I’m going to spend a few minutes going through the numbers,” or “Let me give you some background by running through the numbers” can cause your audience to tune out.3 As you will learn in more detail in the next sections, your presentation’s takeaway message should be your first and primary consideration when communicating with charts and tables. As you read through the next few pages, notice how Jeff designs charts and tables for his research at the Prestigio Hotel. In particular, pay attention to how these charts and tables are useful for Andrea, who is the general manager and primary decision maker.
Designing Effective Charts
Charts can effectively convey complex numerical information in a simple, appealing format. A well-designed chart can express a strong message and leave a lasting visual impression on viewers and readers. Since many viewers and readers immediately gravitate to them, charts have the potential to draw readers into a document or presentation almost instantaneously.
LO12.4. Develop charts and tables to concisely display data and accentuate key messages.
Overall, the message of the chart is central. As Dona Wong, graphics director of The Wall Street Journal from 2001 to 2010, explained, “It is the content that makes graphics interesting. When a chart is presented properly, information just flows to the viewer in the clearest and most efficient way. There are no extra layers of colors, no enhancements to distract us from the clarity of the information.”4 As with other business messages, planning is the key component of developing charts.
Effective business communicators carefully select the few data relationships that most support their business messages. Top graphic designer Nigel Holmes, who is credited with coining the term explanation graphics, notes that charts must do more than describe or inform. They should explain important business ideas or relationships that support the key messages of a communication. Furthermore, charts should not require much mental effort for the reader. As Holmes points out, “Charts that don’t explain themselves are worse than no charts.”5
Throughout this chapter you’ll find charts and tables that illustrate the strategic use of data to address the concerns of Andrea from the chapter case. While dozens of chart options are available, this section focuses on the three types used primarily within the workplace: line charts, pie charts, and bar charts. Several other chart and figure types are illustrated with less detail. Mastering the design principles of these most common and relevant charts will enable you to create other, less-common types if you choose to do so.
Generally, line charts are useful for depicting events and trends over time. For example, stock prices over time would make the most sense when presented in the form of a line chart. Pie charts are useful for illustrating the pieces within a whole. Market share would be best illustrated with a pie chart. Bar charts are useful to compare amounts or quantities. The bar chart, with its many forms, is the most versatile of these charts since it can be used to compare many types of data.
Creating Effective Charts
As you create charts, focus on the following criteria: (a) title descriptiveness, (b) focal points, (c) information sufficiency, (d) ease of processing, and, most important, (e) takeaway message. In the following pages, you will find a discussion of each of these criteria. Also, you will find less-effective and more-effective examples for each major type of chart. Each of the examples is supplemented with explanations about these five criteria.
Most readers look first at the chart’s title to grasp its message. Thus, the title should explain the primary point of the chart. However, it must be short enough for the reader to process quickly (generally less than ten words). In some cases you may add a subtitle if the short title is not sufficient.
Consider Figure 12.2, which illustrates identical information with a less-effective and more-effective line chart. In the less-effective chart on the left, the chart title is a short and relatively unhelpful phrase, “Staff & Service Ratings.” By contrast, the chart title in the more-effective chart on the right uses a title and a subtitle. The main title, “Improvement in Staff & Service Ratings,” uses the first word to immediately point out the main theme of the chart. The subtitle, in just seven words, accentuates the idea that the improvement was intentional or goal-based (“Raising Our Performance”) and that the improvement far exceeded that of primary competitors.
Figure 12.2 Less-Effective and More-Effective Line Charts
Key Design and Formatting Problems in Less-Effective Chart Adjustments in More-Effective Chart Title descriptiveness Nondescriptive, bland title. It does not tie into any primary message. Title and subtitle focus on intentional improvement. Focal points Lacks focal points. All parts of the chart are treated equally—thus, there is no emphasis or indication of what should be the key points of comparison. The callout box focuses attention on the staff and service initiative as the cause of rising customer satisfaction. A darker, thicker line with a bold label draws attention to the Prestigio data series. Information sufficiency Inadequate information about the rating scale. What do the numbers represent? What is the year for which data was gathered? The note provides information about the rating scale. Ease of processing Legend placed on the right side. This forces the reader to move back and forth between the legend and the data series in the plot area. Further, the colors do not aid in the information presentation. Instead of a legend, data labels are placed directly at the end of each data series (line) to make identification of each hotel’s performance easier. Additionally, the color scheme is kept to a minimum, thereby prominently displaying the dramatic rise in ratings. Takeaway message Staff and service ratings have improved for the Prestigio over the past year. However, the message requires too much effort for the viewer and could easily be missed or forgotten quickly. All elements of the chart capture the message that the Prestigio staff and service initiative has successfully improved customer satisfaction compared to competitors.
A chart should draw the reader’s attention to the most-critical relationships and ideas. Much like unified paragraphs (Chapter 3), in which all sentences focus on one main idea, each of the chart’s focal points should support one main idea. The focal points can be visually generated in many interesting ways—for example, font choices (bold, italics), color, size, and callout boxes.
In the more-effective line chart in Figure 12.2, a variety of focal points highlight the improvement in staff and service ratings at the Prestigio. The callout box centered in the chart directs the reader to the point in time when the Prestigio launched its staff and service initiative, allowing the reader to trace the improvement in ratings since that time. The Prestigio data series is emphasized with a darker, thicker line that is placed on top of the other data series (for the other hotels).
Just how much information should you include in your charts? Charts should contain enough information for the reader to quickly and reasonably understand the ideas that are being displayed. Clear labels and legends should demonstrate what is being measured and in what units. In some cases, readers will expect to know data values at each point within the chart.
Although the ineffective line chart in Figure 12.2 does contain a legend showing which lines correspond to which hotels, the meaning of the y-axis is not as clear. A reader may assume that the data comes from a survey, since ratings is in the title, but be unsure what the range or direction of the scale is. By contrast, the more-effective line chart in Figure 12.2 contains a note indicating the range of the scale. Many charts place this information in a label along the y-axis.
Ease of Processing
Another basic purpose of a chart is to convey complicated information as quickly as possible. If your readers can’t process the information rapidly, they will lose interest. To some degree, this requires a balancing act with information sufficiency. The more information you provide, the more difficult it may be for some readers to process the chart quickly. By selecting only the necessary information and placing labels and data at appropriate places, you enable your reader to process the information quickly and efficiently. Ideally, your reader should grasp the key ideas within 10 to 15 seconds.
The less-effective line chart in Figure 12.2 reveals several processing problems. The most serious is that the legend forces the reader to glance back and forth between the lines and the legend to correctly link the data series. Another problem is that the Prestigio data series, which should be the center of attention, is placed underneath the other lines, with no special formatting features to make it stand out. The more-effective chart is far easier to process. Data labels appear directly next to each line so that the reader does not have to glance back and forth between the legend and the plot area. Furthermore, the Prestigio line is bolder and thicker, and it is placed in front of the other lines to draw the intended attention.
An effective chart leaves a lasting impression about your key point. Will your readers remember your intended main message in two hours? If not, your chart had little impact. The takeaway is the essence of your chart—how the information, title, focal points, and other formatting combine to convey a lasting message. Overall, the ineffective line chart in Figure 12.2 leaves little lasting impression. The reader who studies the chart carefully might see that the Prestigio’s staff and service ratings improved more than did those of competitors, but the reader has to get through a compilation of colored lines with little or no contextual reference. Furthermore, the chart offers no explanation for why this change in ratings may have occurred. By contrast, a reader can rapidly process the more-effective line chart in Figure 12.2. The title, focal points, and simple design lead to one strong takeaway message: The Prestigio launched a staff and service initiative that has successfully improved customer satisfaction compared with its major competitors. Figures 12.3, 12.4, and 12.5 present other types of charts with less-effective and more-effective variations. Figures 12.6 and 12.7 present a variety of other useful formats for charts.
Figure 12.3 Less-Effective and More-Effective Pie Charts
Key Design and Formatting Problems in Less-Effective Chart Adjustments in More-Effective Chart Title Descriptive but unexciting title. Descriptive title focuses attention on the fact that these are 3-day conference attendees. Focal points The main focal point is the large pie slice. The colors used give a very dense and dark feeling to the visual. The primary focal point is the slice highlighting those not purchasing any Internet service. It is labeled more effectively (“No Purchase of Internet” versus “0 days” in the less-effective chart) and is written in bold text on a darker-colored background to draw attention to this key point. Information sufficiency Absence of data label on each slice makes this chart difficult to interpret. Data labels are provided in percentages. Ease of processing Legend is placed on the bottom. This forces the reader to move back and forth between the legend and the pie slices in the plot area. Also, the breakaway, 3-D shape of the object skews the data. The pie slices are not arranged for fastest processing. Data series names and data labels are placed together in the pie slices to foster easy processing. The largest pie slice is located at 12 o’clock for quick recognition (most people read pie charts beginning at 12 and continue to read in a clockwise direction). Takeaway message Most conference attendees do not purchase Internet services. However, getting the message requires a great deal of effort and could easily be missed or forgotten quickly. All aspects of the chart collectively demonstrate that conference attendees are unlikely to purchase Internet services.
Figure 12.4 Less-Effective and More-Effective Bar Charts
Key Design and Formatting Problems in Less-Effective Chart Adjustments in More-Effective Chart Title descriptiveness Nondescriptive, bland title. Title immediately recognizes the Prestigio’s leading position in dining ratings. Focal points Lacks focal points. All bars are treated equally. Darker color of the Prestigio bar draws attention to it. Information sufficiency Inadequate information about the rating scale. A note about the rating scale and inclusion of data labels provides sufficient information. Ease of processing The legend is unnecessary and distracting. The items are not ordered effectively (the order is neither alphabetical nor quantitative) to help draw rapid comparisons. The large gap size compared to bar width reduces quick processing. The axis increments are in rarely used units (generally, units in multiples of 2, 5, and 10 are more natural). The chart is arranged in descending order by average ratings to make comparisons easier. Bar width in comparison to gap width is most conducive to rapid processing. Takeaway message The takeaway message is that the Prestigio has higher dining ratings. However, the message is weak and could easily be glossed over or forgotten. The Prestigio occupies the proud position of leading its competitors in dining ratings. This is a strong, optimistic, and memorable message.
Figure 12.5 Ineffective Clustered-Column Chart and More-Effective Panel of Charts
Ineffective Clustered-Column Chart Effective Alternative: Panel of Charts Title Descriptive but bland. Curiosity building (“How the Prestigio Stacks Up”); a call to action (“Room for Improvement in…”). Focal points None. Too cluttered. Prestigio rankings and position for each rating area. Information sufficiency No data labels. Data labels provided for each rating area. Ease of processing Nearly impossible. Too much information. Not sorted. Simple and easy processing for each rating area. Charts are organized by relative performance (excellent performance on left side, needs improvement performance on right side). Takeaway message No key point related to the ratings. The Prestigio is elite in various areas compared to its competitors, but is behind in other key areas.
How the Prestigio Stacks Up
Room for Improvement in Cleanliness, Meeting Rooms, Business Center, Staff & Service
Note: Ratings are on a scale from 1, poor, to 5, excellent. All ratings were retrieved from the Wahoo travel website and are averaged across the year.
Figure 12.6 Other Common Charts for Statistical Data
Doughnut charts allow you to represent wholes. Unlike pie charts, you can present more than one data series.
High-low charts allow you to show values that fluctuate. These charts are often used for stock prices.
Histograms allow you to represent frequencies. Frequencies often reveal data relationships not easily visible by looking at averages.
Scatter plot or X-Y charts allow you to include pairs of data on an x-y plot. Many scatter plots contain trend lines to reveal data relationships.
Figure 12.7 Common Charts for Organizational Structures, Projects, and Processes
Org charts allow you to show who various personnel report to.
Gantt charts allow you to show progress on aspects of projects. These charts are frequently used as part of project management.
Flowcharts allow you to depict a series of steps in a process or procedure to help others make decisions.
Chevron lists or charts allow you to show a set of sequential steps and provide subpoints for each step.
General Rules of Chart Formatting
Although formatting a chart is secondary to creating a powerful takeaway message, it is by no means unimportant. Since visuals have an impact even before the reader begins reading, ineffective formatting can give the reader an impression of sloppy or imprecise work.
Generally, the formatting should be as simple as possible and should accentuate the key data relationships. If a formatting feature detracts from the key points, remove or improve it. Table 12.6 provides general formatting guidelines for charts.
Table 12.6 Formatting Guidelines for Specific Chart Types
|Chart Type||Formatting Guidelines|
Designing Effective Tables
Generally, charts are the most effective way of quickly demonstrating a key point or relationship. However, charts are limited in the amount of information they can provide.
Tables, by contrast, allow you to provide more data with additional precision. Because of this, charts are generally better for highlighting a key idea, and tables are generally better for comprehensiveness and precision.
Evaluating the Effectiveness of Tables
Like charts, tables are typically more effective with simple formatting. In addition, the way a table presents data can affect the clarity of its message. Consider, for example, the tables in Figure 12.8, which are based on identical data. Place yourself in the position of the reader and assume you have the following question: “Does higher income level correspond with higher likelihood of purchasing Internet services?” It is difficult to answer this question quickly by looking at the less-effective table. By contrast, glancing at the more-effective table rapidly reveals that purchasing no Internet service (0 days) strongly correlates with the lowest income bracket (under $30,000/year).
Figure 12.8 A Less-Effective and More-Effective Table
During the three days of the conference you attended at the Prestigio, how many days did you purchase Internet service? Days of Internet Service 0 1 2 3 All Respondents 154 15 31 36 Gender Male 82 8 15 22 Female 72 7 16 14 Income Under $30,000 15 0 1 2 $30,000–$40,000 41 4 3 7 $40,000–$50,000 48 3 11 12 $50,000–$75,000 33 6 7 8 $75,000–$100,000 12 2 4 4 Over $100,000 5 0 5 3
Internet Service Purchases among Conference Guests
Days of Internet Service Purchased (Number of Respondents in Parentheses) 0 Days 1 Day 2 Days 3 Days Total (#) All Respondents 65.5% (154) 6.4% (15) 13.2% (31) 15.3% (36) 236 Gender Male 64.6% (82) 6.3% (8) 11.8% (15) 17.3% (22) 127 Female 66.1% (72) 6.4% (7) 14.7% (16) 12.8% (14) 109 Income Under $30,000 83.3% (15) 0.0% (0) 5.6% (1) 11.1% (2) 18 $30,000–$40,000 74.5% (41) 7.3% (4) 5.5% (3) 12.7% (7) 55 $40,000–$50,000 64.9% (48) 4.1% (3) 14.9% (11) 16.2% (12) 74 $50,000–$75,000 61.1% (33) 11.1% (6) 13.0% (7) 14.8% (8) 54 $75,000–$100,000 54.5% (12) 9.1% (2) 18.2% (4) 18.2% (4) 22 Over $100,000 38.5% (5) 0.0% (0) 38.5% (5) 23.1% (3) 13
The less-effective table is cluttered due to excessive grid lines, poor labels, and non-indented items. By contrast, the more-effective table limits the number of grid lines. Furthermore, each grid line serves a distinct purpose. The initial grid lines separate the column labels from the survey data. Subsequent grid lines separate each category of data, including those for all respondents, gender, and income level. Indents of items within each category further accentuate the distinctions between categories.
The second table also is more effective because numerical adjustments have been made. The first table contains counts of respondents who responded in certain ways. Counts make it difficult for readers to make effective comparisons quickly. Yet, many readers are also interested in knowing how many people participated in a survey. By converting the counts into percentages, the more-effective table enables readers to process the information more easily. Placing the counts in parentheses makes the data comprehensive.
General Rules of Table Formatting
Overall, more-effective formatting and numerical conversion make a significant impact on the usefulness of a table. The general guidelines in Table 12.7 will help you create more effective tables.
Table 12.7 Formatting Guidelines for Tables
Conducting surveys has become increasingly easy with various software, such as SurveyMonkey, Qualtrics, and various add-ins for meeting and social software. The software, in many cases, helps you rapidly create survey questions. It often contains a pool of existing questions you can even select from.
In an online format, you can send the survey link to anyone in your contact list, including colleagues and customers. In other words, such software gives you greater access to survey respondents than was possible as recently as a few years ago. Furthermore, many companies specialize in helping you gain access to millions of potential respondents (called an online panel). When you conduct marketing or consumer research, these companies can help you get a large sample size for nearly any demographic of interest.
Source: Reprinted with permission of Survey Monkey, www.surveymonkey.com.
Another benefit of using online surveys is that the data is immediately dumped into a database or spreadsheet in a form you can quickly analyze. Some online survey software even provides immediate reports that include summary and crosstab statistics (although you’ll often want to manipulate the data yourself to dig deeper and get answers to particular questions).
As you use online survey software, keep in mind the following tips:
Apply the same careful and thorough standards you would to any form of business research. The ease of creating online surveys often leads business professionals to use them carelessly, not putting enough time into designing the survey questions.
Avoid overusing online surveys. Again, because of the ease of administering online surveys, employees in many organizations are bombarded with surveys. As a result, employees often suffer respondent fatigue and respond to surveys less carefully. The results of the survey are only as good as the careful input of your respondents.
Developing Your Ideas with Secondary Research
In most cases, primary research is ideal. You can carefully tailor it to your specific business problems. Primary research, however, takes a lot of time and money. Even with sufficient resources, your organization may lack access to certain types of data. Generally, a far less-expensive approach is secondary research. One advantage of nearly all secondary research is that someone else already spent the time to conduct and write it up.
LO12.5. Evaluate the usefulness of data sources for business research.
Evaluating Data Quality
As you collect secondary research, carefully evaluate it in terms of data quality. Concern yourself with the following issues:
- Reliability relates to how dependable the data is—how current and representative.
- Relevance of the data relates to how well it applies to your specific business problem.
- Adaptability relates to how well the research can be altered or revised to meet your specific business problem.
- Expertise relates to the skill and background of the researchers to address your business problem.
- Biases are tendencies to see issues from particular perspectives. The possibility of biases does not necessarily imply that secondary research is unreliable; however, when using such research, view the data cautiously and keep in mind the ultimate objectives of the researchers.
Some secondary research reports cost thousands of dollars to purchase, whereas others are free. You have a variety of options to choose from with secondary research, including white papers, industry publications, business periodicals, scholarly journals, external blogs, and business books. Each of these types of secondary data has benefits and drawbacks (see Table 12.8). Thus, you will inevitably face trade-offs as you select secondary data.
Table 12.8 Strengths and Limitations of Data Quality for Primary and Secondary Research Sources
|Goals and preexisting notions of the researcher|
|Organizational mission and objectives|
|Mission of the publication/editing team|
|Mission of the publication/editing team|
|Scholarly Journals||High||Low||Low||High||Theoretical significance|
|External Blogs, Wikis, and Other Websites||Low
|Writers’ career objectives|
|The latest, greatest idea mentality; easy fixes|
White papers are reports or guides that generally describe research about solving a particular issue—perhaps one similar to the one you are encountering. They are issued by governments and organizations. White papers are readily available on many corporate and other organizational websites. However, they are often biased, since white papers are often produced by industry groups with an agenda or companies with specific marketing goals related to the white paper. Thus, when you rely on white papers, you should learn about the agendas of the sponsoring organizations.
Industry publications are written to cater to the specific interests of members in particular industries. These can include periodicals and reports. Industry reports often are highly reliable, relevant, and expert-based. However, industry reports are generally expensive, ranging from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Generally, the more reliable the industry reports are, the more expensive they are. Fortunately, many business libraries carry a variety of expensive industry reports and publications that are free for you to use as long as you are enrolled at your university.
Business periodicals ( magazines, newspapers) provide stories, information, and advice about contemporary business issues. They are often written by well-respected business journalists and experts. However, most articles in magazines and periodicals will have limited value in applying to your specific business problems and your organization. Furthermore, these articles often rely on anecdotal evidence rather than carefully controlled experiments and survey research. Periodicals that are industry publications are often far more relevant than general business magazines and articles.
Scholarly journals contain business research that is extremely reliable. The information comes from carefully controlled scientific research processes and has been reviewed by experts in the field. However, scholarly business articles rarely provide useful information for business problems that you will focus on in the workplace. Rather, scholarly articles focus on more theoretical and abstract issues. Furthermore, they are generally written with a level of statistical analysis and/or theoretical background that is difficult to understand.
External blogs and other online resources provide a plethora of information. Since most blogs are not formally edited or reviewed, the range in reliability is enormous. As you progress in your career, you will find those blogs that are reliable and relevant to the types of business problems you face. If you rely on blogs, make sure you carefully determine the expertise of the blog writer/s.
Business and management books range greatly in terms of their overall usefulness. Fortunately, you can usually better assess the usefulness of business and management books than other secondary sources because of the many online reviews available and the ability to preview sections of the books (online and in person at bookstores or libraries). Online reviews can help you gauge how useful various books can be for your particular business problems.
Conducting Library Research
Most university libraries have rich stores of information on business. Aside from a significant collection of books across a wide range of disciplines and topics, your library likely contains a wealth of digital resources. You likely also have access to thousands of company and industry reports (each of which cost hundreds and thousands of dollars to consumers); articles from hundreds of business periodicals, including The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, and many others; industry-specific periodicals and reports; scholarly journals; and many, many more avenues for research.
LO12.6. Conduct secondary research to address a business problem.
Most university libraries subscribe to dozens of online databases. Popular and useful ones with business research and articles include EBSCO Business Source Complete, Pro-Quest, IBISWorld, Hoover’s, Global Financial Database, Conference Board, eMarketer, Mint Global, NetAdvantage by Standard & Poor’s, Thomson One, and others. In Figure 12.9, you’ll see a few examples of these databases and how they present information for your research. In the EBSCO Host window, you’ll notice the many search options available. In the ProQuest window, you can see links to specialized reports, on such topics as trends and forecasts, market research, or SWOT analyses. In the IBISWorld window, you can see the categories of information in a particular industry report. Working from this screen, Jeff can access reliable information about key success factors, cost structure benchmarks, technology, and many other topics about hotels in the United States.
Navigating the many resources in these databases and identifying the ones that will be most useful to you take time. You might consider spending several weeks browsing these various databases simply to become familiar with what’s available. You should also seek a business librarian to help you identify those databases that best match your interests and needs.
Each of the databases contains search features, and several basic strategies will help you make the most of them. When you manually search, you can use Boolean operators (and, or) to widen your search. For example, when Jeff wants to find more information about “green meetings,” his initial search of this phrase yields 33 results. By looking for both words separately (using and), his search yields over 2,000 results.
By looking for either phrase (using or), he finds over 33,000 results (see Table 12.9). Also, consider using alternative keywords and closely related ideas. Finding the right sources requires persistence. You might spend hours looking for useful information and then rapidly find dozens of relevant and useful sources.
Table 12.9 Strategies for Using Search Terms Effectively
|Strategy||Example||Number of Hits in ProQuest|
|Use Boolean operators||Green Meetings
Green and Meetings
Green or Meetings
|Use alternative keywords||Eco-Friendly and Conventions
Eco-Friendly and Meetings
Green and Conventions
|Use closely related ideas||Green and Hotels
Eco-Friendly and Hotels
Eco-Friendly and Convention Centers
Once you enter your terms, most online business databases provide a list of suggested topics based on commonly indexed terms. These can be very helpful. Notice, for example, Figure 12.10. You will see the many combinations of indexed terms that result from a manual search for eco-friendly hotels in ProQuest. By clicking on these various suggested searches, you can rapidly find which combinations of search terms yield the best results.
Documenting Your Research
As you collect secondary research, keeping track of the information sources is critical. Decision makers expect excellent documentation of your information because this helps them evaluate the credibility of your report. Since they often make high-stakes decisions based on reports, they expect to know exactly what the basis is for facts, conclusions, and recommendations you present.
When you keep track of your sources during the research stage, you can efficiently and accurately document your report. Many novice report writers waste time during the drafting stage trying to retrace their steps and find the sources for certain pieces of information. Worse, they may make errors in documentation by providing an incorrect source, casting doubt on the credibility of the report.
To avoid these problems, experienced writers have a system for recording all sources during the research stage. Not all report writers use the same system; some use word processing software, while others use spreadsheets or databases. The key is to create a system that allows you to accurately and efficiently record sources for your information. In Figure 12.11, you can see how Jeff combines taking notes with keeping track of his sources. This approach helps him organize his information and allows him to rapidly provide documentation once he begins drafting his report.
Figure 12.11 System for Recording Secondary-Research Sources during Note Taking
|Torrence, S. (2010, November). Change the world one meeting at a time: APEX/ASTM sustainability standards nearly set. Corporate Meetings & Incentives, 29 (11), 18–21.|
Using Online Information for Business Research
For most business research, the information you can access through business databases and other sources at your library is generally the most reliable. However, you will also likely use Internet searches outside your library system to find relevant information on your topic. As you do so, keep in mind the following strategies:
- Always evaluate data quality. The range in quality on the web is immense. Make sure you’re not using sources that are uninformed or inaccurate.
- Do more than just “Google it.” You can employ many strategies for online research, including the following:
- Go to reputable business and industry websites and conduct searches. For example, Jeff may go directly to general periodical or business news sites such as Bloomberg Businessweek or CNBC.com to do searches. Or he may go to industry sites. When he goes to the Convention Industry Council website, he finds a variety of sources that are not available at his library and that are more current than the information in business databases (see Figure 12.12).
- Find online discussions and forums about your selected topic. You can learn what current professionals are saying about a topic by visiting online discussions and forums. For example, on LinkedIn, you can view the conversations of thousands of professionals on any given topic. Notice in Figure 12.13the many options that Jeff has to choose from. Each of these groups holds dozens of ongoing converations about current practices in the industry.
- Search beyond text-based information. Increasingly, you can access a wealth of information in video and audio format. For example, when Jeff is seeking information about green meetings, a few simple searches yield thousands of online videos on YouTube (see Figure 12.14). By viewing a few of these videos, he identifies many green meeting practices that hotels are using. He also gets information from speeches and presentations that he could not find elsewhere.
- Be persistent. In the age of the Internet, many of us are accustomed to quick answers. Getting solid business information, however, rarely involves quick answers. Try as many approaches as you can to find the data you need.
Applying the FAIR Test to Your Research Data and Charts
LO12.7. Evaluate research data, charts, and tables for fairness and effectiveness.
As you conduct research for your reports, frequently evaluate whether you are being fair. For example, whether you are doing primary or secondary research, make sure you are examining all the available facts and interpreting them from various perspectives. A common problem is that business professionals may enter into research with preexisting assumptions or even conclusions. In primary research, such assumptions may lead you to ask the wrong questions or interpret the data incorrectly. In secondary research, they may lead you to gather only information that matches your assumptions and conclusions. For example, if Jeff already assumes that developing and marketing green meetings makes business sense for the Prestigio, he may inadvertently gravitate to information that supports his position and avoid information that does not, thus misleading his readers.
Another way you may unintentionally mislead a reader is with numerical data. However, you can take a few steps to ensure that you represent data fairly and avoid losing credibility. First, whenever you are unsure of a data relationship, discuss it with your colleagues. Collectively, you will often arrive at a fair way to represent the information. Also, ask yourself if you have provided enough information for your readers and audience members to make informed and accurate judgments.
Some business professionals show only the data that supports their points. In other words, they cherry-pick the data in their favor. This practice is deceptive. Furthermore, some business professionals distort information, even though it is technically correct. Charts, for example, can be manipulated to exaggerate or misinform. Notice Table 12.10, which contains two versions of the same chart.
Table 12.10 Creating Fair Charts
|Less Fair||More Fair|
Note: Ratings are on a scale from 1, poor, to 5, excellent. All ratings were retrieved from the Wahoo travel website and are averaged for each month across the year.
|By displaying this chart on an axis that contains only part of the scale and no note or legend, this chart exaggerates the differences in cleanliness ratings.||By displaying the entire scale and providing a note about the ratings, this chart accurately reflects the differences in cleanliness ratings. It clearly shows that although the Prestigio is lower than its competitors, it still has an average cleanliness rating that is good.|
As you collect, analyze, and present data to others, ensure that you provide all the relevant facts, even if they don’t fit into convenient conclusions. Grant access to your data. Your full disclosure of data to colleagues, clients, and others in your business dealings will pay long-term dividends in terms of credibility. Many businesses emphasize transparency on an institutional level. As an individual, when you make compelling numerical arguments through charts, tables, and other formats while also maintaining a level of personal transparency and full disclosure, you will gain many career opportunities. Also, remember the impacts of your data on others and present it with respect. For example, when you collect data on your colleagues’ performance, how you present your information can impact career opportunities, team cohesion, and morale. For one business professional’s views on the importance of presenting clear, clean data, read the Communication Q&A with John Phillip.
Pete Cardon: In the business world, why is it important to create tables and charts for numerical data?
John Phillip: Business leaders are inundated with data, some relevant and some irrelevant. I have seen meetings derailed because the executives can’t immediately see the significance of a PowerPoint slide. When used effectively, tables, graphs, and charts focus the audience on the key point and make the information easier for the audience to retain. Focusing attention on the key business drivers leads to more fruitful discussions and action. In my work, my primary duties include developing financial targets for the five-year strategic plan and the annual operating plan, creating current-quarter and full-year outlooks, and reporting results in monthly operating reviews. For each of these activities, I’m responsible for preparing presentations to deliver to senior executives. I have found that these presentations need to maintain consistent themes or story lines.
John Phillip has worked as a finance manager and financial analyst for the past 12 years in a Fortune 100 company.
Courtesy of John Phillip.
PC: How often do you create tables and charts for others to view?
JP: Every day—in a variety of forms, ranging from tables included within the body of an email to formal executive presentations.
PC: How do you choose when to use tables and charts?
JP: All communications need to be appropriately tailored to the audience. Tables are effective when I want the audience to know the numbers; I often use tables in less-formal communications, especially with my level of the organization and below. Charts are a great way to visually show comparative data and trends. Every formal presentation that I create contains charts because they easily focus on the key data.
PC: How are the charts you create today different from those you created just after completing your business program?
JP: The biggest improvement I have made is that I now clearly identify the information I want to communicate before I create the chart. The chart is just a tool in achieving the communication objective. The type of chart I use depends on what I want the audience to take away. Other improvements are subtle: I experiment with the scale, color, font size, and legend placement. These seemingly little things make a large difference in the ability of the audience to quickly be drawn to the emphasis of the chart.
PC: How often do you see colleagues create poor or ineffective charts? What are the most common problems you see?
JP: It is very easy to go overboard when presenting data, and I have seen quite a few ineffective charts. To be truthful, I have been responsible for one or two of them. The most common error is a chart that does not support the story line. This creates confusion in the audience. Another common error is an overly complicated chart. I tend to stick with simple charts, i.e., pie charts, bar charts, and line charts. More complicated charts often take too long to explain or confuse the message.
Chapter Takeaway for Research and Planning for Business Reports
LO 12.1 Explain how planning and conducting business research for reports impacts your credibility. (pp. 343–345)
Planning and conducting research for business reports demonstrates your personal credibility.
It shows competence when you can collect, analyze, and present business research.
It shows caring when you collect business research that fills an unmet need for others.
It shows character when you collect, analyze, and report your research data fairly.
LO 12.2. Create research objectives that are specific and achievable. (p. 345)
See examples of research objectives in Table 12.1.
LO 12.3. Explain principles of effective design for survey questions and choices. (pp. 345–350)
|Principles for Survey Question Design|
LO 12.4. Develop charts and tables to concisely display data and accentuate key messages. (pp. 350–361)
|Criteria for Evaluating Charts|
LO 12.5. Evaluate the usefulness of data sources for business research. (pp. 361–363)
|Criteria for Evaluating Data Quality|
LO 12.6. Conduct secondary research to address a business problem. (pp. 363–368)
|Principles for Secondary Research|
See an example of documenting research during the note-taking stage in Figure 12.11.
LO 12.7. Evaluate research data, charts, and tables for fairness and effectiveness. (pp. 369–370)
Facts: Present all relevant facts, even when they don’t fit nicely into convenient conclusions. Avoid exaggeration or any other distortion of the facts.
Access: Grant access to your data to decision makers and others affected by your report. Focus on transparency and disclosure.
Impacts: Consider how the data in your report will impact stakeholders.
Respect: Ensure that your presentation of the data demonstrates respect for stakeholders