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How to use social science insights to change hearts and minds: top takeaways

6 March 2020

Social science insights for communicators. When working to win hearts and minds, we need to understand those hearts and minds. We need to work with others, not against them. This day was all about how to do that.

Love to hate you

Laura and Alex from the Depolarization Project set us up for the day with a challenging message: we are part of the problem.

Based on our natural, human tendency to form groups and tribes, we create situations where people are ‘in’ or ‘out’. Our feelings towards those who are in our group are positive. Towards those who are ‘out’ … not so much.

The strength of feeling for and against our group identities has intensified over the last ten years. An interesting study in football fans showed that people who are primed to identify as fans of a specific team are unlikely to help someone in need (wearing an opposing team shirt). But in people who are primed to identify as football fans (rather than fans of a team), the propensity to help is significantly increased.

The standout messages were that:

  1. Campaigning can be part of the problem.
  2. Framing, focusing on what unites us, is part of the solution.

Read on with hope. The challenges of campaigning to often disparate audiences, framing, uniting, and a focus on finding our communal values – what binds over what divides us was the order of the day.

Do values matter?

Spoiler alert! Values matter. Cian Murphy from nfpSynergy explored measuring values, values models, tailoring messages to values, and tailoring channels to values.

In values-led messaging, remember that there are organisational values, beneficiary values, and supporter values. They do not always align. In fact, Cian ran a little anonymous survey in the room that showed how we over indexed in some values. Others, such as conformity and tradition were completely unrepresented in the room. This highlighted the possibility that your supporter values may not be represented inside your charity. Well worth doing your audience research on this one.

To show how we might tailor messaging to values, Cian shared a series of video clips that demonstrated value alignment in advertising. As an advertising student, I was in my element by this point. Personal favourite? Barnardo’s capitalising on ‘self-direction’ with this video:

The takeaways from this session were:

  1. Your supporters’ values may be under or unrepresented inside your organisation.
  2. Tailoring channel to values is not realistic. Aside from news consumption, channel choice does not tend to be value driven.

Internal brand barriers

This session led by Kelly from Neo and Karin from Tuff Leadership focused on brand in an internal environment.

We questioned whether our internal behaviours were true to the stories we wanted our supporters and beneficiaries to be part of. We explored how to address situations when our culture might not be where we’d like it to be. The room was a psychologically safe space. This is essential in being able to honestly reflect on internal barriers in your brand, culture and values.

Address the elephant in the room. Or, as Karin described it, the moose heads. You can’t live out your brand values and charity mission when you have rotting moose heads (or elephants in every room) that teams are trying to ignore.

Despite this being one of the most challenging sessions of the day, there were positive messages to leave with:

  1. Our working climate isn’t like the weather. It’s within our control to change it, using empathy and respect.
  2. Changing attitude and shifting mindsets can happen in a short period of time. And personalities are good. These don’t need to change!

Take part in Neo’s research on internal culture and brand here.

Trends in a turbulent world

Rosie Chambers from Marine CoLABoration led an excellent plenary session on reframing the ocean as a health matter. There was a real emphasis on collaborating and placing value at the heart of solutions to make connections and appeal to emotions and beliefs.

Then Michele Madden from nfpSynergy took us on a whistlestop tour of trends for the year(s) ahead. The highly abridged version is that each of the following will shape our charity comms in the future:

  • Different ways of working
  • Youth rising, or inter-generational conflict
  • Brexit unblocked – we can start to plan … But the government isn’t in listening mode
  • Local connections
  • Fundraising – cashless is complicated, state vs charity increasingly muddied, legacies may not be the income we hope for
  • Mental health
  • The environment in the adaptive age
  • Pop-up culture
  • Spoken word, sonic / aural identity

Two significant messages to take away:

  1. Framing is everything.
  2. Through framing, we will rise to the challenges of the changes that are afoot.

Real world storytelling

Ending the day on a high. Stephen from Catsnake and Madhu from Unicef UK delivered a 6-step process to identifying the right story for your campaign, whatever your size or budget.

Here’s my distilled version in a few words:

    1. Research
      Which stories resonate and motivate your audience? You have some history with storytelling, and some insight into what has landed well for you as well as what hasn’t. We’re not always good at passing on legacy information about why we do or don’t use certain stories, messages, or language. The rules are shared, but the rationale is often lacking. This means we spend more time (money / human resource) on research when there may be information somewhere in the charity already.
    2. Reckon
      As you start to join the dots in your research, “you start to see the matrix” as Stephen put it. In this phase, you’ll start to have theories about messages that could work with your audiences.
    3. Representation
      These thoughts, or theories, can become test expressions of messages. Ideas that you can try out in the next phase of the process.
    4. Real world
      In this phase, you test your ideas on focus groups and through surveys to uncover quantitative data. This was the phase that challenged people with smaller budgets. The value of this phase is really dependent on how much risk is attached to going out with a wrong message. As Stephen highlighted, there is an advantage to being smaller, less well known. There’s the possibility you can take more risk. The cost to Unicef of going out with a wrong message would be a risk too big to take. So this testing phase is cost-saving for them.
    5. Results
      Madhu outlined how, “short, plain-English summaries” were important when sharing results. She highlighted that a great ad is not always the right ad. And to hold great ideas lightly because, when they’re not right for this campaign or this audience, they may be right for the future.
    6. Ready
      The final stage in the process was using your researched, tested, and iterated story in practice, as part of a strategy. And the real take home here was that word, “iterate”. Don’t see this as a destination, but a journey. And record the journey. Your future self will be grateful.

Changing hearts and minds is inherent in all of our work. How we frame what we do gives audiences a chance to think differently, change their behaviour and take action. And it’s ongoing. It’s a conversation.

Dee was live tweeting at our Changing hearts and minds: social science insights for communicators.

Dee Russell

content lead, Parkinson's UK

Dee moved from the private sector into the third sector in 2011. Since then she's supported charity income generation, communications, and marketing functions in-house, as a consultant, and as a trustee. Dee specialises in insight driven, user-first content and delivers organisational content strategy with brand and digital focus.