Communicating bigger-than-self problems to extrinsically-orientated audiences

January 2012
Common Cause Research

The idea that NGO communicators need to message in such a way as to recognise “where people are” and not “where we want them to be” is a well-worn assertion. Although there is much truth in this statement when it comes to choosing messengers, communication channels and methods, this golden rule, lifted from the practice of marketing, does not extend as far as segmenting audiences by their values. This report summarises the results of an interdisciplinary research project on the expressions of social and environmental concern by people who attach particular importance to values of popularity, preserving public image, or wealth. It makes the case that systemic and durable responses to the challenges that we face cannot be envisaged unless they are built upon an appeal to intrinsic values.

this if...

  • If you’re a campaigner or communicator interested in audience segmentation and communicating effectively to the public on social or environmental change.
  • You’ve read about the Common Cause approach, but are left wondering whether there are some groups of people for whom appeals framed in terms of financial success, image or social status are likely to be more effective.
  • You want to understand more about how people with different values can be encouraged to support pro-environmental and pro-social causes.
  • If you read headlines talking about the financial value of nature or people and feel uncomfortable!

Keys Takeaways

  1. Audiences who hold extrinsic values (such as wealth, power and public image) to be more important, at a dispositional level, can nonetheless be engaged in ways that lead them to express concerns consistent with intrinsic values (such as equality, social justice and unity with nature).
  2. Activating intrinsic values through your work and communications leads an audience to express greater concern about ‘bigger-than-self’ problems.
  3. Activating intrinsic values, does not just lead to greater expressions of concern about the particular issue you are working on, but across a wide range of ‘bigger-than-self’ problems.
  4. On the whole, campaigns and communications that serve – explicitly or otherwise – to prompt an audience to reflect on the importance that they attach to intrinsic values are likely to be more successful in prompting systemic concern about ‘bigger-than-self’ problems.
  5. These findings invite careful reflection on the criteria used in audience segmentation techniques, and provide insights on what linguistic ‘frames’ are likely to engage intrinsic values.

Other resources
you might like

The Common Cause Handbook

Limitations of environmental campaigning based on values for money, image and status

No cause is an island: How People are Influenced by Values Regardless of the Cause

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