How to Change Hearts and Minds in the Age of Digital Advocacy
WRITTEN BY: Steven Marciniak | Founder and CEO | policyengage.com
Do you know what techniques political insiders use to win you over? No, we’re not talking about the campaign tactics Trump and Biden used to get you to the polls. We’re referring to under-the-radar grassroots strategies, such as those used to restart production on a certain chemotherapy medication for children.
In recent years, grassroots campaign leaders have become just as sophisticated as their electoral advocacy peers — who focus on specific political candidates or ballot measures — at getting you to share that Facebook post to prevent animal cruelty.
But what exactly is grassroots advocacy? In short, a grassroots advocacy campaign is an organized and sustained effort to mobilize individuals to influence — perhaps enthusiastically support, vehemently oppose, or just neutralize — a specific policy or issue. Nonprofits often leverage grassroots advocacy tactics, but they can be used by anybody.
We asked our community of industry experts to open their playbooks, revealing strategies that grassroots campaign leaders use to sway you every day, even if it’s just to make Baby Yoda an official emoji.
Their techniques are extensively researched, highly nuanced, and consistently effective. You may have already said “yes” to more than a few of them. Let’s take a look at the 14 grassroots campaign strategies that get results.
The “Flood” campaign curates advocate messages over a specific period of time, then delivers them all at once. Often combined with digital advertising, the Flood campaign is designed to create awareness and demonstrate a substantial number of constituents who are unified and mobilized for a specific cause at a given time.
Believed to have its origins in boxing, the “One-Two Punch” is a quick combination akin to a jab and uppercut. Sports analogies aside, in advocacy, this can be implemented by releasing several campaigns in rapid succession to overwhelm the target. By combining an email campaign with a follow-up call campaign shortly thereafter, the One-Two Punch can have an impact.
The “Petition-Backed” campaign has several moving parts and may include grasstops. First, create a petition where you gather a significant number of signatures around an issue, position, or policy. Then, with grasstops and/or advocate outreach, make your targets aware of the surmounting mass appeal of your campaign. Successful Petition-Backed campaigns generate peer pressure, group identification, FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”), communal fellowship, and viral reach on the advocate side, while demonstrating broad support or opposition on the target side.
Successful “Tweet Storm” campaigns generate peer pressure, group identification, FOMO (“Fear of Missing Out”), communal fellowship, and viral reach on the advocate side, while demonstrating broad support or opposition on the target side. This campaign is similar in process to the Petition-Backed campaign but uses social media — in this case, Twitter — as the vehicle to ignite activity and garner mass appeal. Then, with grasstops and/or advocate outreach, make your targets aware of the surmounting mass appeal of your campaign. As an added benefit, this strategy takes your campaign public. For extra impact, add elected officials to the tweets and hashtags.
Thank and Spank
While not new, “Thank and Spank” works well when combined with other campaign techniques. This campaign essentially thanks those targets who are on your side (co-sponsored a bill, voted in favor of the organization, etc.) and spanks those who are not by publicly shaming and drawing attention to their actions or lack thereof. This campaign approach can easily be broken out by chamber, co-sponsors, or votes to focus your efforts. More often than not, those being “thanked” in the campaign align with the organization while those getting “spanked” do not.
A “Media Blitz” can play a role in any advocacy campaign. In this strategy, the media are included as targets of the campaign. After researching and determining which media outlets (local news, blogs, etc.) are covering or likely to cover the issue, add them to the mix of targets to create additional pressure on elected officials. Writing letters to the editors combined with well-crafted emails and tweets can create just the media spectacle your campaign needs.
“Slow Drip” alludes to a gradual demise resulting from numerous minor problems that add up over time. This can be an effective strategy if you have a longer period, perhaps several months, to manage the campaign. Often coupled with digital advertising to attract and assemble additional advocates, the Slow Drip campaign delivers a barrage of constituent messages at predetermined intervals to wear down the target until they are no longer a threat.
Shock and Awe
When facing an unwanted and looming outcome (such as a floor or committee vote), the “Shock and Awe” campaign can be effective in thwarting a particular legislative proposal or at least delaying it to buy time to battle another day. Getting its name from military strategy, Shock and Awe has the most impact when the campaign has highly motivated advocates. Frequently combined with a digital advertising campaign to amass supporters, Shock and Awe utilizes all modes of contact targeting — including in-person meetings, emails, calls, text messaging, faxes, and social media — hitting the target hard from all sides simultaneously.
Carrot and Stick
The metaphor “Carrot and Stick” refers to a motivational technique that combines reward and punishment to encourage certain outcomes. When used in an advocacy campaign, the proponents emphasize the positive outcomes of accommodating their position while outlining the fallout if the target does not acquiesce — thereby incentivizing a positive outcome.
“Mounting Pressure” is a tactic frequently used in party politics and elections, but it can also be used in advocacy campaigns when there is growing disdain for a particular position embraced by legislative leadership. For example, advocates can target committee members and reveal deficiencies of the committee chairman’s proposal. This is to generate peer pressure on the chairman to rescind the proposal before the committee. Depending on time constraints, other advocacy tools could be used including email blasts and text message campaigns. If behind-the-scenes pressure is needed, a grasstops operation may be mobilized.
The “Dual-Track” campaign might require enhanced coordination, but the impact can be impressive and rewarding. When the opportunity presents itself, several advocacy groups coordinate to launch simultaneous attacks on the same target — but from different viewpoints — and in the process, stretch the target’s resources and render them less effective. Depending on the time needed to accomplish the goal, various advocacy tools can be used from targeted emails to text messaging. A grasstops effort may be mobilized if behind-the-scenes pressure is needed.
Odd Man Out
The “Odd Man Out” campaign is designed to highlight a particular legislator’s position as not aligned with others or the overall legislative body. By directing advocacy activity towards acknowledging those who are aligned while mentioning those legislators who are not, the campaign places peer pressure in hopes of forcing a concession. Depending on the time frame needed to reach the goal, a number of advocacy tools can be used from emails to text messages. If behind-the-scenes pressure is needed, a grasstops operation may be mobilized.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The common expression “Between a Rock and a Hard Place” — when you’re presented with two undesirable or unacceptable choices — describes when two or more advocacy campaigns are launched simultaneously, leaving the target with no political cover. The first campaign criticizes the target’s current position while the second exposes the target’s previous position as counter to its current one. By exposing the target as a flip-flopper, you have them right where you want them: between a rock and a hard place.
“Strange Bedfellows” is when two or more groups with extremely different ideologies coalesce their campaigns around the same issue. This kind of campaign can initially confuse the target and stretch their resources so much that they lose effectiveness. Once again, depending on the time needed to accomplish the goal, various advocacy tools can be used from targeted emails to text messaging. If behind-the-scenes pressure is needed, grasstops efforts may be mobilized.
Grassroots advocacy leaders use creative techniques to win you over every day. And while they differ on many accounts, the most successful campaigns all have one thing in common: a meticulous game plan. We hope these 14 grassroots strategies guide you in creating even more compelling campaigns that get results — and change hearts and minds along the way.
Steven Marciniak is the Founder and CEO of PolicyEngage a software company that helps public affairs professionals track legislation and regulations, engage advocates and donors, and monitor media.
Word choice is a crucial component of any marketing strategy. In the realm of clean energy, a main focus of our communications firm, it’s arguably the most important component. When you’re trying to build a narrative to explain the tangible benefits of a project to people who don’t have direct experience, the words you choose will determine whether or not that narrative succeeds.
In our industry, that’s a constant consideration. To a layperson, there’s a huge difference between an "industrial wind turbine" and a "windmill." Using one of these terms might get a project off the ground while using the other might stall it indefinitely.
We can see countless examples of careful word choice in popular business-to-consumer marketing campaigns, but here’s a particularly profound example: Online retailer Fab was the subject of a case study in which they slightly changed the language on their shopping cart button (without changing the button’s functionality). The old button had "+Cart" text, while the new button contained the full phrase "Add to Cart."
Two words made a big difference. The new button increased clicks by 49%, a massive increase. Granted, this was a simple A/B test, not a scientific study, but the implications are clear: Customers were more likely to take an action when directly prompted.
Public Opinion Polls Show How Language Changes Perception
Word connotation can cause major changes in human behavior, and by looking at public opinion polls, we can understand the gravity of this effect. The average person cares about terminology, even if they don’t realize it.
For decades, pollsters have understood the importance of meticulous word choice, particularly when considering issues that could affect health and wellbeing. For example, in the 1980s, a British Gallup poll asked participantswhether or not they felt "safe" in regards to their country's nuclear weapons. Only 40% said "yes." Another pollster followed up on the original survey, replacing the word "safe" with "safer." This time, 50% of respondents said "yes." The pollster added a single letter to the question and saw a massive change in the results.
If that’s not compelling enough, consider Americans' views toward global warming. A few years ago, a USA Today article reflected on a question asked in a poll conducted in 1986: "Do you think the greenhouse effect really exists or not?" Nearly three-quarters of American respondents said yes. Pollsters also asked whether they believed climate change was happening in some sense. Most also affirmed yes. When asked if there was "solid evidence" the average temperature on Earth has increased over the past 40 years, the responses were substantially lower.
Reading this, you’d be forgiven for assuming that people change their minds depending on the question. That’s not exactly true. Their opinions might stay consistent, but the word choice forces them to focus on different aspects of the question. "Is there solid evidence?" prompts a different line of thought than, "Do you think the greenhouse effect really exists?" Their responses change as a result; their minds don’t necessarily change with it.
Strategies For Finding Better Marketing Language
To write effective copy, you’ll need to understand the nuances of your industry. In the renewable energy industry, we propose a lot of language changes aimed at improving understanding and driving clarity of various industry terms. Switching from "ratepayer" to "customer" is one example. The former better reflects how customers see themselves, and can help change the narrative from electric rates to electric bills, since most customers only care about how much they pay per month vs. kilowatts produced or utilized.
Every business can benefit from refined word choice. For a weight loss website, changing the language of a landing page from "Lose Weight Now" to "Lose Your First 20 Pounds in a Month" will likely result in more conversions -- customers will focus on tangible results. They’ll process the implication immediately and visualize how the product will affect them, and they’ll feel a stronger link to the benefits of the product as a result.
When people lack a reliable standard of judgment, they’re susceptible to the implications of phrases or specific words. In other words (pun intended), people pay attention to language, even if they don’t realize that they’re being pushed toward a certain viewpoint.
So, how can we put this into practice? We can all appreciate the importance of language, but we don’t always know which words carry the most weight. Fortunately, we don’t have to know everything. When developing your marketing strategy, keep these ideas in mind:
• Understand the connotations that each word carries. To your customer, "Sign Up Here" implies that they’ll be filling out a form. Nobody likes filling out forms. "Start Your Journey" keeps them excited about your service; "Are You Ready To Get Started?" challenges them.
• Keep it simple. Look at any tech-oriented website, and you’ll probably see language like this: "Better apps. Faster service. A human touch." These sites haven’t forgotten how to write full sentences, but they know that short, snappy language has more of an effect on web visitors. If you’re writing web copy, understand that most people scan the site -- they don’t read every word. So you’ve got a limited opportunity to get their attention. When you’re writing an article or print copy, you’ve got a little more leeway, but in general, shorter is better. Make sure you’re using strong verbs and nouns that give a clear impression of your product. And again, ask yourself whether any of those words could carry an unexpected connotation.
• Word choice is more important in certain places. Your call-to-action needs to be especially strong, so spend some time thinking about the correct approach. Likewise, you’ll want to make sure that the first sentences someone sees on your site give a clear idea of what your product or service does (and why it’s better than the alternatives).
To be a more impactful marketer, consider the implication of every word in your copy. Be ready to experiment, and if you’re having trouble getting conversions, don’t be afraid to make drastic changes. Words count!