Expert view: Understanding others' motives

When starting a new communications strategy for a charity I always ask what it is trying to achieve, who has the power to make it happen and what will motivate them to do it.

In the worst cases, we get stuck on question one, but typically things start to unravel around question two and grind to an uncomfortable halt around question three.

What I'm after is a power analysis - an understanding of who or what has the power to deliver your wildest dreams. In most cases that can be teased out through discussion. People usually know the answer; they just haven't thought about in those terms before.

But putting together a list of the omnipotent is a mere scratch on the surface of a good power analysis. The reality is that most people - particularly politicians and the owners of multinationals - don't do the right thing simply because it's the right thing to do. They require motivation.

If a minister was going to change policy or introduce legislation because it was the right thing to do, he or she would have done it by now. It usually takes something else to exert influence as a motivation to ensure that action happens.

Understanding what motivates people is where the real analysis comes in, and that's what lies at the heart of a really good communications strategy. It's all about knowing what makes your targets tick and what will make them respond the way you want them to.

One good way of looking at the question is to consider your target's reputation. Generally speaking, corporations don't like to fall behind the accepted level of corporate social responsibility. Many would actively welcome brand associations that enhance their reputations in certain fields or with certain target audiences, and most will be interested in anything that can boost or damage their bottom line. The majority of politicians don't want to become embroiled in anything that could seriously affect their chances of re-election.

Studying the reputations of those you need something from - or may have to go up against - gives you a very good route into understanding what is at stake for them and determining how to construct your communications strategy. If you understand your target's reputation and show that you do, you suddenly become a much more serious proposition and can offer attractive reputation benefits with your ask.

It also means you have a good idea of what is going to hurt, should that ever become a consideration.

- Mirella von Lindenfels is founder of Communications Inc 


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