‘Altercasting’ and the Art of Persuasion

Successful direct response copywriters imagine and feel the persona of the prospective customers. That sixth sense — where a writer takes on the mindset of the reader — is a path to persuasive copy. So are marketers using a persuasion technique where a person is cast in a role that encourages them to behave …

Flip the brain switch.Successful direct response copywriters imagine and feel the persona of the prospective customers. That sixth sense — where a writer takes on the mindset of the reader — is a path to persuasive copy. So are marketers using a persuasion technique where a person is cast in a role that encourages them to behave in a desired manner?

Altercasting caught my attention in a recent article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), quoting psychologists as saying “it’s widely used in the real world—by advertisers, fundraisers, parents, teachers, spouses, and therapists, among others.”

Altercasting is a theory of persuasion created by sociologists Eugene Weinstein and Paul Deutschberger in 1963. The goal is to project the identity of a role you want another person to assume to encourage them to behave in a desired manner. Altercasting supposedly targets both the social role and ego of a person.

Some examples cited by the WSJ drive this point: Want your co-worker to stay late and proofread a report you wrote? Mention that she is a good writer and really knows the subject. Hope to talk your meat-and-potatoes friend into trying the new Vietnamese restaurant? Tell him you admire his adventurous spirit. Want your husband to clean the garage? Point out what a supportive husband he is and how you know he wants you to be happy

Altercasting has two sub groups — “manded” and “tact.”

Manded altercasting is when you don’t change your behavior but openly state a role for the other person. The WSJ detailed another example to demonstrate manded altercasting specifically: “Honey, you’re such a wonderful cook. Would you mind making dinner tonight?”

Tact altercasting is passive, where you don’t state anything explicitly but change your behavior to suggest a role for the other person. If you wanted your spouse to cook, you might fumble around in the kitchen, pretending you can’t find the right ingredients, until your spouse steps in.

By definition, altercasting seems manipulative and even potentially dangerous if misused. But smart adaptation of this approach for persuasive purposes has critical applications in marketing and copywriting.

Begin with your customer’s persona by imagining what they feel. When you write to that individual, encourage self-awareness and thus engagement. This instigates persuasion and gives a customer a sense of permission from themselves to take action.

Self-awareness examples would include:

  • In fundraising, a reminder to the reader — especially past donors — that they are generous individuals, and you hope they’ll be generous again.
  • For life insurance, suggest to the reader that they are likely concerned about their loved ones’ financial future, so you help them realize they should be financially responsible.
  • For a health supplement, caution that while an individual may be an active adult and look good on the outside, inside their body a completely different scenario could be unfolding.

The key is to sense the persona of your prospective customer and place them in a certain mindset before relaying your message. Then engage, build trust and persuade so customers can allow themselves to act in response to your message.

My new book, “Crack the Customer Mind Code” details a dozen persona types I’ve observed over my career. It’s available at the DirectMarketingIQ bookstore. Or download my free seven-step guide to help you align your messaging with the persona of your prospective buyer. It’s titled “When You Need More Customers, This Is What You Do.”

Author: Gary Hennerberg

Reinventing Direct is for the direct marketer seeking guidance in the evolving world of online marketing. Gary Hennerberg is a mind code marketing strategist, based on the template from his new book, "Crack the Customer Mind Code." He is recognized as a leading direct marketing consultant and copywriter. He weaves in how to identify a unique selling proposition to position, or reposition, products and services using online and offline marketing approaches, and copywriting sales techniques. He is sought-after for his integration of direct mail, catalogs, email marketing, websites, content marketing, search marketing, retargeting and more. His identification of USPs and copywriting for clients has resulted in sales increases of 15 percent, 35 percent, and even as high as 60 percent. Today he integrates both online and offline media strategies, and proven copywriting techniques, to get clients results. Email him or follow Gary on LinkedIn. Co-authoring this blog is Perry Alexander of ACM Initiatives. Follow Perry on LinkedIn.

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