How to Neutralize the Risk of Backfire

The mid-term elections are over, where widely divergent points-of-view are on display. The political campaign season (which one could argue has morphed from a defined period to a never ending morass), is a reminder of the perilous risk of copy and messaging backfiring when you intended to convince people to take a new position and change a core belief. The backfire effect is especially toxic in politics, but it can blow up…

The mid-term elections are over, where widely divergent points-of-view are on display. The political campaign season (which one could argue has morphed from a defined period to a never ending morass), is a reminder of the perilous risk of copy and messaging backfiring when you intended to convince people to take a new position and change a core belief. The backfire effect is especially toxic in politics, but it can blow up in your face, no matter what you’re selling.

Attempting to change someone’s belief is a tall task. It’s true of you. And it’s true of your prospects. As we age and accumulate more information, and the memory grooves in our minds become more deeply etched, it is more difficult to change a mind. People will defend beliefs, even when there is evidence from credible research and studies that the belief is inaccurate. And sometimes, beliefs are built on ideology that has been molded by parents, religion, education, bullying, and other lifetime influences.

Consider these external factors that, as a marketer, you can’t change:

  • The human mind will instinctively and unconsciously resist change. Once something is added to a belief system it is defended from change.
  • When presented with information that is inconsistent with a belief system, beware of the backfire effect. It happens when an individual is defending information that they are seeking. Oftentimes people seek information that simply reinforces their original thinking.
  • For some people, it’s that they stick to beliefs no matter what. It doesn’t matter if there are facts refuting a position with an avalanche of data pointing to an obvious alternative conclusion. Some people will not change their minds.

So when writing sales copy, you are trying to create new memory grooves in the mind. One approach is to cite facts and figures, but when someone vehemently disagrees, you risk making them feel stronger about their positions. Your sales message can backfire. Worse, prospects can push themselves deeper into their own entrenched belief system.

More challenging is when your prospects are confronted with something counter to their beliefs—they pile on to support their already established memory. The unintended result: It grooves their memories even more deeply.

Today, easy Internet access adds even more fuel to this backfire, or pushback. As people selectively seek out information that supports their beliefs—even if it’s factually wrong—inaccurate beliefs can be bolstered by inaccurate claims. Look at newsfeeds on social media. Every minute on the wild wild Web of social media, people are reposting one-sided stories that support a particular belief, accepting it as proof.

So what can you do to dampen the risk of the backfire effect? Consider these five approaches when presenting your sales message:

  1. Know the Persona: Before you write your sales message, know the persona of your intended market or audience. A well-conceived persona will reveal what your prospect most likely thinks so you avoid the landmine of the backfire effect.
  2. Approach the Underlying Emotion First: Begin by gaining trust within an existing belief system. If you need to change your prospect’s mind, do it by understanding the underlying emotion of your prospect first, and gain empathy.
  3. Use Short Explanations: Your prospect is more apt to follow your thought process with explanations that take little effort to process. Keep it simple.
  4. Use a Story: Allow your reader to see themselves inside a story that makes a point and leads to a specific conclusion.
  5. Close With Emotion: Start with emotion, build your logical case, and then close with an emotional appeal. Emotion usually prevails over logic, even when the logic is flawed.

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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