If you've ever tried to shift brand sentiment, worked as part of a team, pitched clients, or done any babysitting, you know that changing people's minds can seem impossible. We present the facts as we see them, give our impassioned speech—we reason, cajole, or even threaten—but very often without effect.
Wharton professor and best-selling author Jonah Berger says successful change isn't about pushing people harder, it's about removing barriers. I invited Jonah to Marketing Smarts to talk about his latest book, The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind.
We talk about Jonah's approach to change and how to overcome resistance and lower the "hurdles to action." We also cover the five hidden factors that impede change (and how mitigate them), so you can become a catalyst for change within your marketing organization.
Here are just a few highlights from our conversation.
Effective change management isn't about pushing harder, it's about understanding common barriers to change (and recognizing which of them your customer is grappling with) (06:36) "I talk about five key barriers, five key things that come up again and again. One is reactance...the second is endowment, the third is distance, the fourth is uncertainty, the fifth is corroborating evidence. Put those together and they can be arranged in a framework that spells 'REDUCE,' and that's exactly what I think good catalysts do. They don't push harder, they reduce the barriers to change....
"In marketing, people talk a lot about 'customer centricity.' That point, which is not a new one in marketing, but a very important one, is true more generally. Whenever we're trying to change something, we have a customer. It may be an actual customer or client, it may be a consumer, it may be a boss, it may be an organization. The more we put them in the center, and the more we understand where they are and what their challenge is, the more effective we're going to be."
To persuade someone, you need to understand their point of view. (09:02) "Think about [the B2B buying] journey. There are various points in that journey. I was working with a client a few years ago, a B2B software company that helps people find machine parts for backhoes and loaders and all sorts of heavy machinery. So we talked about how we're pitching these clients and it's not always working, and we said, 'hold on, if we don't know why it's not working, we can't figure out the solution.'
"Let's say awareness is the issue. Well, we need to make them aware that we exist. People tend to go to one or two big companies in our industry. We're a challenger brand. Maybe they don't realize we exist, so they're not coming to us. Maybe they realize we exist, but they don't trust that our solution will work. Or maybe they trust that our solution will work, but they don't realize they have a problem. Maybe they realize they have a problem, but they don't know that our solution will integrate with their software. Or maybe they do realize that, but they think it will be too expensive.
"It feels like sort of a nursery rhyme, in some sense. 'Maybe this, maybe that.' But once we understand which of those points in the customer journey someone's getting stuck, then we can figure out the right tool to pull out.
"If it's awareness, well marketers know a lot about how to raise awareness. That's very different than 'I'm aware your thing exists and I think your thing is great, but I'm worried about will it integrate with my existing software.' Then it's a lot more about 'OK, well maybe we need a white glove concierge service we can charge for that can come out and mitigate that problem.' But if we don't understand the problem, it's going to be really hard to apply a solution."
To change people's minds, help them overcome their anxiety and uncertainty (14:51) "We tend to be attached to things we're already doing. I talk about that a little in the 'endowment' chapter of the book, I talk about why we're attached to them. There's some research, for example, that shows that homeowners selling their homes, the longer they've lived in their home, the higher they tend to value it, even above market price, because they become so emotionally attached to it....
"But one thing I talk about in the 'uncertainty' chapter is anxiety. When it comes to new options, part of the challenge is, whenever we switch, there are always some switching costs. We have to spend money to buy that new phone, for example. We have to spend time and energy to install that new software. All these switching costs create a challenge for change, but it's not only that the switching costs are certain and the benefits are certain. It's even worse.
"Because, often, while the costs of change are pretty certain...the benefit is very uncertain. Sure you say that that new phone will be better, but how do I know it will be better? And if I'm not sure and I'm anxious or uncertain about whether that new thing will be good, that's going to make me even less likely to take the plunge.
"I call that the 'cost/benefit timing gap.' Costs are now, they're certain. Benefits are later, and they're uncertain. So one key question for change agents is, 'How do we lower the barrier to trial? How do we ease uncertainty by allowing people to experience something themselves? How do we create situations or actual experiences where someone gets to see whether it's good or not and convince themselves?'"
Jonah and I talked about much more, so be sure to listen to the entire show, which you can do above, or download the mp3 and listen at your convenience. Of course, you can also subscribe to the Marketing Smarts podcast in iTunes or via RSS and never miss an episode!
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