Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Persuasion, apps and PR: part 1

In first-year PR, we spend a lot of time discussing the principles of persuasion – because persuasion is, in many ways, fundamental to the practice.

We work to persuade customers to buy our clients’ products, we work to persuade journalists to tell our clients’ stories, we work to persuade employees to do their best at their jobs every day, we work to persuade audiences to see issues from our clients’ points of view... and the list goes on.

In their simplest terms, the principles of persuasion hold that people are most apt to be persuaded to do/think/feel/believe something if:
  • they see a benefit to themselves in doing so (the “identification” or “what’s in it for me” principle),
  • you make it easy for them (the “action” principle),
  • you make your argument as clear as possible and easily understood (the “clarity” principle), and/or
  • your argument is made by someone they recognize as an authority (the principle of “familiarity and trust”).
Good PR people build their persuasive communication strategies around these principles; they create communication tools and opportunities that employ them, in the hopes of persuading their target audiences to see things as the client wants them to.

Right. So what does this have to do with my iPod or BlackBerry?

Over the last couple of years wireless data applications or “apps” have been playing an increasing role in helping companies, governments and organizations engage with their customers, constituents and other stakeholders.

As Jeff Bullas details in this post and WIRED magazine explains in this article, consumer adoption of apps is growing at an incredible rate.

Simply put: people like apps, because they provide a wealth of information and services literally at the user's fingertips, any time of day or night.

If you want to connect with your audiences, you need to go where your audiences are. Increasingly, with many (though not all) groups in the Canadian and U.S. markets, "where your audiences are" is on their mobile communication devices, using apps.

If you choose not to go where your audiences are, and your competitors do, you're in trouble.

Transactional apps

Transactional apps allow customers to conduct their business using nothing but the app and their wireless device – essentially opening a new channel for customer interaction, with some added PR benefits.

For example, check out the TD Bank app; while you might think of it as simply a transaction tool, it’s also employing the principles of persuasion.

The message the bank wants you to receive is: “Bank with us. It’s easy, it’s secure, and we’ll keep working to give you an even better experience.” Principles of persuasion behind TD’s app:
  • identification – it’s convenient for me: I can bank anywhere, any time!
  • action – it’s easy: no need to find a computer or internet access or any specific URL – I just pick up my wireless device and I’m banking!
  • clarity – I know it instantly: logo icons and familiar navigation schemes make it easy for me to recognize the app and know how to use it!
  • familiarity and trust – I can trust it: the app comes from the bank itself, I don’t have to worry about security with some third party.
Apps like these are a competitive must these days because they increase customer “stickiness,” a marketing term used to describe the customer’s likelihood to stay with a service provider because its products/services are tied in to his/her lifestyle, habits, other services etc. Increased “stickiness” equals fewer customers lost to the competition.

So whether you think about it in those terms or not, many business apps are devices of persuasion for the organizations that create them. They’re developed specifically with the objectives of attracting new customers and of increasing the stickiness of the customers a business already has.

And they employ the principles of persuasion to do both.

Next up: apps as tools for PR


  1. I am beginning to appreciate all these apps while I continue to search for the right ones that meet my 'needs' & requirements. It's amazing how these different organizations & companies are developing their own apps! I particularly like apps from different news organizations & of course, apps for music videos.

    I can't imagine myself being that 'sticky' with the apps that I'm currently using- but I believe you're right. I begin to depend on them and it's part of my lifestyle now.

    Thanks for this great post! I'll look forward to the next one.

  2. There are "stickiness" strategies at play everywhere we look - we just don't think about them that way. Coupons at the cash for a discount on your next visit, bundling of services, Air Miles offers... all sticky!

  3. Ouu thanks for this post, I didn't know TD had an app, my life just got easier!