Hurricanes and cocktail parties are unlikely to be the first places you’d look for lessons about how to persuade others more effectively. But a closer inspection reveals some remarkable insights in how they can teach us about how to motivate people and get them to support new ideas and initiatives.
In his wonderful book Drunk Tank Pink, marketing professor Adam Alter from New York University (NYU) describes some surprising factors that influence people to donate to charities set up to help hurricane victims.
For example, those whose first names begin with the letter R were 250 per cent more likely to donate to the Hurricane Rita relief appeal than those whose names didn’t begin with the letter R. A similar effect was noted after Hurricane Katrina, with those whose names started with a K significantly more motivated to donate. And so on.
However, as quirky these findings might appear, to dismiss them as arbitrary would be to dismiss a fundamental feature of our psychology: Names matter to us.
We can all recall a time when we have been chatting to someone in a busy meeting room entirely oblivious to what’s going on around us. But when we hear our name mentioned from another part of the room, instantly our attention is diverted. It’s a phenomenon psychologists refer to as the Cocktail Party Effect.
If you need more convincing about the power of our names, then ask people to write down their five favourite letters of the alphabet. If they are anything like the subjects in studies where this has been done, when you review their choices you should notice a remarkable similarity between the letters they choose and their own names.
Given that an important part of any successful persuasion strategy will be to get people’s attention, it seems sensible to use people’s names more – or at least signal a connection to their name.
Professor Adam Alter points out that if people are more likely to donate to hurricane relief programmes that share their initials, then those responsible for naming hurricanes have the power to increase charitable giving simply by giving hurricanes more commonly occurring names.
One wonders if the same approach applies to business too.
Tempting as it may be to give that new initiative or project of yours an ambiguous and mysterious sounding name, perhaps you would receive more support by looking down the list of people the department responsible for implementing it and choosing a name that most commonly matches theirs.