Despite my accident-prone nature, I’ve spent a lot of time on the gorgeous single-track mountain biking trails of Bend, Oregon. One basic rule kept me from maiming myself: Look where you want to go. Focus on the space between the trees, rather than staring at the trees themselves — because your handlebars are going to follow your gaze. In other words, you get what you focus on.
This lesson also applies to messaging. Smart nonprofits motivate people to act in favor of something good, instead of scaring – or shaming – them into avoiding something bad.
Our client, Forward Together, illustrates this tenet beautifully by reframing “trans day of remembrance” into “trans day of resilience.” This campaign does an admirable job of helping folks look ahead, and it keeps the focus on the strengths of the trans community and the work they are doing to create a better future.
Another example of positive messaging is Outdoor Voice, which encourages people to use their outdoor voice to preserve the Bay Area’s natural wonders. Rather than telling people to “save the outdoors,” it encourages nature lovers to use their outdoor voice to “Speak your mind, volunteer, and invite friends and family to help take care of the places you love.”
On the flip side, this safety billboard in New Zealand made me want to drive faster, by presenting the speed limit as a
target even as it told me the speed limit was NOT a target. They might as well have said, “Don’t think of an elephant!” This “Don’t Block the Box” sign has a similar problem. Instead of reminding drivers to “Keep Intersection Clear” (which is the desired behavior) these signs seem to be saying, “X Marks the Spot.”
Once I became aware of this messaging “rule”, I started seeing violations of it everywhere I looked. Why are there signs in the subway telling me where bicycles are prohibited, such as escalators, but no signs showing me where my bicycle is welcome, such as the stairs? Why do store owners post signs telling me to “Use Other Door” when they could put a “Use This Door” sign on the one they want me to use? (For that matter, why do they have double doors in the first place if they always keep one locked? But I digress.)
The point is, when it comes to messaging, positive trumps negative, in more ways than one. Or, as my Southern mother likes to say, “You’ll catch a lot more flies with honey than with vinegar.”
LightBox Collaborator Renee Alexander loves helping clients focus on and achieve their goals. What’s yours?