In search of the tipping point: Lobbying Lessons

Finding a way to make it stick

One of the first messages that social work activists learn, upon entering the lobbying arena, is that, unfortunately, the quality of our messages is not that directly related to whether people will remember them.

Yes, it’s true.

We can have terrific facts.

We can have beautiful visual aids.

We can even have heart-wrenching stories.

And, still, sometimes, the targets of our advocacy efforts won’t remember what we said.

Legislative sessions are starting up all around the country. Congress is heading back to work. And, so, as we prepare for the real work of building power, nurturing relationships with decisionmakers, researching issues, and constructing solid policy proposals, I have advice that seems rather trivial:

Make your message sticky.

I’m sure it’s a testimony to how frequently my brain turns to nonprofit advocacy, that I can find lessons for that work even in a business book. But, you knew that already.

In The Tipping Point, there were dozens of examples of the importance of ‘stickiness’–the need to figure out two key things:

1. The one piece of information that you want to “stick” with people
2. A trick, of sorts, to make it stick

The latter, while seemingly more challenging, is actually the easier part. Think of every jingle you remember, every random fact that sticks in your brain, everything you may have learned in a freshman introduction to marketing class you took for general education requirements in college.

Use juxtaposition–people remember things that are surprising.

Use imagery–people remember pictures better than words.

Use linguistic techniques like alliteration–people remember things that they can’t get out of their heads.

The harder part, for most of us, is the former.

There’s just so much we want to say, and so much we want people to learn, about these issues about which we already know so very much. We think that we have an obligation, a duty, to communicate everything.

We use smaller and smaller margins to try to fit in everything we think people should know.

But we know that doesn’t work. We know that we, ourselves, tend to only be able to remember a few things at a time, and we know that we tune out, are even put off by, those who try to cram in more.

And we can’t afford to have our messages discarded like that.

So, this legislative session, we’re going to make our messages stick.

And we’re going to change conversations, shift thinking, and…we’re going to win.

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