Changing Attitudes About Your Community

One of the most difficult challenges in place branding is to change how people feel and think about your community. In general, people tend to be reluctant to let go of preconceived notions even when they cannot remember how they first came to believe them. Yet, in order to successfully attract, retain and expand capital investment in your community it is often necessary to change people’s attitude.

Attitudes and Beliefs vs. Behaviors

Attitude is typically defined as how a person’s feels about another person, an object or an issue. Attitude cannot be seen, so it is difficult to measure accurately. Attitude resides in a person’s brain. It is influenced by the person’s perceptions and misperceptions about your community.

Attitude is difficult to measure, but not impossible. To measure attitude, you measure that which you can see. You measure behaviors, either self-reported behavior measured by a questionnaire, or actual behavior measured through observation. There are a number of quantitative and qualitative approaches that have been validated and can be executed by a qualified market research firm.

Beliefs are generally defined as information — factual or opinion-based — a person has about other people, objects or issues. To change attitude, and as a consequence, behavior, we often need to impact beliefs by providing new information and perspective.

Attitudes, Beliefs and Behaviors can be defined as how we feel about, what we know about, or how we act toward something.

Components of the Attitude Message

There are two approaches for attitude change. The “direct approach” focuses on the information the person has on your community. The “influence approach” focuses on factors other than information, such as the speaker or presenter, rewards and consequences, peer pressure, etc. Attitude change induced by the “influence approach” tends to be more long lasting.

There are several critical components to designing a message to change people’s attitude:

  1. the source,
  2. the audience,
  3. the message,
  4. the medium, and
  5. message persistence

The Source: People are more likely to align their attitude with the source, or person delivering the message if the source is either

  • famous (elected official, CEO of a Fortune 500 company),
  • someone important in the person’s life (e.g.:  Plant Manager, Member of the Board, spouse),
  • credible (e.g.: site selection consultant, site selection team), or
  • perceived to be similar to the person receiving the message (CEOs of companies already doing business in your community, people living in your community).

The Audience: It is important the person who is receiving the information be in a state of mind that permits them to hear your message. The person must be able to understand the message, that is, it must be delivered using their vocabulary. Acronyms and jargon can be an impediment to communication.

The Message: The message itself must be perceived as relevant, accurate, and internally consistent. The number of proof points you share must be reasonable, not too few or too many. Testing of your message can help you determine the number and nature of the proof points needed to achieve the desired level of attitude change in a given target audience. My own experience suggests that if you need more than three, your case is not sufficiently persuasive.

The Medium: Different medium are perceived as more or less credible. It is important to try and deliver your message using the most credible channel possible. The fact that message effectiveness is impacted by the credibility of the medium has been studied since the 1950’s. With the advent of the internet and social media, this area is again being actively studied.

Message Persistence: Repetition of the message tends to draw people toward acceptance of the message. There has been some fascinating brain research that medically confirms the value of repetition. Okay, I admit that last hot link might be a bit over the top. Just scan down to the absolute last paragraph to read the study conclusion. The latest concept put forward on the subject of reach versus frequency that introduces the idea of effective frequency.

Changing a capital investor’s attitude about your community can be complicated, but understanding how is mission critical.  Here are a few other references that may help you think about the challenge –

Attitude Matters in Place Branding

7 Key Criteria of Great Advertising

Branding Small communities

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