Okay, it’s propaganda when the Bad Guys do it, right? So my headline is all wrong. Except if you are thinking like a stone cold persuasion guy, no, it isn’t. Everybody uses the same concepts, but they play for different teams. If you start believing that Bad Guy communication is not “Persuasion,” but is instead “Propaganda,” then you bias your thinking in a bad way. The Bad Guys are subject to the same principles of human nature as we are.
Remember the Rule: All Bad Persuasion Is Sincere. As a corollary: All Bad Persuasion Research Is Sincere.
Now, imagine you have the mission and the resources to counter Taliban persuasion. How do you think about this?
Consider the Standard Model and the Cascade as your structure for translating operational information back to strategy and vice versa. (Check the blog Pages on Sixty Seconds if you’re in a hurry or if you’ve got more time, ELM and SM1-3 located near the top of the blog.)
Given this structure, you can assign the Taliban persuasion to different Cascade categories and begin to understand it. After you understand it, you can attack it. But first, comprehend.
1. What are the TACTs (behavior changes) the Taliban seek?
TACTs reveal both the persuasion plan and the grand strategy. With TACTs you can work down through the rest of the Cascade to understand the persuasion strategy, but you can work up to clues about the Taliban grand strategy. For example, TACTs will vary across regions of Afghanistan during the same time period. That may reflect the grand strategy (or, of course, it might reflect operational weakness, confusion, or, gee, maybe we kicked their butts). But variation in TACTs is a gold mine of information.
How are the TACTs structured – by tribe, by loyalty, by hierarchy of effect (pan Islamic, regional, national, tribal, village), by time, by violence, by regional or international events?
2. What claims regarding Attitude, Norm, and Efficacy do they offer for each TACT?
All volitional behaviors are driven by Attitude (what’s good and bad about doing the behavior), Norm (who supports and opposes the behavior), and Efficacy (what’s easy and difficult about doing the behavior). If you want to drive the behavior you have make claims that the behavior is “good” (positive, beneficial, enjoyable, fun, rewarding), “popular” (all the right people support it), and “easy” (cheap, fast,). Thus, for each TACT, the Taliban should be making persuasion plays that address good, popular, and easy.
Furthermore, different TACTs require different sets of Attitude, Norm, and Efficacy. Those variations tell you how the Taliban thinks about the different TACTs and also reveals their “formative research” (determining how to campaign with a particular group of receivers). If the Taliban are dumb, they will violate the Rule, All Bad Persuasion is Sincere, and devise Attitude, Norm, and Efficacy issues that are important to them. If they are smart, they will devise Attitude, Norm, and Efficacy issues that are important to their targets. That distinction is tough to make, but you need to do it. If you think they are dumb, the Taliban have just told you what they think is important. If you think they are smart, they have told you what Taliban targets think is important. You learn both who to move on and how to move.
3. How do they manipulate WATTage, Arguments, and Cues?
To change selected Attitudes, Norms, and Efficacy, the Taliban must deliver either Arguments or Cues to the target receivers. These Arguments and Cues must match up with the Attitude, Norm, and Efficacy elements they want to change.
In specific, here-and-now, persuasion, the Taliban must also move the dimmer switch from low to high WATT depending upon whether they are using Arguments or Cues. If you can figure this out, you’ve got another valuable piece of knowledge. Manipulating WATTage even among people of your own cultural group is a difficult task. If the Taliban are doing it, you’ve learned something.
Look at what functions as Argument. You might see regional variations in Arguments aimed at the same Attitude or Norm or Efficacy element. Why are the Arguments different?
You’ll probably see differences in impact following this Argument or that Cue. Why did the variation occur?
You are looking for the Strong Arguments and the Positive Cues that see to create the greatest change in the target receivers. (Of course, you’d also like to find Weak Arguments and Negative Cues, too, because a Taliban Weak Argument is probably an ISAF Strong Argument, right?)
4. How do they distribute persuasive messages?
Sure, look for channel differences – radio or night message or speech at a jirga. But again focus on variations. Resources may dictate some distribution patterns; the Taliban may not be able to use radio in one area for technical or safety reasons. Figure that out, but again look at how different TACTs; Attitude, Norm, and Efficacy; and WATTage, Argument, and Cues combination appear in different channels. Maybe they always run a particular persuasion message exclusively through radio. Why?
The most important function of channel is reach. Some channels reach different receivers better than others. What reach lessons do you learn by the pattern of distribution?
Channels can also support Arguments or Cues. Jirga speeches support highly relational, cultural, and personal persuasion plays. That face-to-face setting amplifies the human connection. Look for such patterns.
5. Big Picture
At the end of this Cascade analysis, you will have an Impressionist painting in your mind. You will have a good picture of how the Taliban operate, but the details will be blurry and may obscure crucial elements. You will see larger patterns of how some persuasion variables combine in recurring patterns – this TACT with Norm changed through Cues at face-to-face interactions in Taliban-leaning villages. If you have data over time, you can construct, if you will, a movie of Impressionist paintings and you can see the variation flow, pulse, enlarge, and shrink.
While you may never have Ultra intercepts of top secret coded Taliban communication, you do have a stronger and clearer sense of their persuasion plan and operation. You know the TACTs; Attitude, Norm, and Efficacy elements; manipulations of WATTage, Argument, and Cue; and the channels of distributions. You also see variations and patterns that mark the mind and hand of planning. You can analyze these variations and patterns to understand Taliban persuasion goals and methods, strengths and weaknesses, arrogance and fear.
All this flows from a structured analysis of communication.