If You Can’t Count It . . . Rare Pride

I’m interested in how you use communication to change freely choosing Other Guys. Thus, whenever I encounter people pitching the New New Thing in persuasion, my first thought goes to my Rule:

If You Can’t Count It, You Can’t Change It.

From that Rule you realize that if anyone who tells you they know how to persuade then they should also tell you they know how to count, because if they can’t count, they can’t persuade. This line of thinking leads us to:

But one question that has received little attention is: How do we get people to change their behavior? What really works? Since forcing people to change is usually politically problematic, it makes sense to think more about this challenge. That’s why I’m focusing today on a modest size organization called Rare, which may have one of the most critical, and underappreciated, social technologies to protect ecosystems and biodiversity. They call it the “Pride Campaign”: it is a methodical, well-honed approach to social marketing that has been replicated by diverse groups more than 200 times around the world — with some remarkable success stories. Rare has developed an accredited two-year Masters Degree in Communication for conservationists, which is taught in the United States, Mexico, Indonesia and China.

The article in a NY Times blog then recounts a variety of detailed examples of empowered people overcoming vested interests, biased bureaucracies, and human nature in a series of heart warming Little Guys Save the World stories that may soon be coming to the Lifetime Network in a made for TV movie. You can already see my dubiousity and I want to point to the trigger. In that preceding quote, the blogger observes that the Rare Pride campaign is methodical and well-honed with the added attraction that it’s been replicated over 200 times, and here’s the trigger:

— with some remarkable success stories.

The blogger then points to Rare as a New New Thing conservation group that understands the New New Persuasion from “recent years.” So. What does Rare do?

Pride campaigns are based in social marketing – the use of private sector marketing tactics to “sell” social change. These tactics include audience segmentation; focus-group testing of highly targeted messages; use of multiple media vehicles and outlets to reinforce messages over a sustained period of time; and rigorous measurement of “product adoption” (i.e. new attitudes, behaviors, and sustainable alternatives).

And, Rare points to successes.

Consider the Campaign for Sustainable Fisheries Management at Abaco Island, Bahamas.

· • Secured pledges from local fishers not to catch juvenile crawfish under 5.5 inches – their yield monitored through a new certification process
· • Built awareness among key influencers and the general public about the importance of protecting juvenile crawfish
· • Garnered the attention and support of high profile players in the region, including The Nature Conservancy, which is interested in taking the certification process to other islands in the Bahamas, and the Bahamian Prime Minister, who at a recent All-Abaco Expo on Food Security, called out the slogan of the campaign and pledged ongoing support for fisheries protection.

Or the Campaign for Effective Forest Fire Management in the Rio Ameca Natural Protected Area, Mexico.

· • A full suite of customized communications materials produced, including: jaguar mascot costume; promotional posters; water bottles, bandanas and other giveaways; a children’s themed coloring book; a puppet show on forest fire prevention; and radio drama spots.
· • Eight community workshops conducted to date, teaching the importance of the forest and the proper use of bonfires.
· • A volunteer team assembled from local municipalities, which is informing pilgrims at designated sites about proper fire management and developing radio spots targeting pilgrims to run in May.
· • Agreements reached with local church and government officials to include responsible fire-use messaging in sermons and signage along major pilgrim routes.

And, there are many more success stories just like these that you can peruse. (Where’s Ted Danson and Morgan Freeman?) But in none of them will you find a simple count that answers the key question.

How many Other Guys did you Change?

Notice in the “success stories” all you see are indicators of process, the What You Did, but not the What You Got. It is that classic source orientation to persuasion rooted in the Field of Dreams model: If You Build It, They Will Come. Count partners. Number of sources. Number of channels. How many messages. Focus groups. Workshops. Lectures.

But not, How many Other Guys did you Change?

I see a number, 200, which is counting. And I see an outcome, “remarkable success.” Doesn’t it seem reasonable that if you can define “success” and you can count to 200 that you should also be able to quantify the effectiveness of the Rare Pride Campaign?

I don’t know anyone in this story, the blogger at the NYT, anybody at Rare, and none of the people involved in the remarkable successes. What I do know is that no one is counting aloud and in public yet still offering descriptions of success and numbers. Yet, they say they are Changing the World!

There’s a difference between Changing the Other Guy and Feeling Good about Yourself. This article displays the difference. When you describe the New New Thing as something like a screenplay treatment for a sweet movie, you’re Feeling Good about Yourself. When you describe simple counts of Dead versus Alive by Treatment versus Control, you are Changing the Other Guy.

See, too and again, the General Semantics of this New New Thing as these spirited, passionate, and committed good people confuse the Word for the Thing and eat the menu. Call it social marketing or social entrepreneurship or whatever New New Thing icon/logo/brand/catch phrase you invent, but it’s just Words and not Things. Saying the Words does not produce the Thing, which is Changing the Other Guys.

Realize this GS confusion. Here’s the blogger’s observation.

In recent years, psychologists, economists and neuroscientists have shed light on these questions. Their ideas have attracted popular interest, but haven’t changed the way most conservation organizations work. Only a tiny percentage of the money spent on conservation is focused on changing behavior. And we know that public education is not enough.

Yet, the Times blogger writes the Words of Change without the Counts of Change in that General Semantics error. Everyone in this New New Thing is deluded at the simple, basic, and fundamental element of persuasion: Changing Other Guys. And, see the foolishness of the “recent years” persuasion research from psychologists, economists, and – can’t forget – neuroAnybodies.

Of course, this kind of communication does Change a particular Other Guy: the Money. Many Money Guys with both too much time and money on Their hands seem to fall for these stories of success. They must be the second generation, though, and didn’t actually earn the Money but rather inherited it. People who made the Money typically know how to Count. People who inherit the Money know how to Feel. This is a predictable and avoidable waste of people, resources, and time. The output of Change anyone achieves is absurdly small given the inputs of Social Entrepreneurship.

The point here is not politics or personal commitment or nobility or anything other than this: Did you Change the Other Guy. When anyone does persuasion – and it matters not what label they use, are they using communication to change freely choosing people – then if they want to Talk that Talk then they must Walk the Walk which in this case is Count the Count. Politics, pride, values, nothing else matter without the Count, if you are aspiring to persuasion. My criticism aims only at effectiveness which is why zealots and fundraisers usually feel uncomfortable when I’m in the room.

P.S.  Social Marketing?  I’ve defined that as . . . a poet’s persuasion; using a metaphor for measurement when you’ve got a ruler in your hand; an experiment involving whiskey and gorillas.

P.P.S. Threat Detection Update! While doing administrative chores on the Persuasion Blog (June 25, 2012), AVG barked at this post and warned of hanky panky from the links to the RareConservation website. I’ve deleted the links to calm down AVG. If you choose to visit the website to verify my quotations, be prepared for various warnings, alerts, and woofs.

Take your chances at www.RareConservation.org.