The Two Prongs of Persuasion

At Luntz Global Partners, it’s our job to keep a close eye on the communication patterns and strategies that cut through the cacophony of today’s media noise.

Without a doubt, one of the biggest shifts of the past year has been the role of data. We’ve witnessed leaders from the C-suite to the campaign trail lobbing statistics at their audience. But it’s not having the intended effect – no one is listening.

It’s not that quantitative research has lost its currency, or that we’re in a post-facts era; it’s that there’s simply too much. Even when communicators use data to prove a point, its ring of truth can’t cut through the rest of the noise.

The key is to use the data to tell a story. Numbers are abstract. Lean too hard on them, you lose your audience. Tie them to a story that is specific, relevant, and relatable, and your argument becomes more noticeable, and ultimately, more impactful. Your audience may forget the numbers, but they’ll remember the story.

Well-designed research supplies the raw materials. Whether you’re looking to launch, expand, or rebrand, quantitative information should be the foundation of your approach. But in an age of crumbling trust in institutions, numbers alone are simply not enough. Crafting a resonant narrative requires an understanding of an audience’s true perceptions and priorities – knowing which facts matter, how much they matter, and (most importantly) why they matter.

This combination of qualitative and quantitative research – language and data – is the hallmark of our methodology at Luntz Global Partners. Our research questions generally take one of two basic forms: the what, and the why – the number, and the feeling.

The first kind of useful data is designed to discover intensity of preference. For example:

What percentage of your audience is willing to …?
• wait a week for delivery of a custom order
• connect their checking account to a smartphone app
• volunteer their time for a cause

How favorably does your target audience feel about …?
• their economic prospects
• a restaurant chain
• the stadium experience for the local team

The “What” and the “Why”

Answers to “what” questions take the form of hard numbers seen in bullet points on the news. These findings are integral to strategic planning. You don’t always have to cite them or use them in talking points – even if they’re positive. But if they’re negative, you do have to be aware of them, and be ready to address them. Ignoring circumstances won’t help you manage them.

The second kind of research question asks “why” – and is designed to uncover a feeling. This approach furthers our understanding of the “what” questions. The key is simple: listening. Whereas the first type can be tallied like a multiple-choice exam, the second type must be teased out, explored, probed.

The necessity of asking not just “what” but also “why” underscores the limitations of quantitative research. On their own, numbers are seldom persuasive; necessary, yet not sufficient for effective communication. They only tell part of the story.

If this sounds like an exercise in conversation, you’re right, it is. Today’s consumers are inundated with facts and figures – top-down declarations of “how things are” and “how people really think.” They’re straining to be heard, and often eager to offer their counterpoint.

These discussions can be difficult, heated – even unpalatable. Which is why our seasoned professionals at Luntz Global Partners are masters in asking the right questions in the right way to garner honest responses. No matter your industry or issue, drive the conversation and control your narrative.

If you don’t do it, somebody else will.