What makes people tick

You want to convince people to install solar panels on their house because you are passionately driven by a belief that renewable energy solutions are critical to a more sustainable future for the planet. You develop a solar energy campaign using that rationale and all the latest social media channels, and get a few people interested, but not many. Why?

Essentially you’re speaking a language they don’t speak. Appealing to someone’s desire to make the world a better place only speaks to a limited number of people and doesn’t resonate with a large proportion of the population you’re trying to reach.

The way to make campaigns a success is understanding the different psychological places people are at and what makes them tick, according to Chris Rose, who did a great (though frustratingly brief) presentation at the brilliant Fairsay e-campaigner forum I’ve been at for 2 days.

He breaks people down into 3 groups: settlers, prospectors and pioneers.

Settlers: Are watching the media looking for the next bad thing to happen. They are driven by a need for safety and security and avoid risk. Family is important to them. Don’t ask them to change the world because they’re not interested – in fact, the world is quite a scary place. Telling them that we need to change everything in society fundamentally freaks them out and turns them off. Their ‘home is their castle’ and they like to keep things local. They’re not very reflective (they think problems are more simple than you’re making out.) Words they like: solidarity, community, thrifty, roots, comfort, escapist and the past (the good old days). They read papers such as the Daily Mirror.

Prospectors are directed by a need for success, and gain esteem through how others estimate them. Looking good is important: they like acquiring and displaying success symbols. They are optimistic and forward-looking. A question you need to make sure you’re answering when talking to them is: Does whatever you are asking me to do help me/ my country/ my organisation look good? Think: bling and celebrities.

Pioneers find problems interesting. They are willing to take risks, are more concerned with ideas and what is ethically right and just, and are driven by a need to connect with others. They have a strong sense of self-agency. Words they like: information, contacts, knowledge, individuality. Words that describe them: people-focused, risk-takers and discerning.

New ideas often move from Pioneers to Prospectors to Settlers. Perhaps depressingly, but also rather predictably, most organisations start as pioneer-orientated and then, as they grow and become more established, they become settler-dominated.

Want to know which one you are? Find out here. I’m a pioneer (no surprises there) and a “Transcender”, which is a “scout” sub-group of the Pioneers…(I see myself in a Brownie uniform as I read this): “most likely to push their perceptual boundaries, in an attempt to gain greater harmony with their own value set and gain connection with others and the environment around them.” Hmmm…

I’m a communicator, not a campaigner, so is this still relevant to my work? Yes. I think it helps anyone who needs to speak to people more effectively – hopefully I’ll be ticking more people’s boxes in future as a result.

So, how best to get those solar panels on people’s houses? Given that a lot of people working in the field of campaigning, environment and development are pioneers, you’re likely to be talking to other Pioneers in the right way already – by using the approaches that motivate and speak to you, like telling them about the greater environmental benefits of adopting solar technologies.

A totally different approach is needed for Settlers. Maybe they’d be interested in how solar panels could save them money in the long-run – you could quote statistics on falling PV costs: prices have come down by more than 60% in the last 6 years in Germany.

It turns out Grand Designs has come with the answer on how to speak to the Prospectors. The UK TV show has made having solar homes cool and the campaign should focus in on featuring those houses and ideally finding a celeb with a solar-panelled house wiling to take part in the campaign. The message (and their incentive for adopting them): solar panels are the new, cool ‘must-have’ status symbol for their house.

Watch his full presentation and a storify of conference tweets

Chris Rose’s new book

Chris Rose’s campaign strategy website