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It’s one thing to sit at the negotiation table and make an eloquent case for what you and your business have to offer. It’s quite another to convince the person sitting across from you to move to your side, pick up a pen and sign the contract.
There certainly are things you can do to smooth the way. You could send the contract his or her way and have a pen ready, for example. But the act of signing — the close — remains a low-odds bet.
That is the very reason why the majority of election rhetoric puzzles me. Candidates spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to win voters whose opposing viewpoints make them least likely to convert.
In search of a better solution.
Granted, some voters are inherently motivated by their sense of civic duty. Others are driven by their sense of identity or ideology. What about the rest? Sometimes, it comes down to one-on-one outreach. It’s labor-intensive but effective. Thinking back to my youth in India, I remember an earnest grassroots worker knocking on our door to remind my father to vote.
Could there be other strategies? Democratic elections resemble a retail business in the business-to-consumer (B2C) model. In retail, marketing carries the strongest persuasive messages. I wondered: Were there any parallels with election-cycle tactics and outcomes?
Then, I researched — finding evidence in some unusual places. I recalled the tale of “The Arabian Nights,” which focuses on a princess whose husband suffered an earlier betrayal and has vowed to marry a different woman every night and kill her before morning. The princess’ ability to craft compelling stories piqued his interest and saved her life. That is the power of real storytelling, and it’s always stuck with me.
Candidates understand that power. Many begin their narratives with emotionally stirring vignettes. Yet my research didn’t uncover any stories that could remedy the low-probability act of persuading people to leave home, wait in line for their turn at the polling booth and cast a vote.
I used the recent Brexit referendum as a case study. Leading up to the election, I waded through video clippings and newspaper articles by famous journalists. A higher turnout among millennials could have turned that decision. But I didn’t find persuasive stories — only lots of facts and one-line action statements urging people to support one position over the other.
The ‘aha moment.’
The frogs wanted a king. God tossed a log into their pond. At first, the frogs feared the log. It looked so big and had made quite a splash. Once they grew accustomed to the log’s stillness, they squatted atop it and decided they wanted a more active king. This time, God sent an eel. The eel was lively, good-natured and easygoing. But he was only a so-so leader. The frogs wanted a real ruler. Finally, God sent a stork. The stork was active and purposeful. He swallowed a few frogs every day, including those who watched from the sidelines without making a case one way or another.
I filtered the roles of frog, log, eel and stork through the prism of my own experience. The image of the frogs on the sidelines lingered.
In that moment, I had my “aha.” As a young child, I’d always wondered why so many fables featured talking animals. I thought the surreal construct trivialized the message’s seriousness. Now, I know better: The tactic leaves the message pristine, without making it personal or assigning roles the listeners don’t associate with their own thinking or behaviors.
Storyboarding it together.
There’s a world of difference between “I think” and “I know” — and the difference is confidence. Similarly, there’s a world of difference between “I think” and “I act.” Here, the key is hidden in the sublime persuasion of stories.
We act not because it is mandatory but because we have a choice. That is democracy, and it’s also the foundation of a capitalist society in which consumers decide which products and brands to support. Stories are great enablers in these gardens, where choices flower and bloom. The right stories are like marketing nectar. They prompt us in beautiful ways and propel us forward.
During this American election cycle, I wish the old gem of a frog story would go mainstream again. The visual could help move voters through the most complex sales funnel devised: The act of choosing and voting for candidates who will be their voices in the years to come.