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How effective communications can change minds and public opinion

By Laurna Woods

Without effective communications, big changes in the way a company does business are met with resistance from customers.

If you want to change minds and bring your clientele with you as your business evolves, your PR messaging has to sell the simple benefits of the service changes you are introducing.

It was reading about the situation in Sweden, which is well on the way to becoming the world’s first cashless society, that got me reflecting on PR strategies for dealing with changes that shatter the old order of things, and how we at Beattie make sure that messages get through to whole communities.

Notes and coins are dying in Sweden, with less than one in 10 branches of one of the country’s big banks even handling cash transactions. At these banks, there are no cash deposits, no cash withdrawals … just assistants on hand to help you through any part of the banking process you can’t deal with yourself on your smartphone or tablet.

Only one in four Swedes hand over real physical money at least once a week. Almost every purchase is concluded with a card or a smartphone app.

Even in the UK, contactless payments and the likes of Apple Pay make up more than a third of purchases. Much in the way we followed the Swedes’ flat-pack lead, we’re on the road to a cash-free society, too.

Alter public opinion

Elderly Swedes, of course, have concerns and businesses are wanting to change public opinion to show that advances in technology are actually making life easier.

Now, Europe has an ageing population. So if society is making radical changes, such as ditching the pound in your pocket for the app on your phone, it has to take older people on the journey with it.

Since the days of Luddites wrecking machines during the Industrial Revolution, too often it has been the scare stories about technology that make news.

When any business or institution is bringing about change, it has to be open about what that change is and how it will be handled. It has to set the context. Effective communication, in the form of a strong, helpful PR strategy, wipes away fear.

Beattie Communications delivered just such a long-term strategy when the UK went through a big technological change with the switch to digital TV.

The BBC Switchover Help Scheme’s public relations campaign was designed to make elderly and vulnerable people aware there was physical help available to get them set up with an easy-to-use digital set-top box.

Understand complex messages

It was quite a complex message for older people to understand, packed with words like “digital” and “analogue” and involving cables and a new remote control, which could confuse people. But an informative public relations campaign helped demystify the switch, to normalise the change and take away the fear factor.

It came down to crystal clear communication and education; getting the simple message across that we wanted to help people keep watching Corrie. They couldn’t do that if they didn’t make the digital switch and there was help available so they could get to use the new technology easily.

It was less a technology thing, and more a personal thing – and there was a community spirit that could help get the job done.

We used trusted faces – such as the former Tomorrow’s World host Maggie Philbin and the actress Dorothy Paul – to make people aware nationally and regional that the change was coming.

Then we rolled out regional awareness events, targeting local newspapers for coverage as older people read local news.

We also engaged trusted local figures, such as police officers, nurses and lollipop men and women, to help us raise awareness at special events within communities.

Simple, clear PR strategy

It’s a simple, clear strategy – engage, educate, change – that is reliable and repeatable, though the modes of delivery would vary with the circumstances.

When you take radical action, it will only succeed if you can change hearts and change minds. You have a responsibility to the people affected – you have to make them aware of the change and educate them about it. That’s how to overcome fear, and how to keep customers with you. Get those elements right from the start and change encounters less resistance.

To change minds, you have to demonstrate how the new way of doing things is easy for people to do and show them how it will make their lives easier. You have to carry the people’s hearts and minds with you to change public opinion.

That requires investment, whether in experiential activity or online tutorials, and proper engagement with the public. You have to reach out in a practical way.

Older people may not feel part of a radical change as so many of them involve IT, which they might not be familiar with. In this online age, when businesses is planning a disruptive innovation, it has to appreciate that not everyone is a digital native.

Customers come in all shapes and sizes – and you want to keep their custom. Effective communications will help you make the change that is needed, and retain the loyalty of the clientele you have built up.

To find out how we push the boundaries of PR and marketing to get the best for our clients, call us now on 0800 612 9890.