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By Wayne Aspland – a guest blogger for IABC VICContent

Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Start With Why by Simon Sinek. Simon has turned inspiration into a business. His work has earned him a lot of big clients and a best-seller. He also holds the exalted position of the fourth most viewed TED talk of all time.

Anyway, part-way through Simon’s book, I came across a comment that stopped me in my tracks.

“There are only two ways to influence human behaviour: you can manipulate it or you can inspire it.”

My initial reaction to this claim was “BS.” I mean, the idea that we’re all running around manipulating each other sounds so tawdry.

But, pretty soon, my incredulity gave way to an acceptance that Simon is, in fact, dead right. When it comes to influencing behaviour, you only have two options:

Manipulation: influencing behaviour with something other than the behaviour itself. Like encouraging high performance with a bonus, raise, promotion or a pat on the back. Or encouraging a purchase with a discount or offer.

Inspiration: influencing behaviour by creating nothing more than the desire to act or change.

As Simon points out, it’s important to appreciate that manipulation isn’t a bad thing, despite its poor rep. And it’s certainly not redundant. In fact, it’s the way most businesses are managed and it’s very effective.

Simon argues, however, that inspiration is far more powerful. The desire created is deeper and more enduring. And inspiration doesn’t attract the extraneous costs that beset manipulation. Those costs are both financial (e.g. the physical cost of bonuses, discounts etc) and cultural (e.g. the cost of the resulting bonus or discount culture).

All of this got me thinking about communications and the content we produce. After all, everything a communicator does – every piece of content we create – is designed to influence human behaviour in some small way.

As communicators, we focus on engagement. I’m sure you’ve all seen the ‘awareness, understanding, belief, engagement’ pyramid and poured over the engagement scores in the latest EOS.

But Simon’s comment got me wondering why we stop there.

Why don’t we as communicators go one step beyond and try to inspire behavioural change?

Why don’t we aim to create content that inspires people rather than merely engages them?

Why don’t we aim to build inspired businesses, rather than just engaged ones?

I suspect the answer is pretty simple.

Inspiration is bloody hard work.

It’s an emotional, rather than a practical, appeal.

It therefore demands an exceptionally deep understanding of your stakeholders and what drives them – as individuals, not just as groups, teams or segments.

It requires a level of communications prowess that takes years to learn and, to a certain degree, may be innate.

And, hardest of all, it demands action, not just words. You can’t just say inspiring things. You have to be inspiring.

So creating inspiration requires hard work and, in many cases, significant change.

But surely it’s worth it.

After all, what could be achieved by a business full of inspired people serving a market of inspired customers?

And what could you achieve as a communicator if you knew how to create it?

Wayne Aspland

Wayne Aspland has been a member of the IABC for almost a year and enjoys making the most of the Association’s research and networking opportunities. 

Wayne specialises in communications and marketing content. He works with words, pictures, people and numbers to create the content that underpins successful communications. That means everything from social media and content marketing to speeches, presentations, briefings, leadership conferences and thought leadership programs. Wayne is passionate about getting the story – not just the content – right. He places a lot of emphasis on internal stakeholder relationships and data analysis to uncover the great stories that lie within every great business. Wayne has worked in the digital marketing industry for over fifteen years – the first five as a strategy consultant and the last ten in corporate communications.