A word is worth a thousand pictures

We talk about a picture being a thousand words.  However, there may be some opportunities to take out pictures and be even more effective.

On the TNPA May Test of the Month call, we talked about two tests from our friends at NextAfter that showed that plain text emails can be even more effective than those using an HTML template:

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This could be for a few reasons:

– Emails from friends and family don’t generally use HTML templates, so spam filters are more likely to view HTML emails as suspect

– Emails from friends and family don’t generally use HTML templates, so people are more likely to view text emails as genuine

– Often, subheads can get in the way for HTML emails if you are leading with the “Click here to view this email in your browser” type message

But there are ways to paint pictures with words that access many of the same benefits that pictures can unlock (and some new ones).  The big one is asking people to imagine

Pollster Frank Luntz calls “imagine” the most powerful word in the English language.  He says, “imagine allows you to communicate in the eyes and the vision of the listener rather than yours.”

Good verbs like “imagine,” “remember,” and “picture in your mind” give a person the trigger to help them put themselves in the place of the person whose story you are telling.

And telling a story with powerful detail can conjure in the mind of your donor or potential donor the picture in their own mind.   In the classic Made to Stick, the Heath brothers relay the Darth Vader toothbrush study.”    Simulated juries were given eight facts for and eight facts against describing a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ parent.

The stories differed only in detail. Half received irrelevant details for the ‘good’ side: e.g., instead of just “Mrs. Johnson sees to it that her child washes and brushes his teeth before bedtime,” they added “He uses a Star Wars toothbrush that looks like Darth Vader.”

The other half received irrelevant details for the dark side: e.g., in addition to “The child went to school with a badly scraped arm which Mrs. Johnson had not cleaned or attended to. The school nurse had to clean the scrape,” they mentioned that the school nurse spilled the treatment, staining her uniform red.

Jurors who heard vivid details for the good things judged Mrs. Johnson to be a more suitable parent than jurors who heard the unfavorable arguments with vivid details.

This vividness of detail when asked to imagine causes our brain to process the story as if there were images attached.  You can get that visual experience—even a motor experience—with no visuals.  When that happens, we remember it better.  We are more convinced by it.  And we donate more. (If you are interested in more on how the brain processes fundraising copy, check out our free courses at the Neuro-Fundraising® Lab.)

And we can put ourselves in the shoes of someone else.  A study of the Syrian refugee crisis found that people were more willing to take action—writing the White House—if they were primed by “Imagine that you are a refugee fleeing persecution in a war-torn country. What would you take with you, limited only to what you can carry yourself, on your journey?”

There’s that word “imagine” again.  And it was related to 21% of Americans being willing to write the White House in support of refugees, versus 19% without the statement.  The difference was observable among both Republicans and Democrats.

I like to think of this as the power of reading.  When you watch TV, you have the visuals given to you; when you read, you have your own perception of what Frodo or Hermione or Darcy or (goodness help you) Renesmee look like.  You create their adventures in your mind.  And that helps you empathize with them.

Same for our fundraising.  Some view a pictureless landscape as blank and boring.  These studies would simply say you need to paint with different colors.

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