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Home arrow Marketing arrow The Neuroscience of Multimodal Persuasive Messages: Persuading the Brain


I introduce the topic and purpose in the opening paragraph—standard in any business writing setting. I also make an immediate connection to the company’s values and philosophy; these will appeal to the audience quickly. Leadership is always concerned about how the company is meeting its corporate mission, philosophy, and values. I am aware that in some executive-level settings, presentations need to begin with an explicit reference to the topic’s positioning within the company’s mission and philosophies; that is how important those elements are to a company’s leadership. This “move” combines a pathetic and logical appeal that is based on neural plasticity associated with leadership development.

In the second paragraph, I provide some “good feeling” message (previous experiences); but I call attention to the specific issue, again, referring explicitly to the company values and philosophy. I even cite the company website, showing that I have researched the company. This re-enforces the plasticity element of leadership’s concern for such issues as well as establishes my own ethos—I know about the company’s values.

I describe our experience in paragraphs three through five, alluding to the fact that hospital billing departments have observed a problem. This is, also, a logical appeal drawing on reward neurons of the audience; if others are noting a problem, this is bad for the company’s reputation. Further, the readers can check on it by asking those people directly. The leadership team will want to correct the problem quickly, before there is a public relations problem.

In paragraph six, I allude to the billing department staffer’s speculation about a cause, linking it to our experience as well as linking it to the company’s values and philosophy. Again, the statement about the billing staffer’s observations contributes to my own ethos as a credible source of information; they can check on it. Connecting our experience to the company’s values involves logical and pathetic appeals based on reward neuron dynamics and plasticity of leadership’s values. In leadership’s experience, they have emphasized these principles internally; they are used to expressing action relative to those values and philosophies. Further, an outsider is making a direct appeal to those values, calling attention to how the experience does not match what the values express.

Paragraphs seven through ten are where I actively and explicitly integrate mirror neurons—facilitating connections between me and the audience. Basically, I refer to my own experiences in a leadership position, my business education (which they have also experienced; they all hold the MBA degree, I learned from researching their background on the company website), and my experience in a leadership training program, which most of them have experienced. I am able to help them understand that I am not dramatically different from them with respect to our leadership backgrounds. While I am not just like them in terms of leading a large company, my intention is to show that I am able to appreciate some of the elements affecting leaders better than many others may be able to do. I appeal to them on a personal level as well as professional; leaders are human and have a personal life. They would understand the frustration such errors can cause on a personal level. This is mostly a pathetic appeal, drawing on ethos—mine and theirs—and logos; mine are logical concerns based on the evidence presented; the documentation showing delays and potential impact on credit rating.

In paragraph ten I try to integrate an appeal to reward neurons, but I do not know how the readers would respond to it. By mentioning that I will share their response with my students, I hope that they perceive potential reward by acting on the situation and corresponding a certain way, making them look favorable. As I note, they likely experienced that discussion in their MBA programs—hearing about how a company responded to a specific case as part of a case study follow-up. If the company responded well, the students probably felt it made the company look good. That reinforces my ethos (not only am I in a leadership positon; I can share this case with many students of business— including the response of this leadership team), plays on pathos (they will feel better if the company is perceived favorably), and integrates potential reward (they and the company look good in light of a favorable response).

In terms of media, again, I sent this as a letter; so, one would perceive lack of multimodal effect. However, there is a multimodal effect related to spatial and visual appearance. I did not include university letterhead, because it was not university-related. However, I use bold in a few paragraphs, and I sent copies of it in 9”x12” express mail envelopes to their offices. The bold typeface integrates a visual attribute beyond “normal” typeface. So, it would get their attention and emphasize particular information. Also, I hoped the envelopes would stand out from other mail they may have received, taking up a bit more space than standard letter envelopes. The “express mail” design on the envelope, further, gave it a more important look than a regular envelope—standard or 9”x12” sized.

Further, I included my business card, documenting my position. This is an ethical appeal that draws on plasticity associated with “official” business practices, and eliciting mirror neurons. Business people share business cards as part of a formal introduction. I am mirroring a standard practice they are used to experiencing. My business card includes the university logo as well as my title and contact information. Like that letterhead, the logo bears a given official message itself. The card, also, reinforces my own ethos, caring information about my personal website to document my background, in case one of the recipients wants to look into that.

There is an element of temporal synchronicity and intermodal redundancy, too. The reader/recipient feels the envelope as they open it to access the letter; it feels large, which may create the perception of importance. It certainly gets their attention. So, the size of the envelope has a visual and touch (haptic)-related effect.

The letter may seem more important, too, coming from a large envelope that included the visual stimuli associated with the words “Express delivery” and other colorful text on the envelope’s design. So, the letter is accessed just after the visual and haptic experiences associated with the envelope’s size, eliciting the perception of importance. Finally, the contents of the envelope involved no fewer than seven pages and a business card; it feels thick. I did not use the larger envelope just to create a rhetorical effect; it would have been impractical to try to fold all of the pages involved into a standard letter mailing envelope. The thickness of the message packet may also create the perception of importance relative to the visual and haptic attributes associated with size.

Attention-Modal Filtering is accomplished by the limited use of modes—visual and touch, and the required progression from envelope to pulling out the contents to reading the letter and enclosures. The reader is not overwhelmed by the experience because they are used to opening mail, including large mail envelopes in their previous experiences. I have also appealed to their previous experiences as described above relative to plasticity-related attributes.

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