Social and behavioral research on the art of persuasion has taught us about how humans make decisions, and also shed light on how to persuade people to choose one option over another. These findings have led to the development of theories and approaches on behavioral persuasion, which can be useful in B2B marketing by showing us how to influence buying behavior. One such approach is the Elaboration Likelihood Model.
The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM) suggests that a fundamental key to the art of persuasion lies in a person’s cognitive elaboration on the issue at hand. In other words, for someone to be persuaded, they must first think about (or elaborate on) information related to the issue at hand. The act of elaboration is not simply binary, but instead occurs along a continuum from low to high elaboration. And though one may suppose that low elaboration equates to no persuasion, the ELM suggests an individual can still be persuaded despite the level of elaboration — though, the process of elaboration will differ.
There are two ways the elaboration process can differ based upon a person’s level of elaboration; he or she can either elaborate through a central route that involves systematic thinking, or a peripheral route that involves cognitive shortcuts.
Systematic Thinking: The central route occurs at the high end of the elaboration continuum, when an individual engages in critical and systematic thinking that relates to the issue. This may involve considerations such as what the message is, who is delivering it, additional information the person may already have about the issue and how that influences the message, etc.
Cognitive Shortcuts: The peripheral route occurs at the low end of the elaboration continuum, when an individual relies on peripheral cues rather than critically thinking about relevant information. The person uses cognitive shortcuts to make a decision, rather than systematically thinking about it. This may involve such things as relying solely on visual imagery, the speaker’s credibility, etc.
ELM suggests that when someone is systematically thinking about an issue, the peripheral cues may take less importance in the persuasion process; however, when someone is using cognitive shortcuts to make that decision, peripheral cues carry greater importance. It should be noted, though, that these two concepts exist along a continuum and are not mutually exclusive; for example, someone may involve in elaboration toward the middle of the continuum and utilize both systematic thinking as well as cognitive shortcuts.
There are two factors that influence elaboration likelihood: motivation and ability.
Motivation: A person will not engage in elaboration if she or he is not motivated to do so. One factor that may influence someone’s motivation is personal relevance; a person may be more motivated to elaborate if the issue is personally relevant. A second factor is need for cognition; if a person naturally likes to think, s/he may be motivated to elaborate.
Ability: A person will not engage in elaboration if s/he is not able to do so. One factor that may affect someone’s ability to elaborate is distraction; if there is too much distraction accompanying the message, the person may not be able to elaborate. A second factor is prior knowledge; someone may be more able to elaborate if s/he has prior knowledge on the issue from which s/he can pull to support/negate the message.
Elaboration Likelihood Model: How We Can Use It in B2B
So how we can use this information in B2B marketing? Well as always, the first step is research. In order to motivate your customers to buy, you must know who they are. What is important to them? How does your product or service fit into that?
Using that research, tailor your message accordingly. For example, do you have a technical audience that may use systematic thinking more prevalently than cognitive shortcuts? If so, your efforts to motivate their elaboration may be more effective if you focus on the message rather than peripheral cues. Remember to find out what is personally relevant to your customers; including that may also encourage them to further elaborate on your product/service and, thus, motivate them to buy.
Social and behavioral research has taught us a lot about how humans make decisions, and incorporating these findings into your own B2B marketing strategy may lead to more effective results. So do your research, and incorporate that information in your strategy. Combining your own research with what science has taught us will create a more effective combination that can lead to success.