Dominic Payling heads the strategic planning, insight and measurement team at MSLGROUP UK. He has 20 years of experience in in-house marketing, market research and agency-side planning, across global corporate and consumer brands.
I once had a boss who used to lean forwards, over his third pint and, glancing left and right, and then over my shoulder say “have you heard..?” pause and then say “you mustn’t tell anyone….well only one person at a time…” And then he’d let rip with some scurrilous and treasured nugget of scuttlebutt.
I loved those moments. They connected with me. One-on-one. All-encompassing. A secret shared. Often humorous, always intimate. And down the pub too – what’s not to like!
It was also a great lesson in communications skills. Absolute focus, heightened emotion, content that was worth spreading and with a clear and motivating call to action – ‘tell only one person at a time.’ But it was the intimacy of the moment that mattered, that framed and defined the event. If I’d been sat in the audience of a conference and the same information had been broadcast to me and my fellow delegates the speaker would have been lucky if I’d even noticed their presentation. It’s why PR as a discipline has always been such a powerful tool of communications – building and conveying trust – delivered through the medium of relationships, usually painted in words, not in pictures.
Intimacy matters in communications for a very good reason. According to the Uncertainty Reduction Theory (Charles Berger and Richard Calabrese, 1975), if communications are to be successful then we must understand the other party, before the communication takes place. Doing this reduces uncertainty. A reduction in uncertainty helps us to predict the other’s behaviour and likely actions. This is crucial to the development of any relationship, and to the success of the communication. We trust the person first then we buy their message. We don’t buy the message first then trust the person.
This makes sense. Trust helps land communications. Relationships develop trust.
And understanding helps relationships to flourish. Trust/relationships/understanding – all synonymous with intimacy.
Berger and Calabrese phased these interactions. Each phase acted as a bridge into greater intimacy. As personal disclosure increases with an exploration of one another’s attitudes and beliefs then so does emotional involvement – and a degree of intimacy can flourish.
It is why online daters have to follow such powerful uncertainty reduction strategies if they are to be successful. In the case of more short-term encounter based services – think Grindr and Tinder – you need an even more extreme uncertainty reduction strategy. Often super intimate, to help elicit the desired response. Intimacy begets intimacy if you like.
The big question for communications agencies such as ourselves is how do we best get to the intimate insights that will change behaviour?
With the recent advances in behavioural science that have begun to see off the rational decision-making of Homo Economicus there is a way forward. As an industry we must be less reliant on self-reported, increasingly commoditised omnibus sources of statistical ambiguity and more reliant on close-hand, ethnographic approaches that reveal true natural behaviours and influences.
As I said before, intimacy begets intimacy. And then behaviour change.
This post is a part of our People’s Insights report The Future of Creativity, in which experts from MSLGROUP and some from Publicis Groupe identify 15 drivers for engaging creatively in 2015.