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The Power of Shared Values

We tell stories for many reasons, but one of the most effective ways to utilize story is for accelerating the speed of change. When companies, nonprofits, politicians or even your children tell stories, they are very often hoping to influence your beliefs and behavior. But they’re not alone in their attempts to sway you toward their way of thinking. In fact, according to the Cleveland Clinic, your brain is processing 60,000 thoughts per day; many of which stem from messaging that is carefully crafted to affect your decisions.

A conservation nonprofit says, “Be the voice for those who have no voice.” A politician ignites a crowd into thunderous applause by stating, “I’m asking you to believe. Not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington. I'm asking you to believe in yours." And a child in line at the supermarket checkout cries out, “You don’t love me daddy. If you did, you’d buy me the candy."

All of these messages have a common thread. They touch on positive universal values (PUVs); concepts and ideas that have a positive value for nearly every member of our target audience. In the first example, our emotions ​​are evoked by a core belief that we should have the ability to speak and defend ourselves. It’s so strong that our founding fathers declared it a constitutional right. The campaign plea appeals to us in several ways. It not only offers the promise of change, but an inclusive invitation for each of us to believe in our own ability to be part of that change. It’s a powerful cocktail that connects with some of our strongest values: hope, change, empowerment and self-worth. The last example is one that has been directed at many of us and overheard by all of us. It goes in for the kill – putting the parent’s love on trial. Research shows some of our strongest values are centered around family.

But what does this have to do with your next sales campaign or the alumni association’s fall fundraising effort? It has everything to do with it. We establish commonality through story. Commonality fosters trust and when we trust someone or an organization, it creates the optimal conditions in the brain’s limbic system to be open to influence.

When we combine our message with a PUV we build an even stronger connection with our audience and accelerate the process of establishing trust. Many of us do this naturally when meeting new people, but if you want to see this done with expert precision, watch a politician greeting a group of people. She’ll quickly find out where they are from and then offer up possible people, places or organizations that they have in common.

Incorporating a PUV in our message also makes it difficult for the audience to disagree with you. Take Whole Foods and their slogan, “We believe in real food.” Who doesn’t believe in real food? So even if you’re not a Whole Foods customer, they’ve already taken a significant step forward in acquiring you as a customer. They share your beliefs. Their goal is to continue to build commonality with you until all of the values that you share outweigh the perceived negative value that they have of being more expensive.

So for your next speech or campaign, consider adding a PUV into the formula. Introduce it early in your message and let it help frame your ending. You can also let it guide you through the body of the narrative, but be careful not to overdue it and risk coming off as pandering to the audience.

Feel free to reach out to us and let us know how it goes.

Photo credits: Be the voice (WWF), Obama quote (, Whole Foods ad (Whole Foods Market Inc.)


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