Inoculating Against Resistance: Persuasive Messaging at Serendipity Labs
Updated: Mar 31, 2021
This was written for CAS 828: Persuasion Techniques in the Michigan State University Strategic Communications MA program.
Inoculating Against Resistance: Serendipity Labs Creates Space for Individuals
In the process of assembling and packaging a message, leadership cannot always predict how the message will hit; thus, marketing teams require ways to forecast buy-in and push-back possibilities. Such is the art of persuasive messaging. Consumers are inundated with constant messaging—a process which augments authorship because consumers, policy makers, and advocacy groups become “message shapers” who can manipulate and co-create messages (McAlister, 2016a, p. 5). Although leaders do not have complete control of branding and image, they do have many tools available to mitigate persuasion push-back. Serendipity Labs (SL), a national coworking (CW) firm that offers dedicated and open workspaces, is positioned as an upscale workspace akin to a high-rise, high-end hospitality model. To inoculate against resistance to SL’s core persuasive marketing, this paper will deploy five countermeasures: segmenting, targeting, and positioning; artistic proofs (APs); the elaboration likelihood model (ELM); the theory of reasoned action (TRA); and balance theory (BT).
Serendipity Lab Persuasive Messaging
SL leadership should sidestep message fatigue, message avoidance, information asymmetries, and addition of “clutter” to the current CW canon (McAlister, 2016a, p. 8). Because SL leadership concurrently must educate the public about CW as they market the company, the SL persuasive messaging is two-fold: 1. CW replaces the traditional office setting with collaborative communities suitable for any industry and business size and 2. SL offers premium amenities, flexible pricing, and diverse networking opportunities following a high-end hospitality business model.
Targeting, Segmentation, and Positioning
The basic goal of branding is to help consumers process information, adapt to new environments, and manage heuristic cues (McAlister, 2016b). Branding is the battle, but there are three campaigns in the process. First, target the appropriate audience for products and services (Emma, 2019). Next, divide the audience into smaller groups with common characteristics and create content-appropriate messaging. Then, position the firm’s products and services as unique in consumers’ minds (McAlister, 2016b).
The more leaders know about the audience, the more they can posit push-back (Emma, 2019). SL’s core audience includes mobile professionals, small business owners, research teams, startup entrepreneurs, freelancers, contractors, consultants, and independent workers. SL should consider digital and social media analytics in targeting also. This data fills research and strategic gaps (Newberry, 2018).
Overall, segmentation helps with engagement strategies. But it can also provide ways to counter resistance: speak directly to those who are most likely to convert and to resist (Bonnie, 2019). SL’s segmentation parallels research which has shown that CW is more popular in urban markets and favored by the technology sector, freelancers, consultants, startup founders, and entrepreneurs (Rothstein, 2019; Romano, n.d.). SL should consider two segmentation strategies in particular:
Geographic: Geographic segmentation allows SL to organize messaging and inoculation against resistance according to the regionalism, colloquialisms, culture, and unique markets of cities and states (Qualtrics, n.d.). The SL value proposition in Orlando (a large tourist town with potential for day-passes) differs from Chicago (a major urban area with myriad consulting and freelancers) and Phoenix (a city which values from tourists and gig workers in the aerospace, electronics, and semiconductor markets) (Brown, 2018). In markets like Los Angeles, Denver, and Atlanta—where SL operates multiple labs—lab managers can segment by neighborhood or borough to micro target messaging and promotions. Geographic segmenting will prove invaluable when SL opens a currently-under-development United Kingdom lab.
Demographic: SL should pay close and constant attention to demographics, especially age, gender, and occupation. In 2019, forty percent of CW members users were women, sixty-five percent were younger than forty, and the majority were freelancers/contractors in the information technology sector (Stevanovic, 2019). This marriage of research and demographic segmentation creates timely and strategic ways to organize messaging and market objectives. Perhaps SL should create a campaign to increase membership among women or to strengthen membership among men—or both. Age is a crucial factor; generations may view CW’s value proposition differently. Generation Z and Millennials grew up with technology and favor flexibility. Generation X’ers are comfortable with technology and seek security. Baby boomers value work ethic and respect. (Lister, 2020). CW was once considered a “millennial venture”—an environment strictly for young, up-and-coming workers who eschewed structure—but this perception has changed with the growing gig economy and the rise of people working outside standard office settings (Ball, 2018, p. 1; Anton, 2019). Members of these generations may have different resistance to CW or to SL’s model, and strategies to counter each depends on the unique qualities and attitudes of each age segment (Snapchat for Generation Z and Millennials, Instagram for Gen X’ers, and Facebook for Baby Boomers, for example). Finally, because SL creates communities comprised of multiple professions and industries, occupation is a valued demographic. Tracking occupations metrics will help SL set goals, monetize incentives, track industry habits, and create brand ambassadors (Bonnie, 2019). SL leaders must understand the core demographics to defend against push-back. Lab managers can manage demographics on a local level by disseminating membership surveys to capture and track current demographics.
To differentiate from CW competitors, SL offers dedicated and open workspaces, in an upscale workspace akin to a high-rise, high-end hospitality model. If rival Regus is Macy’s, then SL is Bergdorf Goodman. Lodgic is Ford, but SL is Lincoln. Novel Coworking touts restoration of historic buildings, but SL takes a modern and sophisticated approach. Potential members may fear this luxury comes at a cost, but positioning can communicate that as with all things, one gets what they pay for. SL differentiates through on-site concierge support, premium-stocked kitchens, enterprise-level Internet (with guaranteed 100mg service and network backups), security access, on-site cafés and workout facilities in most locations, and state-of-the-art conference and meeting rooms.
SL is in growth mode, partnering with class-A asset owners to open forty new labs in 2020 which amass over 130,000 square feet (Cision, 2020). Upscale positioning requires marketing to constituents who are comfortable with a premium price point: know who can afford the brand; determine gender, age, and income levels among the core audience; and market/counter accordingly. Additionally, there are a variety of CW models: modest, with dorm-like environments (Brix); lifestyle, with restaurants, social spaces, and childcare (Lodgic); and conservative, with a traditional corporate setting (Regus). SL differentiates through the high-end hospitality model. All positioning should include SL’s slogan: “Inspiration at Work” (Serendipity Labs, n.d.).
The Artistic Proofs
Coined by Aristotle, APs are argumentative tools that empower speakers to craft persuasive messaging driven by ethos (image/appearance/reputation), pathos (emotions/word choice), and logos (logic/ intelligence) (McAlister, 2016c; Indiana University, n.d.). SL leadership can inoculate with the APs by perfecting the “rhetorical triangle” of informing, educating, and persuading current and prospective SL members (Himmelsbach, 2019, p. 12). Employing the APs, SL leadership should tap logic, authority, and emotion through a variety of strategies: sponsored social media posts using AP concepts as keywords; pay-per-click strategies using AP ideals as predictors; SEO strategies that use AP-based keywords; AP-related social media hashtags; testimonials/profiles that demonstrate and deliver on each AP; branded memes, viral videos, infographics that use traits of each AP to educate about CW and to positively reframe negative connotations. Additionally, encouraging satisfied SL members to write positive Yelp and Google reviews could help inoculate against resistance in an AP-related manner—off-setting push-back through logic, authority, and emotion.
This AP appeals to the intellectual, logical side of professionals—notably for CW in a financial complexion. CW offers competitive start-up, set-up, operating, fixed asset, and per-square-feet costs. SL adds value through robust, on-site tele-conferencing tools that enable companies to meet in a variety of virtual and in-person configurations—tools that owners do not need to purchase and employees do not need to set up. SL’s gourmet kitchen cuts petty cash costs and offers a convenient alternative to traveling off-campus for snacks (especially in crowded urban areas where traffic is pricey). The financial benefits alone are quantitative and measurable as evidence-based reasoning (McAlister, 2016c).
Concerning image, appearance, reputation, and authority, ethos can help SL create believable and credible messaging (McAlister, 2016c). SL marketing should craft original content (digital and print) showing real members in real spaces. SL marketing managers should write blog posts and post/like/comment on industry-related articles on social media. This initiative would position SL as experts in the national market as well as in local markets. Ideally, lab managers could market themselves as content experts for local media, events, and conferences—updating SL and individual LinkedIn profiles with projects, publications, and papers (and of course adding SL as their employer). Drawing on the ethos of prior research, SL should share results from current, favorable CW studies to counter push-back. For example, in a 2019 study by the International Workplace Group, researchers concluded that eighty-five percent of respondents believe their productivity has increased as a result of CW (IWG, 2019). SL could share this study and include insight from local lab managers that narrowcasts the message for local markets. Regarding reputation, SL was rated among the top ten CW firms nationally in a 2019 study by CW advisory firm Upsuite (Upsuite, 2019).
This emotional, passionate tool can prove quite powerful and sell CW and SL in a way in which people can identify. Inoculate against push-back by showing that people in CW spaces view their work as meaningful because of their individual contributions in a think-tank setting among various members of local communities and economies (Spreitzer, Bacevice, & Garrett, 2015). SL can appeal to sense of identity through strategic storytelling success stories. Showcase the displaced worker who created a small business (and now supports his family and a staff in a CW space). Highlight the single mom who is able to run her accounting business in a CW space—while maintaining work-life balance with her family. Share the story of Instagram founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, who created and launched the app from a coworking space (Weil, 2018). Most prospective members consider the social dimension when pondering a CW shift (Stevanovic, 2019). That is because CW creates an environment that one joins as an individual but becomes part of a whole: “me” becoming “we” (Spreitzer, Bacevice, & Garrett, 2015, p. 11). People like to read about people, and images sell the sizzle. One can counter resistance by stirring positive emotions.
The Elaboration Likelihood Model
The ELM is a dual-process information process in which communicators weigh persuasion and argument against the way in which people process the message (Samson & Voyer, 2012). When brands present information, a degree of elaboration occurs depending on how much effort the audience must display. Elaboration occurs through two channels: central (cognitive, intellectually engaged, highly involved, evidence-based) or peripheral (weak, imprecise, low-involved, simplicity-driven results) (Samson & Voyer, 2012; McAlister, 2016d; Geddes, 2016). The ELM divides persuasion into motivation (measured high or low depending on one’s perception of risk and relevance of needs) and ability (measured high or low depending on receivers’ cognitive capacity and success in separating content from clutter) (McAlister, 2016d). The central route (high elaboration), ultimately leads to behavior change, whereas the peripheral route (low elaboration) results in attitude change (McAlister, 2016d; Geddes, 2016).
A central ELM strategy for SL might focus on the company website (desktop and mobile)—a central landing page for information, education, pricing, locations, and messaging that can extinguish doubts about CW’s viability and nullify concerns about SL’s value. Elaboration potential on the website begins digitally because seventy to eighty percent of people research a firm’s website before purchasing (Jesiolowska, 2019). Consumers form an opinion about a website within 0.05 seconds, and ninety-four percent of website first impressions are design-related (Sweor, 2020). SL’s website design and delivery can increase elaboration potential with a user-friendly interface featuring options to search, filter, and sort lab locations and membership types. These options enable the viewer to filter by interest and by relevance—two of the factors inherent to central processing motivation (McAlister, 2016d). A modern, sophisticated website fits within SL’s positioning, and the core audience and segmentation of IT, finance, and research professionals demand an intuitive digital presence. Members of these niches are likely to see the relevance of CW and possess the ability to process SL’s value proposition: they need a workspace; the price is commensurate with the return on investment; the brand sticks out among competitors; and the company is top-ten ranked nationally. Yoco (2014) states that individuals who feel directly connected are more likely to process centrally; thus, messages and delivery must align with the thinking abilities of an audience. Detailed information, statistics, price comparisons, and research/productivity studies about CW should accompany articulate user reviews and testimonials. Add a chat option, and visitors will boost elaboration potential, motivation, and ability immediately.
By contrast, a peripheral strategy might focus more on website imagery with few words. Before-and-after workspaces or infographics with “Top 10” lists would appeal to short-cut processing. This may enable the viewer to picture how they would work and customize their own CW space. Celebrity endorsements do not require cognitive processing—creating a short-cut to processing through simple cues (McAlister, 2016d). Cross-promotion or product placement deals would be effective also. Some may be persuaded by staged workspaces featuring Apple iMacs, Hues smart lighting, Starbucks mugs, or popular local brands—the persuasive marketing equivalent of “eye candy.”
The Theory of Reasoned Action
The TRA states that behavior is determined by attitudes (beliefs and evaluations of outcomes), subjective norms (SNs) (should one engage in the behavior?), and behavioral intention (BI) (McAlister, 2016e). Essentially, marketers use TRA to predict behavior by measuring intention to engage and the degree to which the individual’s self-efficacy can overcome barriers (Maryland’s Tobacco Resource Center, n.d.). SL leaders must account for the degree to which prospective members want to change aspects of their work environments—focusing on the positives (financial, professional, situational) while assuaging possible arguments (switching costs, return on investment concerns, commitment). The goal is to associate CW as a socially and professionally desirable wave of the future. SL would connote value-added flexibility, premium amenities, and an on-site support staff that may otherwise not have been available and affordable. There is a direct correlation between positive attitude, subjective norms, and perceived control to an individual’s intention (McAlister, 2016e).
Thus, SL must consider the psychology of present members (for retention) and prospective members (for recruitment) (Maryland’s Tobacco Resource Center, n.d.; McAlister, 2016e). SL’s TRA strategy would focus on surveys to divine attitudes (reinforcing positive, reshaping negative), subjective norms (reinforce approval and reshape disapproval), and perceived behavioral control (showcasing positive outcomes and consequences) (Glanz, Rimer, & Viswanath, 2015). These surveys would be measured with a one-way ANOVA using 1-10 sliding scales. The independent variable is occupation. The dependent variable is attitude, norms, or behavioral respectively.
Measuring CW attitudes, one can consider pros and cons. Flexibility, the ability to control, plan, and customize, collaborative community support, lack of long-term commitment, low fixed costs, and networking potential are commonly cited CW pros. Criticisms include lack of privacy, distractions, price, lack of structure, potential for competition within spaces, limited opportunities for customization, cyber-security, incongruent mission statements among members; dissatisfaction with the CW company ownership and/or management, and personality or culture conflicts (Austin, 2019; Pochepan, 2018; Redwood, 2018; Detweiler, 2020; JLL, n.d.).
Survey: An attitude survey would include a study of work-life balance among IT, finance, and research professionals with baseline questions like “Working the next five years in my current office would be” or “Paying slightly more for better quality is.” The scale would be: “desirable/neutral/undesirable.”
This component is driven by perception: would peers approve or disapprove of the behavior and should or shouldn’t one perform the behaviors (Lezin, n.d.; McAlister, 2016e). CW members cite an elevated sense of professionalism, credibility, and legitimacy not afforded to traditional office environments; similarly, employees with company-subsidized memberships feel employers value their needs (Bacevice, Spreitzer, Hendricks, & Davis, 2019). CW can either muddy the line between office and remote employment or add value to the employee experience (Ismail, 2019).
Survey: A SN survey would include a study of approval predictors among IT, finance, and research professionals with baseline statements like: “My peers think I am productive,” “My family would say I am happy in my job,” or “People important to me think I should find a new workspace.” The scale would be: “agree/neutral/agree.”
When one associates behaviors with consequences and outcomes, they are weighing BI. SL can fuel BI outcomes with messaging like: CW offers more job control, autonomy, and the ability to “have a life.” In many SLbuildings, amenities include on-site cafes, coffeeshops, and gyms. For the busy professional who also is a parent, spouse, student, CW offers a one-stop-shop approach to work-life balance. These concepts show how CW contributes to positive outcomes and how SL’s upscale positioning can enhance the outcomes by providing members with premium, sophisticated value. There is power (and acceptance) among numbers. SL members inevitably create a de facto chamber of commerce among which members cross-promote and network. SL can play upon loss of group prestige; economic loss; loss of personal prestige; and a prediction of uncertainty, similar to cognitive dissonance theories (McAlister, 2016e).
Survey: A BI survey would study consequence analysis among IT, finance, and research professionals with a question like “Working in an environment that enables me to see my family more would reduce general anxiety,” or “A high-rise office would increase my profile among colleagues and clients.” The scale would be: “disagree/neutral/agree.”
Current SL members want things to go correctly. If they schedule an event in a SL conference room, they expect the setup and execution to commence as planned. The Wi-Fi should work. The catering should be on-time and up-to-standards. Concierge check-in should be friendly, helpful, and professional. SL members expect the support staff to break down events expediently. SL leadership should deliver on promises and remain reliable and consistent with member expectations (McAlister, 2016f). These expectations are commensurate with “psychological equilibrium,” a component of BT (McAlister, 2016f, p. 3). BT states that people prefer consistent, stable, and psychologically pleasant ecosystems (American Psychological Association, n.d.). SL can connect BT to its mission statement: to deliver an upscale, hospitality-based workplace experience that can serve as an extension for businesses and a home base for established, independent professionals (Serendipity Labs, n.d.). Cox (2019) states that people favor businesses that share the same values. If a consumer shares a company’s values, then they will view the company positively. If not, then the consumer will be more likely to dislike the company rather than change their own beliefs (Cox, 2019). Thus, SL can use the mission statement as a guidepost to achieve balance and consistency among like-minded consumers who gravitate towards and benefit from SL’s mission and positioning. The combination of CW and SL creates a unique balance: job titles may vary, but the consistent, upscale value does not.
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