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How to create change one behavior at a time.

Note to My Fellow Progressives: The Election Is Over

The election is over. But all is not lost.

Not yet. Not for every progressive victory. Not if progressives remember the foundational principle of marketing – it’s not about you. It’s about the target audience. And you are not your own target audience. Those people you’re yelling at – those who voted for Trump or the huge number who didn’t vote at all. They are your keys to protecting what you hold dear.

All around us we are now surrounded by denial disguised as political strategy. Efforts like #NotMyPresident seem to expect more than half of those who voted to just say, “Oops, my bad. We’ll give the presidency back to you.” Ask yourself: What can we realistically expect to happen?

Let’s begin with acceptance. Say it: Donald J. Trump, president of the United States. It hurts, but get over it. Get over it for your children, and their children. That’s whose future is on the line when it comes to issues like climate change or pitting religions or races against each other. Next ask yourself the question every successful marketer or movement leader always asks first: What are people shopping for?

The answer leads to a fertile ground of possibilities, not just for defending past gains but possibly even making new ones. I’ll give just two examples – climate change and healthcare. Most people are shopping for solutions in both realms.

Fewer Americans than ever doubt climate change is happening, perhaps because they are seeing real evidence in people’s lives that it’s already here. For sure, anti-science rhetoric has many doubting the motives of climate scientists and the consensus that human activity is to blame. But these seem to me to be more about rationalizing a false choice (doing something equals losing income) than a statement about their values (nearly impossible to change). Regardless, this is a real issue that faces a major setback roughly two months away if a President Trump backs away from the power regulations and the Paris climate accord that are two of the few rays of hope in avoiding a very frightening future for our day-to-day lives.

Most importantly, this is not an action anyone has already taken. Most of our target audience – remember them? – has not publically planted a flag denying science. This was not an election about climate or the environment. And to the extent those issues got touched upon, it was in the frame of false choices. How many Americans are debating the real choices (say, cap-and-trade versus carbon tax) and what would the impact of that debate have on underlying beliefs in the science? Imagine an army of millennials demanding of their Baby Boomer parents that this one move – reversing Paris – not be taken because… you love us and want to protect us. Or maybe there’s a better strategy. The point is this: This is the kind of strategy we need – one with an objective our current opponents can embrace.

In our little behavior change marketing practice, we call the approach connect-counsel-convert, a process that starts by finding the point of solid emotional agreement and building from there. There is no change without connection.

Final example: Maybe you noticed that President-elect Trump and many congressional Republicans campaigned on repealing and replacing Obamacare or, as we inside the beltway still call it, the Affordable Care Act. Already an uphill fight is being promoted to defend the ACA. That’s one approach. But what if we focused on what Trump voters have already embraced:  repealing and replacing? What if we set the terms of what replacing Obamacare means. Then, we’d be working with what’s enormously popular (covering pre-existing conditions, for example), not trying to revive what was never sold particularly well or – let’s be honest – superbly executed in the first place. Why do we refuse to move on?

So the election is over. But we still have choices. We can choose to make ourselves feel better or we can choose to make a difference. And this choice really is ours.

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