MKT-Theory: Persuasion – McGuire

slide1The fundamental purpose of (marketing) communication is persuading people, and therefore many researchers have tried to come up with a comprehensive theory to explain the complex process of persuasion. William J McGuire was one of the pioneers in trying to understand how mass media messages (including, of course, advertising) persuade people (or people are persuaded by mass media messages). His communication/persuasion matrix is one of the step-based models of persuasion, i.e. the model assumes that persuasion is the result of successfully transiting through several steps or phases before being persuaded. The model is a matrix of inputs and outputs – applied to persuasion, the inputs are the different aspects of the persuasion/communication attempt, and outputs are the stages of persuasion, each of which can be measured as a measure of how persuasive the communication has been. There are five “inputs” : Source, i.e. the credibility, attraction, trustworthiness etc of the sender Message, i.e. the type, strength, repetition etc of the argument Channel, i.e. type of media and way in which the message is “broadcast” Receiver, i.e. attitude, beliefs, prior knowledge etc of the person receiving the message Context, i.e. environmental factors, noise, clutter etc influencing the message

The “outputs” are more numerous (12), representing each stage of the persuasion process: Exposure – “Tuning into” the message Attention – paying attention to the message Interest/Liking – being interested in/liking the message Comprehension – understanding the message Acquisition – gaining skills to act on the message Agreeing (Yielding) – agreeing with the message Memorising – storing the message for later use (e.g. when shopping) Retrieving – retrieving the message from memory (while shopping) Deciding  – to act according to the message Acting – performing the action(s) Reinforcement – receiving appropriate rewards Consolidation – integrating the message into general behaviour

If one puts the inputs and outputs into a matrix, then this can serve as a good visual tool to show how how message elements target persuasion stages. The matrix then looks like this:

Source Message Channel Receiver Context
Exposure
Attention
Interest/Liking
Comprehension
Acquisition
Agreeing
Memorising
Retrieving
Deciding
Acting
Reinforcement
Consolidation

While the matrix can be useful, and the stages are intuitive, many people (including myself!) find it quite cumbersome to complete – e.g. some entries may play a role in several persuasion stages: for example using a fear appeal could be seen as message related both for arousing interest and for grabbing attention. Further, one could argue that any stage based concept has a fundamental weakness in assuming that each individual has to go through all the stages (sequentially) – while in reality this may be often, but certainly not always be the case. For example, many FMCGs are bought not so much as a result of cognitive deliberation – but rather as an “impulse buy” with little thinking involved (see also peripheral processing). Further,  the model can lead people to assume that people automatically follow each step – when in fact a previous step just increases the likelihood of the next persuasion step occurring: progress is not inevitable or sequential. I.e. the sequence may not necessarily be correct – or in fact as prescriptive as the model may suggest. One could argue that some earlier steps may be the result of some later steps – consider being interested in buying a particular products (e.g. a computer), which may cause you to pay more attention to messages related to computers.

However, despite these limitations, the model is useful tool to explain persuasion – albeit with some limitations that should be considered when using it.

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