This was the most successful message we tested between 2010 and 2014 in a project on how to talk with white swing voters about the changing demographics of America.  As this message shows, leaning into race in a story of the American Dream – mentioning race and ethnicity three times in minute-long message, in a way that united rather than divided people, led to extremely high ratings across the political spectrum.  Watch the video, which shows how strong Democrats (blue), strong Republicans (red), and the roughly 60 percent of voters in between (green, including weak or moderate Democrats, and weak or moderate Republicans, and Independents) responded to the message.  In this case, we also tested its unconscious impact as well as voters’ response to the same message in identifiably white, black, and Latino voices.  The message elicited high positive and low negative unconscious emotional responses and did not vary substantially in its effects depending on the messenger.

We provide a range of services, from helping candidates or parties create a master narrative (branding), to creating messaging guides, to developing and testing ads for their conscious and unconscious resonance.

Messaging guidance to candidates and organizations.  We provide hourly, daily, or ongoing messaging guidance to candidates, organizations, and their campaigns.  We can help you develop a strategic messaging plan, identify words and phrases to use and avoid, or develop ads to get our messages across. We frequently conduct Master Narrative Interviews to help candidates or organizations develop their brand.

Messaging Research Projects.  Much of our work is devoted to developing and testing messages at three levels:  narratives, single-sentence or brief “talking points,” and words and phrases to use and avoid.  A typical project develops and tests the effectiveness of multiple narratives and talking points to see which are most effective, using large representative samples of 1000 or more voters or consumers, often using successive samples as we hone the messages. 

In most projects, after conducting a thorough landscape analysis (e.g., examining available polling data and “big data” to see where voters currently stand on the issue), we develop and test eight to ten narratives, most designed to lead to the same or similar endpoints or goals but using different values and metaphors to see what moves people.  Sometimes we will begin with qualitative testing through focus groups. However, we tailor our designs based on the questions we are trying to answer, your goals, and our expertise. For example, where we already understand an area well because we have conducted dozens of focus groups on it over many years, and the goal is not to test a new policy, bill, or attack from the opposition, we will not typically recommend focus groups, because we do not want to spend your money on tasks likely to yield a low return on investment.

Our aim is not only to identify the messages that resonate most effectively with voters but also to assess which values, concepts, and examples within messages are effective, inert, or counterproductive. To test these within-message effects, which can be as subtle as varying a phrase or the order of words or examples, we rely on online dial-testing, in which voters hear or watch a message or ad and move their cursor along a bar in one direction if they like what they are hearing or seeing, second by second, and in the other direction if they do not.  We use that information to revise messages for maximum impact.  

We also typically test 20-30 single-sentence talking points, taglines, or applause lines; and will sometimes test names for an issue (e.g., “net neutrality” or “campaign finance reform,” which we have learned are better described as “freedom of the internet” and “fair elections,” respectively) or for bills or legislative acts. 

In some projects, particularly when dealing with issues associated with race or ethnicity, in which people’s conscious and unconscious attitudes may be very different, we use cutting-edge technologies to test their unconscious responses to messages, ads, brands, etc. We sometimes also assess messenger effects, to see how our top-testing messages on an issue fare when presented in identifiably male vs. female, or white, black, and Latino voices.  We can also conduct rapid response testing, in which we develop multiple ways of talking about an issue and test them for their efficacy within one to two days with large representative samples.