It is a truism of marketing that you need to match your message with your customers’ mindset.  Understanding their mindset helps us to understand why a feature is valued and how to frame those features to create persuasive communication.  So how do we go about understanding a consumer’s mindset in such a way that helps us craft persuasive communication?

In another Insight + Strategy post we explained the process of finding and creating product claims that can drive your business, and in other posts we have provided frameworks for uncovering what is important to a consumer.   In this post we show you a framework that explains how framing a message differently, depending on a consumer’s regulatory focus, can create persuasive communication.


Promotion + Prevention

In the classic question of optimism versus pessimism, we are asked if we see a hypothetical glass of water as either half full or half empty.  In a consumer behaviour and goal seeking context – making product choices – we use what is called the Regulatory Focus to look at whether consumers have a ‘Promotion’ or ‘Prevention’ orientation.  Unlike optimism and pessimism which is about whether an event is good or bad, our Regulatory Focus is our underlying framework on how we approach making a decision.  A consumer with a Promotion orientation focuses on advancement and accomplishment, while a consumer Prevention orientation focuses on the need for safety and security.

Consumers with a Promotion oriented mindset are more open to gain messages, as well as messages using positive language.  For Prevention oriented consumers the opposite is true.  Prevention oriented consumers are more persuaded by a message that focuses on loss or use negative language.  Below are examples that illustrate how a similar feature could be framed differently for Promotion vs. Prevention mindsets.

  • An interest rate message could be framed as ‘With an offset account so you can own your home sooner’ vs.  ‘Lowest interest rates, guaranteed’.
  • Daily Multivitamin ‘Giving you the V&M you need to get the best from your day’ vs. ‘You may not be getting all the V&M you need’.
  • Vocation or Professional Qualification. ‘Set your sights on tomorrow’ vs. ‘Recognised by industry’


Understanding whether your consumers are more persuaded by Promotion or Prevention messages is not merely a brand positioning issue of being a more positive or negative brand, but rather cuts to the very heart of how consumers engage with your category at a personal level.   Deciding to ignore how your consumer’s decision making orientation is like trying persuade a colour blind person to see green when all they see is red.


Researching Mindsets

While a person may tend to be Promotion or Prevention oriented, the strength of their orientation can change over time for a category and for different contexts.  These differences mean it is important to not just understand your consumers’ orientation but ‘why’.   For example, in the investment category a person’s life stage can determine whether they are looking for investment growth or protecting what they have.  To develop actionable insights based on the regulatory focus of Promotion and Prevention, consider the below questions in your communication research.

  • Is my category dominated by Promotion or Prevention oriented?
  • Is communication in my category focussed Promotion or Prevention messages?
  • What benefits are my consumers trying to maximise or increase with your product?
  • What problem are my consumers trying to minimise or avoid with your product?
  • Are there segments in your market that have different orientations, and how can you appeal to these markets more effectively?


By better understanding whether your consumers are more open to Promotion or Prevention messages will help you create more persuasive communication.  Depending on the mindset they are using will determine whether your communication should focus on promoting the gains they can make with your brand, or the preventing loss they would have from using another brand or not buying from your category.  Understanding the contexts in which this changes, including submarkets, will help you create even more persuasive communication.


For those who like to know a bit more
  • Crowe, E., & Higgins, E. T. (1997). Regulatory focus and strategic inclinations: Promotion and prevention in decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 69, 117-132.
  • Yi, S., & Baumgartner, H. (2009). Regulatory focus and message framing: A test of three accounts. Motivation and Emotion, 33, 435-443.