The Nonprofit Marketing Blog

What’s more persuasive: Your track record or your future potential?

A research team profiled at Influence at Work recently set out to answer a fascinating question: When it comes to influencing others, where should you focus most of your attention – describing the realities of your past, or communicating your potential to deliver in the future?

In some studies that are soon to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Stanford University researchers found that potential is generally more compelling than the past.

One study was a mock staffing situation. Research subjects were asked to evaluate two people (Candidate A and Candidate B) who had applied for a job. Both candidates were identical except Candidate A had more relevant experience and scored highly on a Leadership Assessment test. Candidate B had less experience yet still scored highly on a Leadership Potential test. According to Influence, “The results of the study showed that those shown information about the Candidate B’s potential rated that applicant as more successful and a better leader than those shown information about what Candidate A had achieved.”

In a separate study in a different setting, Facebook users were shown some quotes about a comedian. Half saw quotes about the comedian’s potential. (“This guy could become the next big thing.”) The rest were shown quotes about track record: “Critics say he has become the next big thing.” More people clicked through and became a fan of the comedian with potential.

Interesting. The research suggests that when selling your merits – or the merits of your services or organization – don’t dwell on the past. Spend at least as much time talking about your future potential. Share test results or testimonials or reviews that bolster your future promise.

People apparently want to know the best is yet to come!

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About This Blog
Caryn Stein hi res

Caryn Stein
Vice President, Communications and Content, Network for Good

We’re here to help you win hearts and minds—and donations.

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