By Erin Norman

Persuade by Reason, Motivate through emotion.  This has been a key guiding principle of Heart+Mind Strategies message development since our founding in 2008. Reason and emotion are both critical components of resonating with a target audience. But identifying the right emotional appeal, and connecting it to a rational argument, can be tricky to get right. 

 Heart+Mind puts a key focus on studying human values, or the emotional criteria we use to determine the importance and purpose of our decisions. Values form in our early years and are stable, the enduring yardsticks by which people measure the worth and importance of things in their lives. Every individual holds a number of personal values, such as security, love, enjoyment, peace of mind, self-esteem, and others, that guide the decisions and choices they make.  

  • The personal value that guides one decision may be different from the value that guides a different decision or choice.  
  • The personal value that drives a decision for one person is often different from the personal value that drives the decision for another person regarding the same product, issue, candidate, etc.  
  • The personal value that drives a decision may also be a result of a positive outcome/benefit a person seeks or a consequence/ risk they hope to avoid. 

We help our clients identify the personal values driving their brand or issue to inform effective values-based communication strategies.  Understanding values can show us:

  • What is central to an individual’s decision-making process;
  • What has the most influence in a person’s life; and, most importantly;
  • Underlying motivations to actions and choices.

We used these techniques to unlock an audience we called The Vital Center for a non-profit think tank. The client wanted to understand what motivated this essential group which had bounced from Obama to Trump, and in some cases back again to Biden in 2020. Communications to the group had traditionally rested on the theory that political ideals motivated these shifts, though the specifics shifted over time. 

However, what we found by using our Values approach was that the Vital Center wasn’t motivated by political ideology at all or even by specific policies approaches. Instead, they seek practical solutions that deliver results to support their values of security, safety and long-term peace of mind. As they see one political party fail to deliver on policy that fulfills these emotional needs, they switch. 

 In this case, studying the specific policies of interest would have only provided half of the intel about why people prefer the options they do. By incorporating a values-based approach, our client now understands what underlying needs policy must address. 

Values endure. Even when most things in life shift or change, values remain solid anchors you can count on. Understanding these values is critical to unpacking and changing human behavior.


About the Author

Erin Norman is a Senior Solutions Consultant at Heart+Mind Strategies focusing on policy issues, advocacy and non-profit marketing. She has experience directing political and ballot initiative polling at the local, state and federal level. Her expertise includes values-based communications, crisis communications, message testing, micro-targeting and predictive analytics.

Erin holds a Master’s in Public Policy from The College of William and Mary, with a focus on econometrics and quantitative methods, and a B.S. in Business Administration from Boston University.