Whether you are selling furniture or promoting an idea, the most cleverly crafted message will get you nowhere if it’s wrong for your audience.

We can never take for granted that we know the culture, language and mind set of the people we want to inform or persuade. Even our fellow Americans can be mysteries to us.  And misunderstandings can result in damaging communications missteps.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communications focuses on the  nuts and bolts of effective communication on a single topic. They research what the public knows about climate change and how people receive various messages related to it. The findings are instructive for anyone trying to engage and persuade.

The program finds that a majority of Americans (70%) now believe climate change is real. They believe human activity at least contributes to it. And 58% describe themselves as worried. Even so, motivating them to act on that belief is a challenge.

Why? “Global Warming’s Six Americas” and other studies available on the program’s website offer clues. They identify distinct audiences for climate change messages and suggest how best to reach them.

On one end of the scale are the Alarmed. They are convinced that global climate change is real and they are taking action. Opposite them are the Dismissive. They are just as certain as the Alarmed, but in the belief that climate change is not happening at all. In between are the Concerned, the Cautious, the Disengaged and the Doubtful.

Communicating with each audience demands a different strategy.

“Climate change public engagement efforts must start with the fundamental recognition that people are different and have different psychological, cultural, and political reasons for acting – or not acting – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.” write the study’s authors.

Here are some approaches you can take away from their findings:

  • Learn what media your target audiences use and how they get their information.

  • Deliver your core messages in a variety of forms, infographics, video, audio podcasts and text.

  • Tailor the messages to people’s tolerance for information.  For many, a simple overview is enough. Others demand strong arguments with lots of facts or they are suspicious of the message.

  • Brains are drawn to images, which make messages easier to absorb. Use lots of them, especially when communicating with people who prefer a quick overview.

Don’t let your messages die without ever being heard. Think about your audiences as you prepare to communicate.


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