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Influencing for good in the Public Sector

Influencing change in the public sector is tricky, especially when you’re trying to curb behaviour. In this post we look at just 1 of the 6 principles from our upcoming ebook on influencing for good, the principal being 'the magic of three'.

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Working in the public sector means contributing to meaningful projects that positively impact hundreds of thousands of people. Unlike marketing teams who are usually focused on selling goods or services, communications teams in the public sector are faced with the difficult task of raising awareness of important messages and creating changes in the behaviour of individuals and communities.

This is what I like to call, influencing for good.

As you already know, it's not enough for people to just hear your message or see it on your website, they also need to believe it. And like most human-centered activities, changing behaviour is tricky and requires patience. We’ve developed more resources for public sector communications teams in our eBook on the topic where we look at everything from trust based communication to personalisation. Download the eBook now.

To give you a flavour of what’s coming up in the eBook, let’s take a quick look at one of the 6 principles.

Principle: The Magic of Three

First, second, third. Gold, Silver, Bronze. Learning your A, B, C's. Dialling 111. Three blind mice, Goldilocks and the Three Bears...Have you ever noticed how many things come in threes?

This tactic, known as the magic or power of three, shows up regularly in marketing, and does so with good reason. Let's investigate this a little closer.

We like choice - but not too much

Consumer behaviour research shows that while we find the thought of many choices appealing, it doesn't actually help us. We don't take action when presented with a lot of choices and we don't buy more when offered more to choose from. This is commonly referred to as, choice paralysis.

To demonstrate let's look at the Jam Jar experiment. Two researchers set up a booth offering jam. On one day they offered 24 flavours and on the other only 6 flavours. The result?

  • 24 favours = 60% of people stopping and 3% buying

  • 6 flavours = 40% of people stopping and 30% buying

You’re unlikely to be selling jam, however you will be offering your audience some sort of choice and so it's worth considering that offering too many choices may seem appealing at first, but doesn't actually create more action.

The decoy effect

The decoy effect means adding a third alternative to a set, with the purpose of making the other two choices seem more attractive. Sounds odd I know but as Professor Dan Ariely explains in his book Predictably Irrational, consumers tend to have a specific change in preference between two options when also presented with a third option that is asymmetrically dominated.  

If you look closely at most offerings online or in the newspaper, you be able to spot the decoy effect pretty easily, but when you are decoying for good, you can achieve some really powerful results that help people make better choices.


The power of three also plays into a concept called chunking. Chunking, in a web context, simply means breaking information down into easily digestible 'chunks'. The nature of how people mostly scan online, means that any efforts to break your information down into small pieces will be valuable (think headings and bullet points).

So even if you decide to go higher or lower than 3 (rule breaker!) any efforts to simplify or chunk your information will have a positive impact. But why does chunking work? The concept was first introduced by George A. Miller, who believed that our working memory was limited and that we could only hold around 7 pieces of information at once. You may have heard of the shorthand version of his work: the seven, plus or minus 2 rule.

The powers of persuasion 

So there you have it, the possibilities of three really are endless and I encourage you to test out a few options in your upcoming campaigns. You can see more persuasive principles in our eBook.

For now, use your analytics and tracking tools to see if using the power of three makes an impact to your website's goals.

Analytics cheat sheet CTA

About the author
Claire Hodds

With qualifications in marketing, communications and journalism, Claire has more than 10 years experience across a range of industries. She is passionate about continuous improvement and applying insights from behavioural economics to marketing strategies.

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  • Miller, who believed that our working memory was limited and that we could only hold around 7 pieces of information at once. You may have heard of the shorthand version of his work: the seven, plus or minus 2 rule. I will remember to bookmark your blog!

    Posted by Roger, 13/06/2018 3:04pm (6 years ago)

  • So helpful! Thank you :-)

    Posted by hotmail , 26/05/2018 7:27pm (6 years ago)

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