Highlight your potential more than achievements when pitching for a campaign or job.

Highlight your potential more than achievements when pitching for a campaign or job

In promoting a product or trying for a new job, should you focus on your past performance or on your potential? The answer to this has been found in research – highlight your potential more than achievements when pitching for a campaign or job.

Researchers at Stanford University put this question to the test in a couple of situations. Job applications where two candidates had almost identical qualifications and experience were assessed by a panel. The candidate whose CV scored highly on a leadership potential test was chosen over the candidate whose CV showed highly on a leadership assessment test.

Also, If you present people with letters of recommendation for one job candidate described as “high potential” and another described as “high achieving,” they’ll find the letter for the high potential candidate more interesting and possibly more persuasive. The researchers observed that:

Proven achievement is very certain. It’s less surprising and less interesting to think about. Potential is uncertain and kind of exciting. You can imagine many outcomes. Maybe they’ll do better than you expect!

In a consumer environment: the researchers conducted a study among users of a social media website. Facebook users were shown a series of quotes about a comedian. Quotes about his potential drew more general interest, measured by click through rates and likes, compared with information about his actual performances.

People value high potential more than high achievements when pitching

The conclusion from this research was that if supporting information is provided immediately after attention is focused on potential (eg a testimonial from a trusted source or some other type of persuasive message), as opposed to the track record of what is being discussed, people are more likely to develop a more favorable attitude or impression to what is being offered.

This is important when pitching for product or service campaigns. First, highlight the potential of the activity rather than starting off by discussing the previous record with similar campaigns.

Similarly, if you want to increase the chances that your products and services appear more attractive to future clients and consumers, it would be wise to consider how to position messages in a way that first focuses a client’s or consumer’s attention on the potential future benefits that you offer them as opposed to what has been previously achieved. In other words, highlight your potential, not achievements.

Highlighting potential is more effective than listing past performance

People intuitively think that communicating more reasons or benefits improves their offer or builds their persuasive case. They consider each “advantage” or “reason” or “bonus” as a single add-on, increases the value of the whole offer.

But potential customers evaluate differently. They average rather than add all the pieces of the offer or information and walk away with a single impression. (The same conclusion holds true whether the messages are positive or negative, or monetary or non-monetary.)

When averaged, not only does “more” become less; it can actually harm the rest.

The applications for this finding are practical: 

  • When pitching yourself to an employer, talk about what you could bring to the company — after all, your resume already lists your accomplishments.
  • When making a recommendation, emphasize what could be – the person’s potential, since it’s more likely to engage the interest of recruiters, employers, and university administrators. This applies, for example, if you’re recommending someone for a job, a promotion, or admission to graduate school.

Further reading

  • If you are planning a campaign launch that focuses on the potential of your product or service, you may be interested in reading my article, “How to use framing to shape messages effectively.”
  • My ebooks on developing successful communication plans offer you a generous number of helpful, practical insights. Tremendous value – just like having your own comms coach at your side!

Kim Harrison

Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. As he has progressed through his wide-ranging career, his roles have included corporate affairs management; PR consulting; authoring many articles, books and ebooks; running a university PR course; and business management. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.

Content Authenticity Statement. AI is not knowingly used in the writing or editing of any content, including images, in these newsletters, articles or ebooks. If AI-produced content is contained in any published form in future, this will be reported to readers.

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