How to Influence Without Using Words

Remember the Marlboro Man? He's got something to teach about influence.

The Marlboro Manwas a powerful ad campaign. Lasted 40 years. It only ended (in the U.S.) when several Marlboro Men died—from smoking.

Ad genius Leo Burnett conceived the campaign, and changed advertising. Before Burnett, ads had relied on words. Burnett believed something else:

Images beat words.

(Soon, the U.S. government will try the same trick to stop smoking. Every cigarette package will display one of nine different pictures. The least frightening picture is a corpse.)

How do you use images at work? Two suggestions:


1) Call attention to what's important, visually.

At Toyota , for example, the factory floor looks so pristine that you can see, instantly, when something's amiss.

But visual management works for any job. Suppose you need others in your organization to pay attention to a key metric, or message. Think ad campaign. Think visual.

Here's an example from the book, "Switch" (Chip Heath, Dan Heath): Let's say you run a San Francisco hospital where nurses make a lot of errors distributing medication. What would you do?

Well, your first step might be to figure out the cause which, in this case, was interruptions.

The solution: visual. Get nurses to wear orange vests when giving out meds, and let everyone know the vest means, "don't disturb."

Errors dropped 47%.

2) Realize that you're an image. Put another way, others have an image of you.

How do you come across?

The Marlboro Man intimidated some people. Leo Burnett's creative director said, “I had seen cowboys, but I had never seen one that just really scared the hell out of me” (Wikipedia).

Your "optics" include your physical appearance, your office appearance and, most importantly, your behavior.

Are you doing something that puts people off? The higher you go, the more important to find out. Ask a few people to describe your image—10 words or less.

Maybe, like the Marlboro Man, you're too aloof, or too tough. Or maybe your behavior seems unwholesome.

"Get off your horse," said John Wayne, "and drink your milk."

Tip: Think visual.

Consultant, author, speaker, and founder of express potential® (, Paul Hellman has worked with CEOs, executives, and managers at leading companies for over 25 years to improve performance and productivity at work. His latest book is “Naked at Work: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy,” and his columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post and other leading papers.

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