Fear and greed sell. Every marketer knows that.
Soap companies prey on fears that body odor will make people social outcasts. Television producers pander to people’s fears of being left out and their greed (fear that there won’t be enough for everyone) to motivate survivors to get the big prize at the expense of other players.
An appeal to fear gets an immediate reaction. Fear responses are hard-wired into our psyches. Ads that appeal to fear boost market share for their products. Ratings for “reality” TV shows increase. So, more companies and more media pursue these tactics.
Fear is so pervasive that some businesses use fear marketing without even thinking about it. For example, people often come to attorneys because they fear some undesired consequence. As attorneys warn their clients of all of the things that could go wrong, they play into their clients’ cycle of fear. They highlight how someone could ride roughshod over the client’s interests or how the client could run out of money before he or she dies.
The trouble with marketing to fear is that once the immediate threat subsides people flee. Why? The energy of fear isn’t sustaining. Someone has to keep whipping up dire potential consequences to keep it going. Eventually people tire and withdraw. Clients may have more unprotected legal exposures, but they want to get on with their businesses and personal activities.
Fearful dynamics ultimately undercut themselves. The adrenaline rush of “fight or flight” burns out. Confirm this for yourself. Think about how you feel when you are fearful. Most people feel tense and agitated. They are curt with others and snarl at the slightest provocation, or they withdraw. They are not ready to build a relationship. They only want to protect or defend what they have. Thus, those who market to fear must constantly recruit new customers.
There is a better, more sustainable path. Outstanding businesses follow it. It is the path of appealing to what people really want--their deepest hopes.
When people are hopeful, they are open, engaging, and ready to relate constructively with others. This is the foundation for building long-standing customer relationships.
Let’s return to the example of attorneys. How could they enhance and sustain their relationships with clients? With the insights into fearful and hopeful behaviors, they can see the experience from their clients’ perspectives. Clients show up at their offices fearful. They need to leave hopeful in order to develop a sustaining relationship.
How can they help their clients make the shift? Successful professionals engage clients in discussions about their hopes. They probe into why those are important in order to get to their clients’ real objectives. Then, these professionals champion those hopes even when fears may distract their clients. This helps clients sustain their efforts despite setbacks.
A key measure of success is whether clients feel more hopeful and confident in their opportunities to realize what’s important to them. A hopeful approach creates lasting value for clients and lasting relationships for professionals.
Similarly, you can apply these principles and practices to enliven your business or organization. What are your customers’ fears? Is your marketing playing off of those fears or helping customers find a path to realize their deeper hopes? What are those hopes? How can your business help them realize them? Ask your customers, what’s important to them and why. Let them guide you to what you need to do.
As rising threats create an overload of fear and cast a pall over the economy, it’s time to retool traditional marketing approaches. It’s time for you and your business to be agents of hope in a fearful world hungering for fresh solutions.
Don Maruska, Master Certified Coach, is the author of the just-released book "How Great Decisions Get Made: 10 Easy Steps for Reaching Agreement on Even the Toughest Issues." Learn how Fortune 500 companies, family-owned businesses, litigants, and communities have solved the toughest issues they face. The process uncovers the deepest hopes people share and builds from that foundation to quickly and effectively gain extraordinary results. T