The Role of Fear in Marketing

Today I want to explore fear – an issue that seems to be on everyone’s mind lately due to the election methods we are observing in the US.  But here, I will focus on the role of fear as it relates to our marketing approaches.

During last week’s Being Your Own CEO Hangout we touched on the use of fear, with a recognition there are lots of fear mongers out there and that it’s best for us as marketers to discover what works best and to continue doing it so long as it works – regardless of what those fear mongers are saying about what will happen if we don’t jump on the new bandwagon. One of our members made reference to an experience that turned out badly because THEY took advantage of the fact that she was not an expert in that field and they really pushed her fear button.  This led to a discussion on the ethics of using fear as a marketing tool.
As I study the mountains of material on the net about people’s buying behaviours and motivations I can see that –  yes, people’s decision to buy is based on emotion first, that it’s an immediate response and is connected to the part of the brain (Amygdala) that responds to emotion, survival and memory.  And it follows that marketers will focus on that emotional response in order to get our attention and make a sale.

And I Heard Us Say

  • That using fear as a marketing tool is unethical;
  • That people have enough fears naturally without adding to them;
  • That FEAR is the strongest emotion and therefore the easiest and quickest to trigger;
  • They just don’t care – it’s all about money-money-money.
Another member later found an interesting observation that fear is connected to our resistance to change, that “people are generally more fearful of losing what they have than gaining more.  It hurts worse to lose than it feels good to win” (Benjamin P. Hardy of Mission blog)  So focusing on the fear of what might be lost is more powerful.
As I wrestled with these concepts, I began to realize that for me it boils down to INTENTION.

Why Am I In Business?

  • Am I in business to relieve a pain or a problem?  If so, I will find ways to identify the pain and its source so I can focus on its relief in my marketing; OR
  • Am I in business solely to make money at all cost.  In this case, I could begin by stimulating fear since that will bring immediate reaction.

The first choice is client focused and the second is me focused.  Am I  there to be of service or am I there solely for profit?  I don’t mean to suggest that it’s a black and white (either/or) choice – service or profit, because in my book there must be a balance of the two if it’s to be a business and if it’s to be ethical.  And I am definitely not adding more fears for people to handle. I think this points to a balance in our approach to emotions in our marketing messages:

 Yes there are dangers  (negative consequences)  |   Yes there are pleasures (positive consequences)

Mindset Monday Challenge

Spend some time today reflecting on the ethics of business marketing .  Does this sound wishy-washy?  How do you tend to react to fear-based marketing?  Please let me know your thoughts because I know that I for one, am not finished with this issue.