Frankenstein in front of a haunted house, concept for marketing scare tactics

The Business of the Brain on the Internet: Marketing Scare Tactics And Your Business

What do advertisers, politicians, and mischievous kids on Halloween all have in common? They all know that fear has a powerful influence on human behavior.

But just because fear is a powerful influencer, doesn’t mean it is always a good marketing and sales strategy. Many marketers spend tons of time trying to scare us into buying their products and services, and depending on the circumstances it either works extremely well or blows up in their faces completely. Before engaging in marketing scare tactics with your small business, ask yourself the following questions:

1. Why is Fear Such An Effective Sales Tool?

There is little doubt that fear-based appeals are generally effective at influencing attitudes, intentions, and behavior, both for the good and the bad. Why is fear such an effective sales tool?

Consider how fear physically appears in our mind and body. As soon as we recognize fear, our brain alerts our nervous system, releasing stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline that give us a surge of energy and strength. Your blood pressure and heart rate increase, and you are ready for action. Largely, fear protects us. It makes us alert to danger, prepares us to deal with it, and moves us to action.

The goal of any sales and marketing team is to motivate others into action, like buying their product, attending a webinar, or calling a phone number. Since fear moves us to action naturally, sales and marketing teams overuse and misuse scare tactics because it’s an easy way to reach their goal. Many deodorant and toothpaste ads try to persuade us that if we don’t buy their particular brand, our friends and romantic partners will abandon us.

Other advertising focuses solely on loss aversion. It seems like the words “Only 1 left in stock!” or “Limited time offer!” are plastered everywhere we look. We see scare tactics everywhere because these appeals work, but are they always appropriate or ethical?

2. Is It Ethical To Scare People into Buying Your Product or Services?

Given the above, it’s not hard to figure out which industries lend themselves best to using scare tactics to sell. In certain industries, like insurance and public health, scare tactics are a marketer’s bread and butter. While it’s hard to imagine how to sell insurance without talking about scary things like accidents or injuries, scare tactics in other industries are optional. So should you go there?

The decision to use fear to sell your product or service comes back to your company’s core values. Do you want your business to be known for scaring or strong-arming its customers? Probably not. However, not all scare tactics are inappropriate or unethical. If you are selling a product or service that you truly believe can help people, there’s nothing wrong with strategically reminding prospects how they can avoid problems down the road. The key is how you approach this strategy and how often you use it.

Consider the following tips:

Fear Can Help Prospects Realize the Cost of Inaction.

Often prospective clients are so glued to maintaining the status quo, they can’t really see how bad things are going. Suppose you sell virtual assistance services to small businesses. Your ideal clients are overwhelmed small business owners that don’t have enough time to tackle every necessary task. What’s a better approach, ramping up their feelings by telling them they will fail if they don’t hire you or simply asking how long they can keep it up without help? Let clients feel the cost of inaction without increasing their blood pressure.

Loss Aversion Marketing Can Emphasize Personal Consequences.

Loss aversion works best if you have specific anecdotes of ones who decided not to use your services, but who later regretted it. Maybe they thought your pet grooming services were too expensive until they had to pay for a vet visit because of matted hair. Exaggerating the consequences can elicit a poor reaction from potential clients, so instead, simply remind them of potential consequences and you may just see your sales rise.

Play Up What Prospects Stand To Lose.

Speaking of loss aversion, studies show that people react more strongly when they feel they are about to lose out on something. Use that information to your advantage by outlining what your prospective client’s company stands to lose if they don’t do business with you.

3. Will I Get Backlash By Using Marketing Scare Tactics?

Whatever product or service you are selling, you are solving a problem for your customers. But keep in mind that there are two sides to problem-solving. You can focus on the feelings and emotions people experience when they have the problem or you can focus on the after-effects of having their problem solved. Again, if you don’t want to be associated with negative feelings in the minds of clients, your marketing should play up both sides in a balanced way.

Using marketing fear tactics to sell does require a bit of subtlety. If you go too negative, you risk a potential backlash. Never use overblown claims about the harms and dangers of not buying from you. You risk offending clients and potential clients who will take to social media before you know it to smear your brand.

There is also a fine line between presenting losses and shaming people into accepting an offer. This always comes to mind when I see a particularly negative message in an opt-in box on a website. There’s nothing that makes me less inclined to take action than a pop-up that tries to insult me.

When it comes to Spring Insight’s marketing, we generally steer clear of fear tactics. We are a happy company (our logo is a cute purple flower, after all). We obviously like to paint the picture of all the sunny things that will come your way if you work with us. So, we tend to emphasize the gains. But that doesn’t mean we won’t also remind our clients of potential losses. What do you stand to lose by not hiring Spring Insight? Contact us today and find out,