Fear-Based Marketing – Is it right for your business?

As the British are soon to vote in the referendum about whether to leave or remain in the European Union, the leader of the Scottish National party, Nicola Sturgeon, has criticised the fear-based campaigning of the ‘Remain’ camp.

She said: “We only have to look at the Scottish independence referendum to know that kind of fear-based campaigning starts to insult people’s intelligence and can start to have a negative effect. I’m much more interested in the reasons to stay in the European Union.”

So, with this in mind, when is it right to use fear-based marketing, and is it right for your brand?

Fear-based marketing has been around for centuries, one of the early adopters being the Church (go to church regularly, repent your sins and give generously, and you just might not end up in Hell).

Fear can be a powerful motivator, especially for those who are more motivated into action by ‘away from’ rather than ‘towards’ motivators.

For example, many people become entrepreneurs due to the fear of wasting their lives in an unfulfilling, insecure corporate desk job. This insecurity and dissatisfaction are often highlighted in marketing campaigns for coaching/training products that promise to help you ‘quit the 9 to 5 and become your own boss’.

Human beings have become the dominant species on the planet in part due to us evolving a constant fear of threats to our well-being. We were regularly prey for the likes of snakes, spiders and hyenas so this anxiety evolved to help us keep our wits about us and survive in dangerous environments.

Now that we have evolved bodies more able to stave off illnesses that would have killed our distant ancestors, and most of us live in more comfortable environments with fewer threats to our existence, governments, corporations and TV companies resort to using fear-based techniques for a myriad of reasons to get us to act in certain ways.

As Seth Godin says: “Without fear, no-one would use seatbelts”.

He also questions in this short article the cost of using fear-based marketing when it doesn’t benefit the prospect.

This is part of the problem of the EU referendum campaign. The fear-based claims are being clearly exaggerated on both sides making us pessimistic against the arguments. As BBC economics editor Kamal Ahmed says: “Sometimes this debate can feel a little like “my plague of frogs is worse than your plague of frogs.””

So how do we use fear-based marketing in an appropriate and fair way to encourage our prospective customers to take action?

In this article by Coaching Leaders, they explain that to meet goals there must be a set direction.  And although ‘away from’ motivators are great at making someone act, they just tell you where not to go. There is no direction.  There needs to be some sort of ‘towards’ motivation as well pointing you in the right direction so that you know when you’ve reached your goal.

Let’s say that you run a pest extermination company. Obviously your customers will contact you when they’ve got an ‘away from’ motivation – the desire not to have pests running or flying amok in their house. However, you can also instil a ‘towards’ motivation in your marketing by helping them to visualise their clean and pest-free home, and helping to prevent the return of the pests, once that have used your services.

Life insurance companies are the perfect example of an ‘away from’ motivation niche – i.e. the fear that your loved ones will not be able to manage financially in the event of your death. But even in such cases, the ‘towards’ motivator is peace of mind for you and your family whilst you are alive.

Some businesses could use a fear-based approach but chose not to do so. For example, Dropbox could have advertised their online data storage service by highlighting the plight of someone whose laptop was lost or destroyed, and so lost all of their important data. Instead, their explainer videos concentrated on the benefits of having constant access to your data on all of your devices. A fear-based approach might not have had the same impact.

At Cartoon Media, when we write the scripts for our whiteboard and explainer videos, we usually start with your call to action, and then seek to understand what your target customer needs to know and feel about your product or service before they will want to take that call to action.

Our script will then take the viewer on a journey, using either a story featuring your ideal customer, and the challenges that they overcame when using your product or service, or just a simple explanation about the problems tackled by your product or service.

If, following our script consultation process, we feel that some fear-based ‘away from motivation’ marketing is right to include in your video, we will discuss the pros and cons with you to help you make a decision before we start writing your script.

But even if you decide to use some fear-based marketing, we will usually temper this with a positive ‘towards motivation’ message leading to your call to action.

Interested in a whiteboard or explainer video of your own? We’re here to help you determine the best approach for your business. Simply contact us today for a free, no obligation consultation.

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