Marketing Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt and Positivity for Profit

Guess who was in the pet emergency room Thanksgiving morning… this guy.

Turns out, raisins can be deadly to dogs — something about liver failure. So, a slice of cinnamon raisin bread later, a race to the clinic, hearts pounding. (And if I sound a little cynical, it wasn’t my dog, and I don’t think she was ever in any danger).

But like layering kids with elbow pads or calling 911 cause “Johnny has a bit of a cough,” when it comes to “protecting” loved ones, we’ll do pretty much anything.

NOTHING is too extreme to save your kid, and for many, their pets fill a similar role.

Rather than wallow in parades missed and money wasted (it wasn’t cheap!), let’s talk lessons learned, especially when it comes to marketing, branding and positioning your business.

Pain vs prevention

You’ve heard the mantra: it’s better to sell pain relievers than vitamins.

 People don’t pay for prevention, they barely even think about it. We’re evolved to focus on the here and now. If there’s a tiger chasing you, planning for your retirement is a bad idea. We tackle immediate problems head-on.

Source: Hogs Haven

And in terms of a sister’s dog that’s possibly dying, that’s pretty freaking painful. Good luck escaping the guilt and blame. You’d do pretty much anything. You HAVE to. It’s pain relief, pure and simple.

Those are the types of products/positioning you MUST sell/use in your business to be successful. How are you making someone’s life easier, cheaper, better etc…? That is ALL consumers care about.

If you were on fire and I owned a pool, you’d pay anything to jump in it.

The same is true of most things in life. We only change because of pain and the bigger the pain, the more we’re willing to pay to relieve it.

Defaults always win

Guess how many vets are open Thanksgiving morning? None. Only the emergency rooms. That’s powerful right there. Monopolies don’t need to worry about marketing or customer service (just look at cable and telecom companies). You only have ONE option, and they get away with murder.

The most valuable businesses are built on defaults. Whether it’s Google’s colossal search empire or Facebook’s massive ad engine, becoming a default in today’s economy is often associated with monopoly. And monopolies are the best businesses to build, certainly the most profitable. (Want to build a monopoly? Hacking the 5 types of network effects helps.)

That emergency vet was a monopoly all right. There wasn’t another within an hours drive. And who wants to waste that much time while your dog’s “dying?” Besides, I wanted to get back for Turkey day.

It was a lot of pain and an easy decision, no other choice.

Not all businesses can become defaults. Think about this in your own. What are you selling, who are your competitors and how do you differentiate?

That ER vet didn’t have to advertise, didn’t need SEO… when they’re THE ONLY ONE open, guess where you end up…

What is that for your business? How can you become a default, even if only for a small niche…?

If you’re the ONLY supplier of XYZ or the exclusive partner of ABC, that’s differentiate-able default and the beginnings of a moat. And without a moat, you’re not fundable, not really (many companies [including Uber and Blue Apron] get this wrong. Here’s why and what you need to know to avoid making the same mistakes!)

The what ifs of fear

Not all businesses sell pain relief. We can’t all offer manna from the heavens or salvation from sisters… And while the pet and baby industries are booming (and profitable), there are plenty of other reasons to purchase.

Consider the preventive pain relief, and positioning.

According to Google, one or two raisins could kill a dog: WebMD at its worst, all our fears confirmed.

And for companies selling bulletproof backpacks, it doesn’t matter only 0.00049% of kids die in US school shootings. And yes, this is an INTENTIONALLY extreme example meant to illustrate a point.

But think about it: if your neighbor gets robbed, or you know someone who was… “It could happen to us too!”

You’re much more likely to buy a home security system. You want it NOW and are willing to pay more to make it happen, despite a property crime rate of only 11.2 in 1000 (Src.), of which, the majority occur in impoverished areas.

People spend tens of thousands on what ifs: insurance, seatbelts, a yearly physical… That’s not to say this is wasted money. It isn’t. It’s money well spent, especially for the individual.

How do you price peace of mind?

So, what’s your what if value proposition?

How do you market your product to tickle those terrifying doubts and fears we all have? (NOTE: We’ll talk about the right and wrong ways of doing this later in the article).

Make it time sensitive

Guess what, the first 24–48 hours are crucial for the dog. If we hadn’t flushed her kidneys and IV’ed a ton of fluids, she might not be here today. It’s like a marketer’s/salesmen’s dream.

Act now, or rest in peace…

It doesn’t get any easier than that.

But chances are, you aren’t selling a miracle cure to a ticking time bomb. If you are, you don’t need to be reading this article. People are coming to you in droves, you’re a monopoly and life is good.

But if you need to drum up business, limited time offers rarely fail. It’s now or never, right?

This could be anything from a Black Friday sale to an almost sold out TSwift concert. As long as they HAVE to buy now, you have a chance.

Source: Adobe Analytics

But once people leave your site, they aren’t coming back.

It’s all about the close.

First, consider the product itself. Is there something of immediacy in its value? Delivering dinner two days late or replays of the Superbowl rather than the real thing don’t cut it.

A lot of businesses and products are like that. For those, focus on the reliability of your offering. “Pizza in thirty minutes or your pie’s on us…” Something like that. Build a safety net into the product and take away an obstacle to making the purchase.

Add a “Wednesday Only: Buy One, Get One special” and your Hump Day sales might not suck so bad.

Shut up and take my money

Make it hurt so bad they don’t want to leave… Pain is one thing, suffering, something else entirely.

We all feel pain all the time. The question is: how much does it bother us? That depends on our focus/resistance of the pain.

The more I focus on my sore shoulder, the tighter and less bearable it becomes. That’s why so much of sales and marketing is poking pain points.

Why do magazine models make you feel like shit with their negative three waists or Herculean biceps… it’s to put you in a state of aspirational pain.

“If I could only look like that, cook like that, golf like that…”

That’s the dirty (barely concealed) secret of sales and marketing. It’s about increasing customer pain to push your pain relief product. And if that sounds awful, it’s because it is.

But it also works.

The good news, you get to choose how you brand/position your product. You don’t have to sell despair to succeed.

Positive vs negative positioning

It sucks that negativity is so successful. It brings us down, makes us lonely, less confident, less happy… is that the ONLY way to power profits? I’d argue, NO.

While mainstream marketing/branding is built around breaking you down to “build you back up,” it’s an old and unnecessary model. You don’t have tell Mrs. Molly Monday she’s terrible in the kitchen to sell your meal kit. There are other ways.

A few examples:

Positive Marketing: “Make this a Thanksgiving to remember!”

Subtly Negative Marketing: “Make this the year you finally nail the turkey.”

Negative Marketing: “Don’t disappoint the inlaws again. We’ll handle the turkey.”

Sell aspirations instead of shortcomings

Sure, Molly Monday’s busy, overworked and couldn’t pare carrots or prepare a casserole to save her life… But maybe, she’s a world-class exec or accomplished scientist; maybe she’s artsy or a beast in the gym… either way, she has skills and passions outside the kitchen. Consider that.

How can you appeal to your customer’s better nature, their idealized versions of themselves? Humor can help.

“Two busy to cook? That makes two of us, at least it did…”

It’s direct, honest and isn’t designed to make him/her feel like shit. We’re like you, we get it… and we could all use a helping hand now and again.

What do your consumers dream of? How can your product help?

If Mike’s mind is set on becoming a musician, it’s hard to see how an iPad helps him get there, at least from a conventional sense. But…

“Music and lessons at your fingertips… we’ve got you covered.”

There are a lot of creative ways to sell positivity, as opposed to push negativity. And while many landmark brands of the 20th century were built downtrodden mass marketing, we’re living in an era of interest-based ads/content where you can tweak things to fit every customer avatar.

Positivity trumps negativity, especially personalized positivity.

It isn’t all about fear, uncertainty and doubt anymore.

Marketing often goes too far

Plenty of companies go too far. Watch TV for twenty minutes and tell me how many life insurance, lawyer and mental health ads your forced to face.

“Are you suffering from…” Thirty seconds later they’re still listing symptoms. “Life suck? Looking for a big change?”

Our marketing is literally making us sick. Negativity is contagious, and effective.

But is that the brand you want to build?

I’m challenging you to make something meaningful for the world, and to do it in ways you could tell your grandma about. When did corporations lose their morals? Is all really fair in love, war and business?

Of course, the answer’s up to you, and the market. But some companies do go too far. Fashion magazines fuel eating disorders, social media stokes loneliness and feelings of inadequacy.

Source: CNN

We’re living in the world of idealized everything. Got a normal human issue, you’re not good enough. Why aren’t photos filtered, your shits, rosy, and your abs, amazing. What are you doing with your life?

It’s uncomfortable even to read/write that. What world/business are you building?

Closing thoughts

There is no right or wrong way to market your product/service. Some work, some don’t. Some feel right, others, not so much.

The good news, the world is changing. We’re moving towards a more positivity-focused, millenial, save the world style of entrepreneurship. Companies are standing for something more than a boilerplate mission statement. (For more on building mission-driven brands/businesses that scale, see this post).

Those are the brands we get behind, the companies winners want to work for.

Fear, uncertainty and doubt undoubtedly sell your product. But think about how you leverage these powerful human emotions. Everything is a double-edged sword, and with great power comes great responsibility.

Sell, sell, sell… but do it without selling your soul in the process.

And you’ll be happy to know, the dog is just fine and back to her old mischievous ways.

Happy building!

Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!


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