Selling fear works. If it didn’t, marketers would have abandoned this technique a long time ago. The sad truth is that tapping into your target audiences’ fears can motivate them to rush right out and buy your product or service whether they need it or not. Sending them into panic mode about a potential risk and offering up your brand as the solution can drive sales like nobody’s business. Fear-based marketing has the potential to perform twice as well as other styles of marketing campaigns because it triggers an emotional – not rational – response from our brains.
Fear is not the only emotion marketers use to elicit a strong response from consumers. Making people happy or sad also can work in an advertising campaign. Happiness makes people want to share the reason for their feelings, while sadness can evoke empathy and connection. However, fear does something that happiness and sadness can’t – it builds brand loyalty. Think about it. When people are scared or anxious, what do they do? They cling to what is comfortable and familiar. Brands that play the fear card well can entice consumers to view them as the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, increasing their sales. It’s a sneaky trick, but it works.
I know what you must be thinking. If fear-based marketing works this well, why would any brand not use it? I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest something radical. People are tired. They are emotionally and physically drained from two-plus years of a pandemic that has paralyzed them with fear. Panic fatigue is real, and some people have reached their limits. What people seek now is hope. Brands that inspire their target audiences have a better chance of building long-lasting relationships with them. Here’s how to stop selling fear in 2022 and give hope instead.
The science behind selling fear
More than a hundred years of psychology and behavioral science research supports the notion that people seek experiences that make them feel good while avoiding those that cause them pain. Fear-based marketing urges consumers to act based on their fears. The model consists of three elements:
Fear-based selling techniques are manipulative, and consumers have become wise to them. Too much of it can create burnout, prompting audiences to turn away from your brand instead of running toward it. Even when you present an immediate solution that involves your products or services, you risk creating a one-time customer who has no emotional connection to your brand. Is it worth it? Probably not.
Is fear-based marketing ethical?
I would be remiss if I devoted an entire blog to the topic of fear-based selling tactics without addressing whether they are ethical. The ethics of fear-based marketing has been a hot topic among communications and marketing professionals for years. Triggering fear in your intended audience has social, physical, and emotional ramifications that can border on unethical business practices. Let’s take a closer look at why I feel this way.
How selling fear can go wrong
I’ve already explained that fear-based marketing tactics can be extremely effective. It’s why so many companies use them. However, convincing your target audience to make quick – possibly irrational – decisions based on their anxiety can backfire. Here are some ways focusing on fear can go terribly wrong.
Make customers feel happy, not scared
Finding new customers can be downright difficult for some brands. Launching advertising campaigns can be costly, so some businesses choose to focus on customer retention rather than finding new leads. Building customer relationships through inspirational messaging is one of the most effective ways to boost engagement and overall satisfaction with your brand with existing clients. It is an investment that produces amazing returns when done well.
When customers feel happy about your products or services and secure in their relationship with your business, they turn into brand loyalists with the power to increase your profits by 25 to 95 percent. Not only do they keep coming back to do more business with you, but they also recommend your brand to their family, friends, and colleagues. Word-of-mouth recommendations are more effective than paid ads, producing five times the sales. As a bonus, winning over your target audience can safeguard them from competitors eager to scoop them up.
Brands that give hope, not fear
Some brands have hope marketing down to a science. They do it and do it well. Here are just a few of the inspirational campaigns that have stood out to me as winners over the last couple of years.
Replace selling fear with relationship-building
Brands that commit to replacing selling fear with relationship-building efforts can increase brand loyalty among current clients and attract new customers. Establishing an authentic brand voice and offering value can lead to lasting customer relationships that increase sales without evoking panic. Here are some ways brands can do it.
Wave goodbye to scare tactics
Customers are complex. Brands that reduce their target audiences to a basic fear response do them a great disservice by overlooking their overall value. They reduce consumers to nothing more than dollar signs, which is not the best way to achieve sustainable growth. Here are some better ways to build lasting relationships with your client base to keep them coming back without the scare tactics to drive them.
Shari L. Berg is the owner/operator of The Write Reflection, and a writing professional for 25 years.