Fear for our survival is the most basic and motivating trigger. It reaches into our lizard brain (the oldest part of our brain), stirring up the survival instinct. We see marketers use it all the time to get our attention. “Is this common household item slowly killing you?” Holy cow! Are we unwittingly being exterminated? We have to click on that!
Of course, when we click, we discover things are not as dire as that headline would have us believe. And we’re suddenly assailed with a pitch to sell us everything from health supplements to duct cleaning. Even after we close that browser tab, those ads follow us around the web sounding the alarm of our certain early demise.
The fear tactic has been around for ages. But it wasn’t until the rise of the internet that it became rampant. Every two-bit entrepreneur hawking some snake-oil solution can get into the paid portion of our search results or into our social feed as an ad and crank up the fear factor.
What’s the harm of using a little fear with your brand?
Other marketers do it all the time. Fear of missing out (FOMO) is powerful. Nobody wants to miss that epic event. Or that sale. Or whatever we are trying to create a sense of urgency around.
And heck, sometimes using fear actually seems like a good thing if it means getting people to do something that they’ve been procrastinating about that may actually be good for them. Here’s an example: “Have you been putting off getting identity theft protection? You could be exposing yourself to a huge financial risk!”
Yikes. It makes a little anxious just writing that.
The problem with fear
Fear works because of that anxiety it causes. It makes us want to do something to end that anxiety. Right away.
Yes, fear gets us to act. But there are a couple of problems with it. First, it’s a negative motivator. It’s nagging us to act because we don’t like the feeling it gives us. We have a defensive and even negative view of it. That’s not an enticing attitude to give our brand. And second, as we continue to use it, we desensitize our prospects. It takes even greater threats each subsequent message we send out. Which means we have to amp up the fear even more. Eventually, it no longer delivers the results we seek.
Making your brand story fearless
Great brands understand the trap of relying on fear. These brands opt for something much more powerful. And sustaining. They opt for something brave. They opt for inspiration.
Lift up someone. Give them hope. Then watch how they react. Not just today. But watch what they become for a brand as they start to recognize it as a source for life-affirming values.
This is especially rewarding for brands that embrace their Big Audacious Meaning. These purpose-driven brands help people feel like they are part of something that is making a difference in the world around them. That creates an energy that sustains and grows. Because people want to feel connected to something like that. They want to see it expand. And, most importantly, they want to share it with others — triggering the most powerful marketing element known to man: word-of-mouth endorsement.
Fear isn’t going away anytime soon. It’s too easy. And that may be the most insidious thing about it. Because that will keep us from reaching the potential that our brand holds.
Here is the bottom line. If we want to take our brand story to new levels, then we must make it fear less.
For another take on this, go old school and check out Aesop’s fable The Wind and the Sun.
Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the forthcoming book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life.