Fear has long been regarded as a human motivator, and fear mongering is a technique copywriters have employed for decades if not centuries. Playing on people’s fears takes tact and wit, because it’s a racy decision that risks alienating or infuriating recipients.
Here’s how to use fear to motivate customers to take action:
Give a reason to be afraid
If you can’t come up with a legitimate reason your customers should be afraid, then skip it. You’ll insult their intelligence if you try to tell them they should fear something that doesn’t relate to them. Midwesterners do not fear hurricanes, and East Coasters do not fear droughts. Residents of an upscale neighborhood might fear that their grass is going to be flooded or too dry, and so you can play on fears that are insignificant to the masses as long as they’re significant to your recipients. Many fears are trivial yet resounding nonetheless.
Identify the root of the fear
This is one of the biggest mistakes many marketers make: They describe an event, and not a fear, and therefore fail to scare their audience into taking action. Using our example of upscale residents again, it could be said that dying grass is an event and is not to be feared in itself. However, the fear of looking or feeling inferior in social circles is very real indeed; and because a brown lawn would certainly have the neighbors talking this event can be a catalyst for fear. Instead of writing: “Don’t let your grass DIE this summer!”, you should write “Do you PALE in comparison to your neighbors” and depict a brown lawn with a droll family next to a green lawn with an exciting family.
Do not accuse or insult
True, some marketers break this rule and even do so successfully, but for most industries being crude will get you nowhere. Remember that human nature is to react to fear with fight or flight. If you’re over the top, your mailers will be thrown away or – even worse – your potential customers will be infuriated, and you’ll lose them forever.
Offer a solution
Once you have your prospects sufficiently scared, it’s time to offer a solution. Your green lawn care service guarantees that your customers are one step ahead of the pack, right? No grass graves here! Be clear with your offer and call to action, and make sure you express a sense of urgency to motivate immediate response while they’re still scared. The best headlines often lead with a scare tactic, and then finish with the solution and offer.
Fear can be a powerful motivator, but it’s an unstable medium at best and extremely volatile at worst. Handle scare with care, and if in doubt hire a professional copywriter to handle the dirty work for you.