How to Use Fear in Conversion Marketing Without Scaring Your Customers Away

How to Use Fear in Conversion Marketing Without Scaring Your Customers Away


In a summit, respected behavioral psychologist Dr. Wyatt Woodsmall said:

“In sales, if you can find out what people’s worst nightmare is, and camp out inside their nightmare, and amplify the nightmare, then that’s, frequently, going be much more powerful because what happens is, we learn to do without, but where suicides, where despair, where stress happens is when we’re forced to live with something we don’t want. So if we don’t want it bad enough, then we’ll do anything we can to avoid it; to get out of that situation.”

The reality is fear sells as much as sex or desire does. Consumers buy for two reasons only: to get the things they want and to avoid the things they don’t want. Fear leverages on the latter. Fear-based conversion marketing triggers people to take an action when pushed outside of their comfort zones.

However, not all fear-driven marketing campaigns are made equal. There are those that go overboard making these initiatives not only ineffective, but also offensive. So, how do you leverage fear without scaring your customers or prospective buyers away?Here are a few tips.

Front-load Reassurance, Not the Fear Itself

Take a look at the following taglines:

  • L’Oreal: Because I’m Worth It
  • FedEx: Absolutely, Positively Overnight
  • Nike: Just Do It

Did anything of the taglines above screamed fear? Not really. However, looking closely, they actually touched on one of the worst fears of the brands’ target market. It’s the fear of self-loathing among women. It’s the fear of an important parcel of package not reaching its destination on time. It’s the fear of missing out on things just because you are afraid to do it.

It sounds paradoxical but you can actually “positivize” fear by identifying your customers’ worst nightmare and positioning yourself as the solution to what they are afraid of. This approach allows you to take advantage of fear without sounding like a prophet of doom.

Don’t Fabricate Fear

You don’t need to protect your customers from the harsh realities of the world. If they don’t hear it from you, they will hear it from others – the news, social media, their peers, etc. Your customers don’t need you to baby them. The truth can sometimes be scary and consumers will actually commend you for not being scared to put it out there, especially if you are able to provide a solution and phrase what an otherwise scary reality into a positive framework.

What consumers don’t like is when marketers fabricate fear just to sell. These sales tactics often come off abrasive and others, outright laughable. Remember, consumers have gotten smart after many years of being deceived. Discerning consumers will double check and even triple check what you’re saying. They’ll confirm with their social media network and consult with experts. In short, if you try to fool your customers, the prank will be on you.

There’s a thin line separating effective fear-based conversion marketing and unethical businesses practices. Cross this line and you’ll lose your credibility. Without credibility, there’s no conversion.

Fear is at Its Most Powerful When Paired with Trust

When you see a man on the street holding up a sign that “The End is Near,” you ignore him. However, when religious scholars, scientists and historians talk about Armageddon, you pay attention and listen.

The difference between the two scenarios? Authority and trust.

People only fear what they believe. People only believe what they trust. People only trust those whom they consider experts in a given field. That being said, it is important for you to build your reputation online before you can take advantage of fear as a conversion marketing strategy.

Further, without credibility and trust, fear will not lead to action and this is not what conversion is about. Conversion marketing anchored on fear is meant to persuade people to deal with the negative consequences of what they’re doing or not doing and take action a.k.a. purchase your products or services. You may be able to plant seeds of discomfort among your customers but since they don’t trust you, they’ll look somewhere else for a solution.

Fear-Based Conversion Marketing Need Not to be Scary

Fear is a powerful human emotion and for conversion marketers, it’s also a strong motivation to convince consumers to respond positively to a specific call-to-action. The most important point that you have to remember is that with any other marketing strategies, there are ethical concerns that you need to consider. As long as you don’t invent things to frighten people and make an easy sale, you’re in a good place. Fear-based conversion marketing is not synonymous to fear mongering.

Fear-based conversion marketing does not need to be all gloomy, morbid and sad. At its core, using fear for conversion marketing is articulating the “negativities” tied into what your target market is currently doing better than they could and providing a solution to alleviate this fear.

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