Two sides of fear

Fear is both a marketers best friend and worst enemy. When marketers employee fear, they often get people to buy. You don’t have to look far – insurance companies, car dealers and just about any drug company out there trades on your fears. While the Rapture may have come and gone without incident last week concrete bunkers are selling well in anticipation of the end of the Mayan Calendar – and hence the world in 2012.

Fear mongering does nothing to move society forward. No matter what decade you’re in, you’ll find someone trading on your fears. Fears that are largely manufactured. Fears that you face by relinquishing the power you have to create your own life. As a marketer, you can make a lot of money on fear. At least until you’re found out. And then there’s selling the promise of a better life. A sexier, fitter, healthier, richer you if you just buy this product.

Of course, you as a consumer could take control, say hogwash, and pursue your own path. You don’t exactly need half of what everyone thinks you need. You can buck the trends. Ahh, but that’s scary. We’re all urged to conform and thought a little nutty if we don’t. There’s a lot of pressure placed on conforming. It makes for a more orderly society. And in most cases it works nicely.

But as a marketer, conformity isn’t working so well. And this is where fear is your worst enemy. When you’re afraid to step out and try the untested. To get emotional when your product is theoretically perfectly rational (and YOU have the data to prove it), you face a lot of pressure not to. There’s a lot of fear in the unknown. What if you fail? Will your brand take a hit? Will you be fired? What if you offend someone? Your brand is certainly not Howard Stern so you can’t possibly go down that path, right?

Again, fear rules the day. Few marketers have established the trust and credibility needed to take chances. I talked about this last week but it bears repeating. They have to deliver the numbers. They need the data to prove their concepts and programs are going to work. Before they launch. So they just add water. More and more water until that shiny, daring concept looks like all the others that’ve come before. And that’s a shame because since we’ve all seen it. We ignore it. You ignore it too. Think about the iPhone. If Apple had listened and tested and focused grouped the device to make sure it had ALL the features everyone wanted, think it would be so successful? Think it would open up a whole new market for apps, mobility and connections? Or would it be dumbed down and featured up to offer something for everyone? And thus fail?

There are things you can test. And things you just have to put out there. People are emotional. People are irrational no matter how much data and rationalizing you throw at them. So fear not.

It’s easy to tell a fellow marketer to go for it. To take the chance. Afterall it’s their skin in the game, not yours. Much harder for you to be the one to hold the accountability card. I’m thinking though that it’s scarier not to take the chance. It’s scarier not to forge a new path because eventually someone else will and then you’ll be left in the dust. Playing catch up or worse. You need to go for it. When you feel fear – or those around you feel it – you know you’re on to something and that’s a good thing. So how do you go for it? Find the opening. Carve out areas where you can show results by taking chances. Find a niche and push. Then push some more. And if your company’s down, maybe betting the farm is your only hope. Your only way out of the abyss.

So embrace fear. Just don’t always rely on it to peddle your wares.


  1. Wonderful post subject. I feel on the marketing side – generally – the best thing is to create bread and butter, tried and true sure return efforts that can be precisely measure – for instance with most of my clients it is AdWords campaigns with tested cost per conversion figures – and then to satellite this with an array of experiments. My sense is that businesses DO want to be experimental, to try things that might work, they come to social media precisely for that reason. It is just that it needs to often be countered-weighted by baseline measures.

    The Apple example is perhaps a horse of a different color. That is belief in company vision, not something perhaps that a marketeer completely engineers or proposes.


  2. Patrick says:

    Thanks Kevin. Absolutely right about baseline marketing campaigns. It is important to measure and PPC is perhaps one of the most measurable – and something I do a fair amount of. In that arena, you need to be relevant to the searcher – providing what the searcher is looking for. You have to deliver the goods – and I believe by doing so affords you the credibility to offer sound counsel on when it’s appropriate to push the boundaries and take a few risks – even when many are fearful.

    I have met many marketers who really would like to be experimental, but their cultures and operational structures don’t permit it. It’s a lot easier to talk about being provocative than actually translate that into action – navigating the approval processes and as is often the case, death by committee.

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