Why Appealing to Fear Is a Good Thing

by | Jul 9, 2009

There’s no mystery about why marketers appeal to fear. Fear mongering works. Before Madison Avenue taught us to fear it, body odor was just a fact of life. Same with gray hair, weeds in the lawn, and dingy whites. Advertising has transformed what were once minor disappointments or inconveniences (if that) into the occasion of fear and shame.
We’re right, I think, to deplore the wholesale manipulation of the consumer mind by appeals to fear. But we’re wrong to avoid appeals to fear in our own marketing.
Excuse Me While I Talk About Me
Once upon a time I thought massage was a luxury for the unforgivably self-indulgent. Of course, I’d never had a massage, nor was I close to anyone who had.
One day I learned about a body worker who specialized in working with recovering addicts. I made an appointment, and it left me feeling more intact and present than I’d felt in a long time.
But I balked at the suggestion that I get regular body work. That felt like a plot to empty my pocketbook.
Still, over the next few years I scheduled the occasional session. In time, I saw a clear connection between massage and physical, mental, and emotional well being. Today I regard regular body work as a necessary luxury.
Appeals to Wellness and Well Being Don’t Work
The thing is, I never would have scheduled a massage for the sake of increased well being. I didn’t know from increased well being at the time. It was only when body work appealed to my fear of feeling crummy in recovery that I even considered giving it a try.
The same principle holds true for your just-right clients and customers. You see what they’ll have or experience after they give your work a try.
But they can’t hear that from where they are now. If you really want the best for your clients (and I know you do), you need to appeal to their fears.
The Three Demons
In mythology, the hero has to complete certain tasks or tests before she can complete her journey. Often these tests take the form of demons. Three particular demons will haunt your path as you learn to appeal to fear without being a creep about it,
The First Demon: Does Your Work Work?
To appeal to fear in an honorable way, you have to be able to offer relief. That means your work has to work.
Does it?
Notice how this question makes you feel. If it provokes defensiveness, anxiety, or resentment, you have some work to do before you can make an honorable claim.
This demon uses the weapons of grandiosity and false humility to keep you from seeing and stating clearly what your work can do for people. Your best weapons against it are detachment and humility.
The Second Demon: Confusing Yourself with Your Work
The second demon tempts you to take credit for the good your work can do. That might not be a problem if it weren’t for the fact that there will be days when claiming that you can help anyone feels like fraud. And then there’s the horrible burden of assuming responsibility for benefits that flow through you when you know darn well you are the vehicle, not the source.
Appealing to someone else’s fear or pain when you are quite sure you’re incompetent and phony is incredibly painful. It’s no wonder that we prefer to stumble along in genteel poverty instead.
Connecting with source is your best protection against demon number two.
The Third Demon: Taking on Blame for a Cultural Discourse
The third demon will torment you with guilt and shame when you find yourself speaking in ways that feel inauthentic to you. And it’s a sure bet that experimenting with appeals to fear will feel inauthentic, whether they are or not.
In a society saturated with commercial excess, there is no getting away from greed, envy, and grasping. And when you try out the practice of speaking to your clients’ real fears, there will be times when those qualities creep into your voice.
That’s a natural consequence of swimming in the soup of consumerism. It does not mean you are a bad person. It just means you’ve slipped into the common lingo. When you become aware of it, you can shake it off.
Time, practice, and willingness to make mistakes are your most powerful allies in the face of demon number three.
You Are Your Just-Right Client
I’m betting that the work you do (or want to do) has a deep connection to who you are and to your life path. It’s grown out of your own journey and it will continue to evolve as you do.
This gives you a particularly keen insight into what your just-right clients fear. They fear what you do.
You’ve invested a lot in your learning journey, and you don’t need to be at the end of it to serve others on a similar path. You do, however, need to let them know you’re there and that your work addresses your shared concerns.
Appealing to fear works. When you appeal to fear with the intent of serving your just-right clients, your business will thrive and they will thank you for it.