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 at most minor disappointments or inconveniences into occasions 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.
How fear led me to bodywork
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 read about how the body can keep us stuck in old ways of being and how massage can free us so we can heal. I made an appointment, and it left me feeling more intact and present than I’d felt in a long time.
Appeals to wellness and well being don’t work
The thing is, I never would have scheduled a massage just so I could feel better. I didn’t know from feeling better at the time. It was only when body work appealed to my fear of being locked into a pre-recovery body that I scheduled an appointment.
The same principle holds true for your just-right clients and customers. You know what they’ll have or experience after they give your work a try and, from where you sit, that should be enough for them to buy. But they can’t hear that from where they are now. They’re preoccupied by all the worries clamoring for their attention.
If you really want the best for your clients (and I know you do), you need to appeal to their fears.
Marketing is a hero’s journey
In mythology, a 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 Demon of Doubt: 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.
Ouch! If you feel defensive or anxious when the Demon of Doubt raises its ugly head, join the club. No one is more keenly attuned to the need for improvement than someone who cares deeply about what she does. The better you are at something, the more critical you are likely to be. So it is easy to get sidelined by this demon.
How to meet the demon of doubt
The demon of doubt 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.
First, don’t try to make the demon go away. That just makes them mad. Next, acknowledge that your work is limited.
That’s right. You are not the boss of the world and that means there are limits to what your work can do. You can be the best bodyworker ever and still not heal a client who mistreats her body. You can be an amazing piano teacher and not be able to teach a student who won’t practice.
The Demon of Identification: Who gets the credit or blame?
The second demon invites you to be so identified with your work that you get all the credit for success and take all the blame for failure.
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. (See the Demon of Doubt.) 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 the Demon of Over-Identification.
The Demon of Confused Authenticity: Can a nice person use fear?
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 on 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 fear.
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.
If you like this, you may also like this short video, “Are you really listening to prospective clients?”