Leveraging Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in Copywriting

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France, and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing

Fear is paralyzing. And fear is important for marketers to understand and leverage. I was reminded of how fear takes over the mind while on vacation a couple of weeks ago in Barcelona, Spain. We had rented a car for a drive to Andorra and Southern France and while returning the car to the Barcelona’s city center, we got lost. The GPS navigation wasn’t helpful. The streets were crowded. Then a tap on the window by a motorcyclist next to our car, and pedestrians pointing to the passenger rear tire sent me over the edge: the tire was nearly flat.

Going into the trip, I anticipated that renting a car and driving would generate some anxiety. It began with the fact that the car came with a manual transmission. The last time that I had driven a vehicle with a manual transmission was on the family farm in the 1970s. I thought driving with a manual transmission after all those years would be like never forgetting how to ride a bike. Apparently not. After dozens of times stalling the engine in intersections and at toll booths due to the learning curve of syncing acceleration and releasing the clutch, I felt fear. After three days of driving, I finally got past the learning curve of using a manual transmission.

But it was in the moments returning the car with a nearly flat tire that was my worst fear of all. There was no place to pull over on the crowded streets of Barcelona. Traffic was heavy. Motorcycles buzzed around us. Yet we were only blocks from the car rental facility. We couldn’t get there from where we were.

Fear consumed me. It’s an instinctive response, and there is science that helps to explain why fear is all-consuming.

The amygdala, or lizard brain, has an evolutionary purpose for humans to survive. The amygdala reacts in a “fight” or “flight” mode. It is alert to basic needs—anger, fear and reproduction—with memory formulated over a lifetime as it assesses how to respond to survive and reproduce.

The right amygdala retains negative emotions, especially fear and sadness. The left amygdala retains both pleasant and unpleasant emotions.

Because we’re wired for fear and negative emotion more dominantly than for positive emotions, fear, uncertainty and doubt take over.

And these emotions are the most powerful human emotions that marketers can leverage.

For fear to work, and for you to be credible in your copy, consider these three pathways:

  1. Begin by stimulating your prospect’s emotion with how you relate to their fear, uncertainty and doubt (“FUD”).
  2. Once you have acknowledged and reminded them of their FUD, you’re poised to take the next step of earning trust.
  3. Quickly calm their minds by offering your solution and clearing away the FUD.

When your mind is in constant fear, it’s difficult to think. You’re stuck. You’re frozen. You can’t make up your mind. Your decision-making power is blocked.

Marketers can leverage the power of fear to stimulate emotion, but to be effective, you must quickly calm the mind so that decision making is unblocked and you can move your customers to the thinking part of their brains where they can make decisions.

As for the rest of the Barcelona driving story, thankfully, after several minutes of fear and panic, we ditched using the navigation. Our daughter had been studying there for the semester and her internship’s office was in the general neighborhood of where we needed to return the car. She had never driven in the city, but was familiar with the streets.

She calmly gave me the turn-by-turn directions to the car rental return facility. When I finally recognized a landmark only a block away, my fear vanished and a calm enveloped me. We arrived before the tire had gone completely flat. And now I could think clearly once again and return to enjoying our vacation.

A Possible USPS ‘Exigent’ Rate Increase – Playing Politics on the Backs of Ratepayers?

There are rumors that the USPS may request another exigent rate increase. Why are we going through this again? Advertisers, marketers and the business community love certainty—and have a strong distaste for uncertainty. When one considers the financial situation of the U.S. Postal Service during the past couple of years, it’s enough to keep mailers at bay in planning their ad budgets, and keep them from devoting much to direct mail in the overall media mix.

There are rumors that the USPS may request another exigent rate increase. Why are we going through this again?

Advertisers, marketers and the business community love certainty—and have a strong distaste for uncertainty. When one considers the financial situation of the U.S. Postal Service during the past couple of years—from uncertain prospects of postal reform legislative efforts, to what any emerging postal reform effort might contain or not contain in cost savings, to short-term financial viability and this past year’s default—it’s enough to keep mailers at bay in planning their ad budgets, and keep them from devoting much to direct mail in the overall media mix.

Tying postage increases to the consumer price index and giving USPS the latitude to implement such increases annually (as is now the law) has helped give the business community certainty about postage costs, so they can plan and budget accordingly.

Allowing an “exigent” or additional postage increase to happen when there are extraordinary circumstances (as is also now the law) was intended as a “last resort” to make Postal Service finances whole. Let’s be honest: An extraordinary circumstance happens when there is an absence of postal reform efforts moving forward, and, possibly, when there is an absence of U.S. economic growth and an exhaustion of wise cost containment initiatives inside the Postal Service. All three of these latter scenarios don’t exist—so why even consider an exigent increase?

It’s a bad idea. First, USPS customers would detest such a rate hike, as they do. It’s an uncertainty.

Recently the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) in its Direct from Washington newsletter reported:

With reason to believe that the United States Postal Service (USPS) Board of Governors may vote on a potential exigency rate increase in early September, the Affordable Mail Alliance (AMA), including the DMA, sent a letter to the Governors voicing their opposition of such an increase. The letter expressed concern about the negative effects that would come with such an increase, especially for the mailing industry and its suppliers. The letter recognized the continued financial struggles that confront USPS, but also stated that an exigent rate increase is not the solution to those struggles. With recent progress toward comprehensive postal reform in Congress, along with steady improvement in the USPS balance sheet, the letter stated that an exigency filing ‘at this point would be premature.’ The letter additionally requested a meeting with the Board to discuss the issues at hand and to ensure that USPS is fully informed before making a decision of such great magnitude.

Second, if the architects of an exigent rate hike think that such a case is what is needed to convince lawmakers that postal finances are indeed a mess, and that a reform law—now in discussion—is desperately needed to fix them, then how dare play politics on the backs of ratepayers? An exigent rate hike is unlikely to move best-case legislation forward (and may even help move a bad bill, from customers’ perspective) and will saddle mailers with even higher costs than budgeted. Thus, there would be more uncertainty and more mail dollars flowing elsewhere in advertising.

As the Affordable Mail Alliance contends, any exigency scenarios are at best premature and, might I add, most likely non-existent. So USPS, please listen to your customers and just don’t go there.