This Will Scare the !@#$% Out of You, Marketers!

Sit down for this one: 80 percent of CEOs do not trust their CMOs or marketing teams to deliver results. Ninety percent of those same CEOs DO trust their IT and finance teams, or so claims a recent study by the Fournaise Group.

If we follow psychology theory, then we must embrace the notion that most of what we do is driven by our survival DNA, and subsequently much of what we do and choose is motivated by fear of losing our ability to survive life’s challenges physically, socially, professionally, etc. Like marketers who purchase expensive “survival” products like a new CRM system every few months in order to get results that will help them keep their jobs at least one more year, we consumers engage in irrational survival purchases more than you think. Case in point is the booming bomb shelter business which covers private ones in your own home for $200,000 to $2 million, or shares in a group shelter community that can cost around $25,000 a person, all for the great “what if.” The fear of not surviving Armageddon is so strong that one person mentioned in a story reported by CNN spent his savings for a home in the normal world on down payments for a place in the underground world, a community shelter that may never be more than an empty vacuum if the “what ifs” never come to be.

An article by Olga Khazan in The Atlantic published in 2014 outlines how much even fictitious fear drives our attitudes and behavior. Khazans references how we have grown to fear ebola more than the flu and sharks more than car accidents due to media coverage and fear reporting when in reality, many more deaths are caused by the flu and car accidents than the ebola virus and sharks. In fact in 2015, there were only six deaths from shark attacks in the U.S. In just the first six months of 2015, there were 18,600 traffic accident deaths. And we fear sharks more than getting in a car?

What does all this mean for marketers? Plenty. We must face that most decisions are based upon fear of losing what we have. And that many fears that drive consumers’ attitudes and thus purchasing behavior are in fact fictitious fears, or fears someone told us to have vs. fears we have gained through our own life experience. Controversial as it may be, we are being told to fear Nondiscrimination Ordinances that let people choose the bathrooms they identify with as statistics show that in 35 years, there has been only one crime committed by the people being protected by those laws, and that crime was not in the U.S. Statistically, we should have no fear; yet when Target announced its adherence to NDOs regarding this issue, its stock dropped more than 4 percent almost immediately.

As marketers, we must understand all the fears that could be associated with buying or not buying our products and our brands, per the choice and values our brand leaders make and project. Our messaging must then address real, fictitious and learned fears so that we can make connections based upon comfort, security, hope, confidence and trust.

Some tactical implications:

  • Determine What Fears Drive Your Customers? Don’t assume. Ask. Include questions about greatest fears and concerns in your customer experience surveys and do it often enough to keep up with attitudes that ebb and flow with market changes.
  • Talk About It. Get it out of the closet. Let them know what your brand is doing to alleviate the chances of those fears coming true, whether real or not, and show that you care to make them feel secure. Provide testimonials to back up your promise.
  • Present the Alternative: Instead of making promises about what they will gain if they buy your products, promise what you can help them avoid losing. No one believes promises of winning the lottery, perfect bodies like body builders, Olympic gold medals and so on. But they do believe promises related to the status quo. Keep your job, keep your respect, keep your quality of life … those are promises we can attain, as we already have the status quo – so your claims to help me keep it are credible.

By stepping back from the traditional promises of gaining rewards and happiness through purchases, and focusing on promising the ability to keep the things, tangible and intangible, that your customers don’t want to lose, you will stand to gain a lot. And that might just include higher ROI for your marketing programs and a little more trust from the C-suite.

Author: Jeanette McMurtry

Jeanette McMurtry is a psychology-based marketing expert providing strategy, campaign development, and sales and marketing training to brands in all industries on how to achieve psychological relevance for all aspects of a customer's experience. She is the author of the recently released edition of “Marketing for Dummies” (Fifth Edition, Wiley) and “Big Business Marketing for Small Business Budgets” (McGraw Hill). She is a popular and engaging keynote speaker and workshop instructor on marketing psychology worldwide. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging B2B and B2C purchasers' unconscious minds which drive 90 percent of our thoughts, attitudes and behavior, and provide actionable and affordable tips for upping sales and ROI through emotional selling propositions. Her blog will share insights and tactics for engaging consumers' unconscious minds, which drive 90 percent of our thoughts and purchasing attitudes and behavior. She'll explore how color, images and social influences like scarcity, peer pressure and even religion affect consumers' interest in engaging with your brand, your message and buying from you. Reach her at

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