Selling fear is more profitable than selling products

Smiling worker holding sold sign [Courtesy]

How far should organisations go to be able to utilise and bank on the emotion of fear to spur their growth and increase revenue?

From a business standpoint, firms tap into the power of fear-based marketing to stimulate and motivate consumers to purchase a product or service by causing them to think about the intangible consequences they are likely to face if they don't buy the product. This can be implemented with the use of traditional or digital media.

Psychologically, individuals feel the need to be a part of an event or a trend and fit into a culture. This dynamic is therefore applied as a marketing tool, such that we now exist in a “consumerous” society where selling the fear of not using the product or service has become more essential than selling the product itself.

The play of emotions contributes to the power of fear-based marketing, which firms extensively use to sell their products. For example, if an organisation wants to sell an educational programme, they may instill in consumers the fear of being unemployed as a repercussion of not partaking the programme.

Whereas the programme itself does not guarantee a job after completion, the fear is used to sell it. This is where ethics surfaces, as there is a thin line between using this tool of marketing for the right reasons and using it only for the organisation’s profitability.

Marketing is performed and conducted by creating campaigns that align with and reflect the society’s needs and wants, while demand for products is generated as a reflection of fear-based marketing information being provided to consumers. Both are a reflection of each other.

Organisations then tap into an unethical path where they don’t consider the consumer’s need, the rate of satisfaction and value obtained by the customer upon consuming the product. This would cause consumers to sometimes go to the extent of taking loans, burying themselves in debt as they might not afford the good or service offered to them. All of these only to achieve the perceived goal that was marketed to them.

How then do we draw the line in ethically using fear-based marketing? The gap between what the organisation cares about and what the customers need is very narrow and therefore businesses should claim responsibility and try to enforce more positivity in the brand storytelling.

In order to mitigate the negative impact of fear-based marketing, organisations should be considerate of their consumers, be honest and question themselves on whether what they are selling is of value to the consumers in the first place.

The use of fear-based tactics has shown that consumers will sooner or later discover the truth behind the information provided to them, which would lead to them withdrawing from doing business with the organisation. This causes the firm to lose out on customer loyalty, which is a key metric for the organisation as that is what they aim for.

The focus should be on building customer relationships anchored on truthfulness, authenticity and transparency of their business and product or service benefits, which would further lead to building trust and improve customer retention, which is more valuable. 

The writer is an entrepreneur and digital marketer