On Abusing Fear

Three times in as many days, I received a call from an unknown, local number. Because the number is local, and because they made so many attempts, I answered the phone. I was greeted by a recording that said “Your business cannot be found on the Internet, including sites like Google and Bing” and “Your customers cannot find you.”

The recording went on to tell me to press 1 to be connected to a specialist who could help me. Curious about the fear-based nature of the pitch, I pressed 1. I received a new recording telling me that I had to be a business owner to continue. It asked me to press 2 if I was the business owner.

I was connected to Robert. I said, “What’s with the fear-based pitch, Robert?” He said, “We don’t have a fear-based pitch.” I suggested that he was incorrect. I told him that the recording told me that my business wasn’t able to be found on the Internet and that I was losing customers.” He firmly stated that I was wrong.

I asked Robert if he had heard the recording. He said he hadn’t. Then he asked me if I was the business owner. I said, “Yes. I am. What business was your call referring to? I have a few businesses.” He asked me what business I was calling from. So, I asked him which business he called, and asked him how he knew I wasn’t listed if he didn’t even know what business his autodialer called.

Frustrated, Robert decided I wasn’t much fun, and he said “never mind,” and hung up on me. Robert isn’t to blame for his company’s decision to take this approach with their prospective customers.

Fear is perhaps the most powerful motivating force available to marketers and salespeople. So many people suffer from a dormant form of dissatisfaction that fear is sometimes what is necessary to wake them up to the real dangers they face. You need to shake them out of their comfort zone.

But fear isn’t something that should be used carelessly or thoughtlessly. It should never be used in a way that destroys trust. The fear you use cannot ever be based on a lie. That’s self-oriented behavior, and it’s a poor long-term strategy.

I am sure that the people who built this campaign sold it by pointing to the great numbers of people they can get to push 1 and connect with a salesperson. I am sure they think that having the person qualify themselves by pushing 2 is a smart idea. I’ll bet they laugh every time someone does so. They may even make some sales. But a transactional approach that violates trust isn’t a good long-term plan for acquiring customers or growing your business.

  • Why should you avoid marketing tactics that may work but destroy trust in the process?
  • When is the right time to use fear to move a client to act?
  • How do you develop the issues, challenges, and trends that compel clients to act?

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