It might seem a bit strange that we have to write a blog about this, but we’ve noticed a particularly dastardly trend recently in marketingland: businesses scaring people into buying their product or service. Yes, it works (that’s why it’s still happening). No, you should not jump on the bandwagon.
So what are we talking about here? You may have your own experience but here are some of ours:
- Cell phones: When a rival carrier improved its service in our area and slashed prices, all of a sudden we started to see ads from Verizon cautioning people that if they choose this other carrier, will they really get the big-brand service and have easy access to their friends and family who stick with Verizon? Most assuredly, if they don’t switch, they’d still get the very large cell phone bills they were used to. But how legitimate were the scare tactics?
- Car buying: A friend who recently bought a Toyota (known, of course, for exceptional reliability) had the dealer giving him the full court press on the extended warranty. “You just can’t be too sure with the cost of car repairs these days,” said the dealer. “Are you really sure you can afford to be without this?” Look guy, people are buying the product you sell in large part because of its reliability. Is it really worth scaring the customer into buying a $1500 extended warranty versus simply explaining what the warranty is about and leaving it at that? You can’t stand behind your product and also completely undermine it at the same time.
- Travel booking: So you’ve settled on a fun place to go, booked your airfare and reserved a car. And now the booking site wants to scare the hell out of you so that you buy travel insurance. After all, the world is a pretty scary place! Talk about a buzzkill. But hey, they have to make their money where they can and what’s the harm in asking folks if they want it? We’ve seen examples recently where the site has asked four separate times about declining travel insurance, and even gone so far as providing a mini case study in how easily things can go wrong. It’s just too much.
- Internet marketing: This is obviously a close-to-home example for us and it’s almost ridiculous the lengths some shady companies will go to scare people into buying SEO services. “If you don’t spend on our directory, anyone searching for you online will choose a competitor instead.” No, they won’t. “If you don’t sign up for our video services you’ll miss out on the Video Revolution.” No, you won’t. “Our proprietary system is available for a limited time and if you don’t sign up, a competitor will.” No, they won’t. It would all be pathetic if it didn’t actually make money for these shady companies.
Effective Marketing or Crossing the Line?
Some people call this type of marketing pure genius, but for us it’s just plain dirty and manipulative. Unfortunately, scaring people into making a buying decision has been an effective marketing tactic for eons, and playing on people’s anxieties by pushing the right levers is a pretty sure way to mint your own money.
But please, don’t do it. The most sustainable businesses treat their customers with respect if not complete reverence. Think you’re really going to earn customers for life by duping them into buying your services? The fatal flaw in marketing to people’s fears is that everyone wises up eventually. You can tour the countryside with your snakeoil, but we double dog dare you to make a second swing through any of those towns.
The best marketing approach is all about telling your story, having conversations, and building relationships based on trust and respect. Be good to your customers, don’t try to scare the living daylights out of them.