Mon, February 04 2008

What’s your appeal—fear, hope or love?

Katya Andresen's avatar

Author, Robin Hood Marketing

Filed under:   Marketing essentials •

Seth Godin has a superlative blog entry today.  In the unlikely event you haven’t heard of Seth, he’s author of the classic Purple Cow, the new Meatball Sundae and one of my favorite writers on marketing.  He says:

People take action (mostly) based on one of three emotions:


Every successful marketer (including politicians) takes advantage of at least one of these basic needs.

Forbes Magazine, for example, is for people who hope to make more money.

Rudy Giuliani was the fear candidate. He tried to turn fear into love, but failed.

Few products or services succeed out of love. People are too selfish for an emotion that selfless, most of the time.

It’s interesting to think about the way certain categories gravitate to various emotions. Doctors selling check ups, of course, are in the fear business (while oncologists certainly sell hope). Restaurants have had a hard time selling fear (healthy places don’t do so well). Singles bars certainly thrive on selling hope.

Google, amazingly quickly, became a beloved brand, something many people see as bigger than themselves, something bigger than hope. Apple lives in this arena as well. I think if you deliver hope for a long time (and deliver on it sometimes) you can graduate to love.

Very interesting.

I think fear is not a great motivator for good causes, unless you can also pair fear with a way to resolve the situation that is terrifying.  This is why health scares often work to get people to change their health behaviors.  Too much fear and negativity will make people feel helpless or perceive that your issue is intractable.  Fear often prompts a person to cower or take cover.  Give people the feeling that they have the power to help or change a situation. 

By contrast, hope can make you commit.  Hope is a big winner for us.  Everyone wants to feel hope, and we are all about hope in our field.  I hope you are making hope a big part of the way you talk about your programs.

Love is possible for us.  If Google - a search engine - evokes that kind of emotion, we damn well can too.  IF we do a good job fulfilling our mission.  IF we do a great job telling our story.  IF we do a better job reporting back to donors what they’ve done for others.  IF we build lasting, two-way relationships with the people who support us.  Do people love your organization?  They will if you do these things.  I hope you do!

  • Comment: (8)   


Interesting post…it got me thinking back to how we could try to motivate people through a progression of messages that can take someone through the cycle of fear/hope/love. In public health, we always seem to be on the fear side of the equation, but we seldom are able to use the attention that we get from the scary reports that are issued to sell hope in the solutions that we might have to offer.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/05  at  03:50 PM
Katya Andresen's avatar

Thanks for your comment Charles.  I really think public health dwells too much on fear and not enough on pairing fear with hope.  I agree with your assessment!

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  02/05  at  04:04 PM

I have a philosophic/semantic disagreement with the taxonomy. (Do I get extra points for using really neat words?)

One thing motivates: expectation. Fear and desire are the two children of expectation - everything else flows from them.

You will either act (or not) because you fear something you deem undesirable will happen if you don’t (or do); conversely, you will either act (or not) because you deem something desirable will happen if you do (or don’t).

The most effective derivative emotions for motivating behavior seem to be guilt and shame - which are offspring of fear. Creating anxiety is an excellent way to control people’s behavior. Corporate and political shills do this every day.

In the nonprofit sector, the ostensible aim is to do good (as you might see fit). The best way to do that is to go out and do it, and find people who agree with your point of view. At the opposite end of a gift from a donor is an intangible benefit, and the best way to receive gifts is to find funders aligned with your project and values, and then communicate the objectives and values to them. I suppose the tactics you choose to do that define your character.

Posted by Chris Casquilho  on  02/06  at  06:31 PM

This post is a good reminder to me that though it might be easier to get people to come to our events through fear (“how can you say no to kids with cancer?”), in the long run it’s more more productive to use the “love” approach. Much more difficult.. but much more productive.

Posted by Casey  on  02/06  at  06:49 PM

Hope and Love are related motivators for me.  I LOVE nature and HOPE that it won’t all be destroyed by poor lifestyle choices so I work at an environmental institute.  I don’t think fear motivates me, although I am worried about climate change and all.  Fear would make me less likely to act, but hope invigorates me every day.

Posted by May  on  02/06  at  09:17 PM

As for me I think these three emotions are very useful in marketing! You just have to find out which one is the most important for a person at this moment!

Posted by Tifany  on  02/07  at  08:17 AM

Think about how the fear that something will be destroyed is related to the hope that it won’t be.

Posted by Chris Casquilho  on  02/07  at  04:46 PM

Thanks so much for this post - it’s a wonderful reminder of why we all we do what we do. 

Non-profit organizations have so many wonderful stories to share, stories that highlight how hope and love change the world every day.  Keeping that perspective as we communicate their message is absolutely critical.

Thanks again -
Leyla Farah
Cause+Effect - Public Relations with a Purpose

Posted by Leyla Farah  on  02/09  at  09:35 AM

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