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Our five basic fears and how marketers capitalize on them

Fear can be a powerful motivator. For instance, did you know there exists a multi-million market for doomsday real estate? People are willing to shell out lots of cash for swanky underground bunkers to serve as protection in case of a nuclear fallout.

Such purchases seem irrational to most, but by understanding fear as the underlying motivator, marketers have captured the key to whole industries. In fact, psychologists identify five basic fears that influence human actions: death, strangers, the unknown, chaos and insignificance.

Marketers have recognized these fears and, naturally, have capitalized on them. Here’s how:

Death – Many medications and medical processes are sold on the back of this fear, not to mention precautionary products such as bike helmets and, of course, those little kits that will help you escape the next time your car is submerged in water.

Strangers – Makers of home alarm systems have been very effective in dialing up the scare factor here, with TV ads that show a menacing masked man targeting the home of a young woman who is clearly alone.

The Unknown – This fear certainly plays into AAA memberships, retirement plans and life insurance policies.

Chaos – Humans crave order. Companies producing cleaning products, guns and generators capitalize on this desire for routine.

Insignificance – It’s likely our most marketable fear because it taps into our insecurities. A gamut of products, from hair thickener to toning shoes to push-up bras, is sold based on the fear of insignificance.

But can fear lead to loyalty? I don’t think so. As I propose in in my book, The Loyalty Leap, marketers should instead turn fear in the inverse, and build on hope. Here’s a thumbnail.

Instead of marketing on the fear of death, how about on the hope of wellness and security? Instead of strangers, market on family and friends.

The list goes on: Fear of the unknown can be transformed into the hope of clarity and honesty, as pure as Ivory soap. Chaos is unseated by law and order, while insignificance can be handily replaced with recognition, love and Facebook.

Yes, fear can be a powerful motivator. But it won’t win consumer’s hearts. For that you need to engage them with hope. Then you will be on your way to emotional engagement.

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