3 Fears That Move People Into Action and Product Out the Door

As a child your parents may have tried to frighten you into behaving a certain way for your own good.

It might have looked like this:

  • If you don’t brush your teeth, they will rot and fall out
  • Never talk to strangers, they can be bad people who do bad things
  • Watch this video and see what can happen if you play with matches…

And for most of us (if we were afraid enough) we obliged.

Having the fear of reprisal instilled was an incredibly powerful motivator.

Funnily enough, as we grow older, we still carry around certain fears that prompt us to take action, though they might not be about cleaning your teeth or not talking to strangers.

By understanding some of the fears your audience might have, you can use this in your marketing to get them to respond to your offer.

But, just as your parents instilled fear for your own good, this should only be used to educate your ideal customer about how you can help them.

This is not about indiscriminate scaremongering. Too much fear and your customer won’t take any action; they’ll simply stare at the computer screen (billboard, ad, etc) and develop a lovely ulcer.

So how can you ethically scare them into taking action?

By understanding 3 key fears that drive your audience to act:

The Fear Of What Other People Think

Were we all to live isolated on an island with all the necessities we needed to stay alive, there’s a good chance we wouldn’t be worried about heading out to the beach with the latest Gucci handbag, or being a size zero or people noticing the Rolex to understand how successful we are.

However we’re not.

We’re surrounded by the watchful glare and judgment of everyone else. Unless you’re a total zen master, you probably care (to some degree) about what people think.

That’s why weight loss product emphasize the frustration of being embarrassed at asking for a seat-belt extender on airlines, or the dread of imminent bikini weather. It’s why web design companies talk about the shame of “amateur-looking” websites and why copywriters warn of content that repels your target market.

Next time you are presenting an offer to your audience, ask yourself what “image” are they afraid of projecting to the world: For example:

  • They’re inauthentic
  • They’re unattractive
  • They’re boring
  • They lack confidence
  • They’re unsuccessful
  • They can’t be trusted

Take that fear, remind them of it and show how you help them combat it. For example:

There’s so much snake-oil in sales these days. This means if you don’t understand how to talk to your prospects, even a few simple mistakes can turn them off you and your product in seconds…

The Fear Of Missing Out

Remember when you were off school that one time, and it just happened to be the time when little Jimmy Cooper got his head stuck in the fence and the fire crew had to cut him out? Didn’t it just suck that you missed it? Because then you had to endure years of kids harking back to the infamous event, sharing the common pleasurable bond of little Jimmy’s pain and all you remember was that you had measles.

Unsurprisingly, little has changed. We hate the idea of missing out on something. Whether that is something everyone else is doing, a great offer or a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

And this is why it is so potent to position your offer as something that

  • They won’t want to miss
  • They might miss if they don’t act straight away

To leverage this fear in your offers, you’ll want to show that everyone else is doing it!

As Maslow’s hierarchy of needs suggests, it’s very important for us to feel like we belong.

So when all of our Twitter followers, or Facebook friends, or (gasp!) real life friends, start talking about a new product, trend or craze, our ears prick up and we take notice. We want to be involved.

With your offer, you can do this by having affiliates or friends who spread the word and create a little buzz about what you’re up to.

Testimonials and case studies of people who have taken your offer and loved it are also very effective and should be included.

Create a deadline
I don’t know who said “if it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done” but it’s very true. Deadlines are forced action encouragers because after the deadline, we have usually “missed out” on something, and that makes us sad. Your deadline could include an introductory price, a special bonus or an actual live event that could be missed.

Create scarcity
Similar to the deadline, scarcity encourages us to act because we could miss out on a deal unless we beat the throngs of other people beating down your door to snap your hand off for it. This could include:

  • An introductory rate but only for the first 10 people that sign up
  • Limited spaces for coaching with you
  • Limited spots on a webinar / teleclass
  • Limited number of physical products
I wouldn’t do a limited number on digital products. We’ve all seen “only 17 copies left” of some downloadable software/ebook. People know digital copies are reproduced easily and it smacks of being inauthentic.

Which brings us onto our final fear…

The Fear Of Loss

Nobody likes losing something that they own (or perceive they own). This can be very powerful when writing about your product or service.

Common things that people worry about losing include money, beauty, respect, etc. But you can use anything that is important to your ideal customer.

One way to use this in writing about your own business or offer is to see what customers gain by using you, and then presenting it as a possible “loss.”

To make this effective with your audience you have to ask yourself:

  • What do they gain by using you?
  • Why is this important to them?
  • How can you present that as a possible “loss”?

For example, let’s say you run a web design company that improves customer response and lead generation through increased SEO and usability. By not using you, your potential customers are potentially “losing” thousands in revenue through leads that were never generated. So a headline such as:

Why Your Current Website Is Costing you $3,000” Each Month In Missed Business

would hit that spot of losing right on the button.


In summary, if what you offer has any kind of positive impact on your audience, then for their own good, (just as your parents made you clean your teeth), make them afraid to miss out, and make them take action.

I”d love to hear your thoughts.

  • What fears have you tapped into to get a response from your audience?
  • Are you uncomfortable with making your audience feel discomfort (even if it’s for their own good)?
  • What fear tactics have worked on you?

Amy Harrison

Amy Harrison is a copywriter in Brighton, UK. In addition to writing for her clients, she coaches business owners on how to sell the benefits of their businesses, and how to write their own sales pages through her recent eBook: How To Get Your Sales Page DONE!

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  • http://cathypresland.com Cathy Presland

    Nice article Amy.

    I find it hard to get the balance right between a little fear to motivate and too much fear to scare people off!


    • http://twitter.com/littleunred Amy Harrison

      Hey Cathy! Great to see your comment. A good starting place is the small motivating fears like scarcity, and creating a deadline. Those are simple and non-personal fears that can motivate people to act. 🙂

  • Al Smith

    Great ideas and suggestions. All, so very true. They all apply and have worked on me. I am going to save this and use this information. Thanks Dino. A great saying I try to use to overcome the first fear : “What other people think about me is none of my business” Sounds like a good idea, but very hard to incorporate in your life. Thanks again for all your excellent blogs.


    • http://twitter.com/littleunred Amy Harrison

      Hey Al, so pleased you enjoyed the article, I have tried to forget what other people think of me too, but haven’t shaken it fully – perhaps there’s a product out there that can help me overcome this fear? 🙂

  • http://www.getting-unstuck.com/http://fearlessdating.wordpress.com/http://www.getting-unstuck.com/ RILEY HARRISON

    Hi Amy,
    To me fear is the one negative emotion that can really stunt one’s life. I don’t think it can be totally eradicated but you must learn to co-exist with it and manage it properly. So any advertising or marketing that helps people effectively deal with their fear has to successful. And because fear is universal, it provides a very large market to those who address the issue of fear in their sales pitch.

    • http://twitter.com/littleunred Amy Harrison

      Hi Riley,

      Absolutely, we already carry our little baggage of personal fears and anything that taps into helping us with those is going to be incredibly motivating. If we’re afraid of being laughed at or failing in our business or public speaksing for example, a product that addresses that fear and then suggests it can remove it will be very persuasive to that individual. It’s why it’s so important to know your audience and especially, know what they are worried about.

  • http://www.slymarketing.com Jens P. Berget

    Hi Amy,

    That’s really interesting. I’ve never played on fears when it comes to marketing, well, except for scarcity. I believe that it’s the easiest one, because all we need to do is have a specific amount of products to a cheaper price or for a given period of time, and people go crazy just to save a few bucks 🙂

    It seems that people don’t realize that this is how it works, but fear is amazing when it comes to marketing. As you’re saying, it’s about making them take action. If you don’t make them, they’ll just wait and forget about your offer 🙂

    Brilliant post.

    – Jens

    • http://twitter.com/littleunred Amy Harrison

      Hey Jens,

      “If it weren’t for the last minute, nothing would get done.” 🙂 Scarcity is a big motivator when it comes to buying, like you say, we like to feel we’ve got a bargain, or saved something, or got an exclusive spot that others don’t have.

      Those kind of “fast action rewards” also help us justify our purchase. We’re buying from an emotional standpoint, but we can say to ourselves that we saved money etc in the process. It’s a way of making us act AND feel better about taking action. Powerful stuff, as you already know – thanks for sharing your experience!