Marketing Step #1: “Do Something. Anything!”

In our book “Why People Don’t Buy Things” we explain the 5 steps people go through in making a buying decision. Knowing where your prospect is in the decision process means the difference between success and failure. Oftentimes they’re stuck at the Do step and aren’t doing anything. The Do step is critical, whether you’re selling life insurance, alumni giving, water filters, or Listerine mouthwash. It’s the first step in the DREAM path.

1. Do
2. Repeat
3. Evaluate
4. Access
5. Money

Our research with over 50,000 consumers indicates that the best way to get people to Do something (ranked) is to: Create the fear, Re-create the pain, Focus on the real issue or Offer a new solution to an old problem. Take Listerine for example.

P&G virtually created the antiseptic mouthwash industry in 1935 with hard hitting ads using fear to motivate trial usage. Supposedly, a copywriter on the Listerine account uncovered the word “halitosis” to promote mouth washing with the product. Ads were directed to women with copy that promoted a new disease, “halitosis.”

“You never know if you have halitosis (unpleasant breath). That’s the insidious thing about it. But others do, and judge you accordingly. What does it matter if you are attractive and engaging if you commit the offense unpardonable? Who cares about your beauty and charm if between stands that insurmountable hurdle, halitosis (bad breath).” – 1935 Listerine ad

Sell the First Insurance Policy

If you’re trying to sell life insurance to a single, young professional who has never even thought about buying life insurance before, it will be a waste of time pitching your low cost. They’re still at the Do stage. They don’t care about price yet because they aren’t even in a buying mode. So you need to help them expand their thinking regarding reasons to consider insurance now…to Do something. One successful fear-oriented approach which life insurance salespeople use is to get the prospect to think into the future where they plan to have a family. They get them to expand their thinking and realize the eventual need for life insurance to ensure that their future family/children can pay for college should they die. Once they agree with this reason to buy, the agent might then explain how “now’s the time to start because the rates are so low at this young age.” The agent that sells the first policy will probably get over 50% of future life insurance policies.

Get Alumni to Start Giving

If you’re in alumni development you know that the biggest challenge is to get donors started with their first gift, of any amount. If you’re trying to get young alumni or students to Start giving, one successful approach is to ask them to give back their school year ($20.12). It’s a nice ASK because giving to one’s school year FEELS good. It also implies that small gifts are important. DePaul University had increases in getting students to start giving, using this approach. Chances are that these students will continue to give annually providing DePaul does a good job at keeping on their “radar screens” with video clips, photos, news about successful alumni, and so forth. Another critical Do step in alumni giving is getting them to visit the campus. The likelihood of giving jumps over 40% among alumni who’ve been on campus recently.

Our experience with PUR Water Filters provides another good example of fear-based marketing.

Your Choice: Leaded vs. Unleaded Water

When we helped PUR water filters launch their patented filter the research revealed that FEAR was the strongest motivator to buy this patented filter. It solved a problem which many prospects didn’t even know existed: lead in the water. Unlike competitive brands, PUR removed 93% of lead. The ad they ran capitalized on this. As a result PUR was able to capture a leading market share in their key distribution channels in less than a year. P&G purchased them a few years later for big bucks.

“To Do Nothing Is to Decide” – Salada Tea Tag

I once wrote this tag line for Salada Tea tags. (It was inspired by a colleague I knew who could never make a decision.) So before you start marketing your product, service or institution, spend some time figuring out where your prospects are on the Decision Path. If you’re trying to “sell them” before they realize they have a need, it will probably prove to be a complete waste of time.


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