Each step of marketing involves getting the potential buyer to proceed to the next step, getting them closer to the actual buy with each step.
This is a micro-yes.
In my experience, there are two major methods used to pull a consumer closer and closer to each micro-yes and then ultimately make a sale.
They are pain and gain.
But which is most effective and why does each one work?
Avoiding pain and gaining pleasure are the roots of all human behavior, no matter how strange our fellow humans can act in pursuit of either. As a marketer, it is your job to probe deeper into those fears and desires for pleasure and turn them into opportunities to sell a product.
WHY DOES IT WORK?
When you focus on the pain of your potential consumers, you are working on one of their most basic instincts and that is to protect what they have. When you use the threat of pain to market to someone in an email, that is a threat that has revealed itself in their inbox. This can spur them to take action because nothing is more alarming to a person than their quality of life being threatened.
In the B2B scope, this can be more of a threat than in B2C, because livelihoods are the way we support countless other aspects of our lives. Threaten someone’s job and you threaten a good chunk of their lives.
By threatening someone with the loss of their livelihood, or at least addressing a negative experience within their livelihood, you are also implying that your product or service will lead to a less negative experience (aka gain!).
Pain is actually stronger than gain for getting people to buy things because we all have something called a negativity bias, which says that we go to greater lengths to avoid pain than we do to seek out pleasure.
This is why negative headlines are likely to get more clicks compared to positive ones. And it would follow that negative email subject lines would follow the same trend.
Neurologically, this is all backed up. Our brains respond to negative stimuli more than positive. That’s why many people focus on their failures as opposed to their successes. It also explains why negative news or political smear campaigns are more talked about than those with a positive message.
WHERE CAN PAIN GO WRONG?
Pain is a scare tactic at its basest level. If you threaten someone too often, or ineffectively, it starts to lose its ability to drive the micro-yes. Think of the old fairy tale of the boy who cried wolf. He cried wolf too many times and it led to his untimely demise. If you constantly are targeting the same people, telling them how they need to download this white paper to save their job, then you will find that they will just roll their eyes and hit the dreaded delete or unsubscribe button.
It is important to be subtle when using pain as a motivator because if negative consequences aren’t realistic or possible, it is more than likely that you will lose both their interest and your credibility.
WHY DOES THIS WORK?
I personally like using gain far more than pain, even if research says that pain is more effective. Apparently, it takes five times the positive instances to make up for one negative instance, though, which is disheartening.
Gain works because instead of making the potential buyer feel they are in danger of losing their job or that their life sucks a lot (because they don’t have your product), you are just trying to show them how much easier/better their lives will be with your product.
My favorite method is when someone takes the time to start educating the consumer before asking the consumer if they want to buy. These are often advertisements for books, webinars, and online courses. They will teach you the beginning skills, or the overview of the skill they are attempting to sell to you. They aren’t in-depth, but right off the bat, they have value. That’s the key. Gain works because instead of evoking negative feelings it focuses on promising potential.
WHERE CAN GAIN GO WRONG?
You can promise too much. That’s really the heart of the issue with gain. If the asset that you talk up doesn’t live up to the hype you created, you’ll be in trouble. You’ll likely get the click, maybe even a download, but that person is no longer a lead because you promised them a filet mignon and you gave them steak-ums. Now, when you try to sell them anything, they’ll associate it with their first encounter with you and it is likely that you won’t get the sale from them. You turned that micro-yes into a micro-no.
But there is another potential issue with using gain in your marketing. It is hard to convince someone that you’re going to teach them something valuable. There’s a reason for that and it is: persuasion is difficult. People are cynical, forcing advertising and marketing to become more and more creative as time passes. If you do a bad job attempting to persuade someone you’re worth it, they might discount you and your product/service in each instance it appears in the future.
In other words, if you aren’t careful, your efforts to extract the “micro-yes” could just as easily result in a “macro-no,” wherein the person in question will never buy from you after your failed efforts.