strategy

When to Go Negative

Sandra Stewart | December 13, 2008

“Focus on what you do for them. Show how you solve their problem. Benefits, benefits, benefits.” We—and pretty much every other marketing communications consultant—say that all the time. Perhaps too often, and without enough caveats, recent conversations with a client lead me to believe.

If your audience doesn’t believe they have a problem, for example, they’re unlikely to be moved by your solution.  And if you’re trying to create a sense of urgency, you’re unlikely to succeed with a single-minded focus on benefits. Ample research in behavioral economics shows that fear of loss is a much stronger motivator than desire for gain.

What this means: sometimes you have to go negative. Selling water conservation technologies in a rainy region? Your first task is to convince people that wasting water is a problem. Want people to act now? Talk about what they’ll lose if they don’t—in the strongest terms you can support.

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