Sex, fear and greed: the key ingredients for successful communication



What does it really take to get your message noticed, let alone acted upon?


If you think your product or service is so great it’ll speak for itself, or that you only have to list how its features are demonstrably better than the competition’s, then I’m afraid you’re in for a disappointment.


With the current narrative around marketing promising the benefits of the latest toys (sorry – ‘tech’) such as Artificial Intelligence and (the even more mysterious) ‘digital transformation’, you might be forgiven for thinking we now live in the Age of the Algorithm. An epoch in which, given the right data and software, all the challenges thrown up by having to deal with those awkward creatures called customers can be solved by the priests of the Church of Data Science.


And you’d be very wrong.


If you work in any aspect of Marketing you’re in the persuasion business. That’s you’re sole purpose. In order to persuade me to listen your message and to behave in the way you want, you have a huge challenge. In fact, your single biggest problem is the fact that everybody else is trying to do the same thing. And, as a ‘prospect’ I’m as likely to remember your message as a goldfish with Alzheimer’s is to remember the Gettysburg Address.


So, the most effective way to influence my behaviour is not to try and persuade me with a rational argument based on my demographic profile or my past behaviour. It’s not to reel out a series of reasons to buy - no matter how compelling you may think they are.


No, if you want to change my behaviour you need to go back a step. In fact, you have to go back quite a lot of them and learn from the world’s first marketing guru - Aristotle. He recognised that before you can get an audience to buy your rational argument – e.g. 


“Let’s go to the ends of the known world and maybe, get rich. Trust me, it’ll be fine…” 


you first need to tap into their emotions:


“Imagine your name being spoken of in thousands of years to come…”


Well, it worked for his star pupil and the rest, as they say, is history.


But, what’s all this got to do with sex? 


Quite simply, because emotion drives behaviour.


If you want to persuade someone to change their behaviour you need to find the right emotional buttons to press. These will vary according to the audience and to the category you’re promoting. For example, a designer fashion brand might get the attention of a young male audience by framing their message in terms of implying ‘Wear this label and you’ll instantly become attractive to the opposite sex’; an SUV manufacturer might want the mother of young children to feel anxious about driving a car that isn’t perceived to be as safe as their latest model; a gambling advert will prime the audience towards greed with images that are associated with opulence; a life insurer might seek to shame a middle-aged father into buying a policy (“Don’t be the kind of father that doesn’t provide for your children…”).


Get the emotional hook right and you’ll stand a far better chance of achieving cut-through. Then (and only then) can you start talking about reasons to listen to your message. 

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