Using fear in brand development

There are certain things that never change and motivators tend to fall into two categories desires/wants or fear/anxiety.  Both are shown in the diagram above in terms of changing behaviour.

Desires and wants are the background to Outcome Driven Innovation and therefore Jobs to be Done generally. Tony Ulwick is quite categorical that the focus should be on “wants” rather than “needs” which is a great starting point.

But the focus on this blog is on fears for two reasons one is that it is more relevant to observations about my sons (clients like to keep the competitive advantage I give them under wraps)  and because of a recent article from Mark Di Somma which highlights this is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago (you can find the article here and it is well worth a read).

For my sons brands are like intrinsically linked to structure – both brands and structured events (as shown by various visual stimuli) are familiar and the brands (from school uniform to Weetabix) provide certainty and consistency for them in a world that can be incomprehensible.

What struck me about the article was the advice from Martin Lindstrom which was that fear can only be part of any brand’s values as the raison d’etre is that good brands should help people manage their lives:

  • Convert problems into assets – People always have problems. Rather than highlighting those, find answers to the underlying difficulties. For example, he says, no one knew they wanted an airbag, but everyone agreed they wanted safer cars.
  • Add a practical dimension to an irrational decision – if you want people to buy something that rewards them emotionally, find a way to include elements that seal the deal.
  • Don’t just play on the fear. Instead, look for ways to systematically remove it, so that people feel a sense of progress and personal achievement

When I read this highly useful advice I was struck at how fear is connected to the conceptual framework provided by Jobs to be Done (jtbd).  The obvious trigger was the point about safer cars but then I noticed how the system looks at practical dimensions (functional jobs to be done) as well as emotional ones – proving that your product or brand provides a way of resolving this concern can be crucial particularly if you find out it is an unresolved issue.

Finally the jobs to be done system focuses on removing the issue not just playing on it.  The key is talking to customers in a way that is appropriate and this can be done by designing research that does not ask them questions they cannot answer this is one of the key benefits of the Jobs to be done technique.

Brands, particularly those that are niche brands, do themselves appear afraid of talking to their customers for fear that they will be poorly treated (fear of wasting client’s time, fear of making customers appear stupid and fear that they are inconveniencing people by asking for feedback) but a properly constructed research programme can help.

As such you should be looking to protect your brand by working closely with a good researcher – at the start of any project you will know your customers better than we will, you should look for them to incorporate secondary research and transactional data (if relevant) into their findings and in my case I look to undertake as many interviews myself (at the very least the ten pilot/depth interviews).

For my sons the strongest brand combine fear and desire – my elder son loves Sharpie pens because he sees them on Youtube (simple easy art) and knows that they can do the job which he may otherwise be uncertain that he can do.  He also wants to emulate the artist and wants to do his “art” as well as he can which means he wants the best possible tools.

There is little thought in the process the pens give him the confidence to “just do it” without any fears or further desires.

Do you see your brand and providing a similar connection – you may be surprised, particularly if you work in professional services or the business to business world.






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