A Commercial Teaching Message Should Be A Drama, Not A Horror Story
Marketing | Jan 24, 2019 | 3 min read
In his new book, This Is Marketing, Seth Godin draws a critical distinction between constructive tension and fear. Commercial teaching focused on fear can have the opposite effect of what is intended and miss an opportunity to motivate customers to action.
Many marketing gurus will argue the benefits of using fear to capture attention, and point to solid behavioral science to make their case. This blog by Neil Patel is a good example. Loss aversion is a powerful motivator. But having learned this, the temptation is to crank the fear dial as high as it can go. A more balanced strategy is needed, and Seth Godin has a great perspective on it.
Seth's new book is out. It's fantastic! At one point he talks about the concept of “tension” in a commercial teaching situation. This got me very excited, given our focus at Challenger, both on commercial teaching, and for many years on the constructive use of tension in commercial teaching conversations.
Seth brings an interesting caveat to the tension idea. In a related blog, he writes, “Tension [not fear] is the hallmark of a great educational experience.” He's put his finger on a critical nuance. How often do we conflate tension and fear, looking for ominous arguments that will scare the customers we teach to action? We center the message on grisly details meant to shock; YOUR CUSTOMERS WILL HATE YOU!, YOUR EMPLOYEES WILL LEAVE! We throw these out like a monster suddenly jumping from the shadows in a cheap horror movie.
Horror stories come with an undesirable consequence. Fear is not constructive. Rather, it’s distracting and, worse, debilitating. Customers become more cautious, more uncertain and feel less in control of their circumstances when we teach with fear. If they catch on to the tactic, they feel manipulated.
Constructive tension when teaching customers is the subtle anticipation of learning something they don’t already know. As Seth Godin writes, "The tension of if I learn this, will I like who I become?"
Playwright David Mamet says of great plays, “we wish for a closely fought match that contains many satisfying reversals, but which can be seen, retroactively, to have always tended toward a satisfying and inevitable conclusion.”
In marketing, like art, the audience engages in uncertainty, not because they fear the outcome, but because they curiously anticipate it. Here are a few ideas for building tension, not fear in your commercial teaching.
Like creating good art, building commercial teaching messages filled with tension is a craft refined over time. Not everyone can do it well, which means the talented have a comparative advantage. Writing a horror story to give your audience a startled reaction is the easy path, but it’s formulaic and quickly forgotten. Don't take the easy path. Take the dramatic, true and sustained path; it leads to a better ending.
We recently hosted an event in Europe where Arco, a UK-based workwear and safety equipment supplier, presented a commercial insight message with a dramatic teaching narrative they used to motivate customers to action. Check it out below.