How To Ethically Inject Fear In Your Copy To Drive Higher Conversions And Sales

You might have a massive problem — a 1950s salesman pitch.

You know:

  • A series of rhetorical questions.
  • Exaggerated problems.
  • A pitch that sounds like it belongs in a cheap blazer and fedora.

Or you could have a list of dry facts. This is what we do. This is how we do it. This is what we charge. This is why it’ll be good for you.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone. 

Improving your conversion rate can be hard. After all, you have to convey all the great aspects of your business to your audience. Then, as soon as you try, you feel overwhelmed. 

You want to make sure you don’t miss anything. You don’t want your customer to “check out” mentally before you finish your pitch, though.

The issue is if you don’t refine your pitch, you won’t stand out from competitors. Worse, you can end up leaving a potential customer feeling annoyed. You might come off like you’re knocking on their door every day, trying to sell them something they don’t want to buy. 

Even a simple list of your business’s pros and cons can make you sound like you aren’t any different. You seem the same as all the other people in your industry. That’s if they read through the whole thing.

All that means people might mistake you for a time-traveling salesman from the 50s.

Don’t worry, though. In this article, we’ll talk about how to ethically inject fear in your copy to make it more distinct and striking. That’ll increase conversions which can grow your business.


Use Common Fears To Sell With Your Copywriting

How to ethically inject fear in your copy to drive higher conversions and sales

Every person you’ve ever met is afraid, and we all share the same basic fears. No, not things like spiders and clowns, or banana stealers (although that is scary stuff). We’re talking genuine, baseline, fundamental fear factors, largely based on life and death, or just general happiness and quality of life.

See, back when we were cavemen, our fears were simple. Things like dinosaurs, starvation, freezing to death, or being alone and open to attack were always on our radar. They were part of everyday life, kind of like how traffic and stores running out of the stuff we want is now a reality.

Even though our society has moved on from those days, our brains haven’t. No, really — one of the most advanced organs in our bodies is actually stuck in time. It’s the whole reason why so many people struggle with nutrition and diets. Our brains constantly work against us to shed the pounds, because it wants to pack on the fat in case we go months in the wilderness without food. It wants to protect us from the harsh winters in the wild, and ensure we have the energy to fight off bears.

Our brains even have a center dedicated to fear called the amygdala. The amygdala handles fear responses and anxiety. Some scientists say that it seems it’s even responsible for how our brains store positive experiences, too. 

The amygdala is also the cause of overreactions. In a situation where emotion is running high, the amygdala can “take over” your brain’s logic center. It’s called an amygdala hijack and it can cause people to act in illogical or inappropriate ways. Or even to do things they normally wouldn’t dream of. So tapping into the amygdala is a powerful thing, for sure.

In fact, there have been studies done on people who have damaged or destroyed amygdalas. Believe it or not, even they feel fear when put into life-threatening situations. So it seems that no matter what we do, we can’t ever truly remove fear from our lives. 

This is a good thing though — don’t get me wrong.

Those fears still control all our decisions, even ones that aren’t life or death anymore. Our lives might’ve swapped dinosaurs for disagreements with the in-laws, but our brains react the same way. 

Which means you can use your copy to calm those fears, and show your customers your brand is a safe place for them. 

Calming your customers’ fears is the quickest way to get them on your side, by showing them that you’re on theirs. Your copy should point out your customers’ fears and show them you can fix the problem. It’s a great way to tell them, clear as a bell, “We’re a team now. I’m fighting for you.”

How to ethically inject fear in your copy to drive higher conversions and sales

This works in many different ways. For instance:

  • It helps people feel less alone on transformative journeys (think weight loss or love coach programs)
  • It helps people feel more confident in a positive outcome, since they have a support system (you) to count on — assuming you’ve built up enough trust with the audience
  • It helps people click that CTA button and buy your offer, because they feel more secure about the whole thing (which means higher conversion rates for you)

All in all, there’s no losing scenario when you tap into your customer’s fears and show some sympathy and understanding. So let’s go over the most common and simple fears. Then I’ll show you how you can leverage them and incorporate them smoothly into your copy.

Here's how you can lift your conversions through copywriting.


What Are We Afraid Of?

How to ethically inject fear in your copy to drive higher conversions and sales

Everyone has the same fears because everyone has the same needs. Psychologist Abraham Maslow created a list of these basic needs. He called it the "Hierarchy of Needs" and represented it as a pyramid. Basics, like food and safety, are at the bottom, and self-fulfillment needs, like creative outlets, are at the top. 

Maslow organized the pyramid like this after studying students in college. He noticed that our mental faculties of reason and creativity depend on our physical needs. You’ve experienced this before. You’ve had a night of bad sleep and been grouchy all day or felt out of sorts from being hungry. 

After those needs are fulfilled, we can get bored. That’s where the self-fulfillment needs come in. Everyone has varying levels of self-fulfillment needs. Not everyone is going to become the next Picasso just because they’re safe and fed.

You can break down how to fulfill the needs at the top of the pyramid easily. Self-fulfillment needs are helping someone reach their full potential. Think of Mastermind classes, reading books, and pursuing hobbies more freely. These are all things that can help you to feel content and that you’re living your life to the fullest.

That’s all great stuff, but I know you’re wondering — how do I use this in my copy? Advertising consultant Drew Eric Whitman adapted the pyramid for sales. He called these desires “The Life Force 8”. Here’s his list -

  1. Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension 
  2. Enjoyment of food and beverages 
  3. Freedom from fear, pain, and danger 
  4. Sexual companionship
  5. Comfortable living conditions 
  6. To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses 
  7. Care and protection of loved ones 
  8. Social approval 

Or to give a more concrete example: 

  1. Bananas will make you live longer
  2. Bananas taste better than apples
  3. Having a banana in your pocket makes you braver
  4. Bananas will make you more attractive
  5. Bananas make your house smell nice
  6. Everyone on your block eats bananas
  7. Giving bananas to your kids is good for them
  8. Others will think more of you if you eat bananas (Well, I will, at least.)

These are desires everyone has in common. Just like fear, they’re things we can’t ever really shake. Take number 8, social approval, for instance. You might hear someone say (or even tell yourself), “I don’t care what people think of me.” But I bet if you think about it, what you mean is “I don’t care what some people think of me.”

You care very much what certain people think of you. You might place other desires on the list ahead of general social approval, but our brains are built to want it, anyway. The same goes for everyone, across the board, regardless of age or any other demographics for that matter.

Going back to the cave days again, social approval helped ensure we could stay with our group and have safety in numbers. All the “Life Force 8” are connected to a basic survival instinct like that in some way.

Since there are only 8, you can definitely find a strong connection to at least one of them, probably two or more. Think about why you went into the industry you’re in. What kinds of problems did you want to solve? Why did you want to solve those problems specifically, out of all the other problems in the world?

Your customers and potential customers want those same problems solved. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be looking at your copy. Connecting to your audience on their problems makes them feel understood. It’s the most persuasive way to show them you’re exactly what they need.

Learn more about the different emotions you should highlight in your copy to increase sales here.


Which Fears Make Sales?

How to ethically inject fear in your copy to drive higher conversions and sales

Finding which of the “Life Force 8” you can use in your copy is essential. 

If you try to hit all 8 categories, you’ll be back to over-the-top lists of 50s salesmen again. It also makes your copy sound fishy. Even in my list about bananas, not all of them hit. After all, just because having a banana around may make me braver, that’s not the case for everyone. 

Pick one or two fears, and be specific. Don’t over-generalize or copy and paste directly from the “Life Force 8” list. Being specific about your audience’s pain points will make your copy impactful. That’s exactly what you want. 

For instance, imagine a pitch saying, 

“Do you want enjoyment from food and beverages? Bananas are enjoyable.”

It doesn’t have much of a “wow” factor, does it? The desire is too general. It doesn’t give a good reason for what it’s saying, or imply one. And it’s plain old boring. Try this one:

“Is your usual lunch routine boring? Bananas can add the sweetness you’ve been missing in your meals, and they’re easy to take with you anywhere!”

This is pitching to the same pain point, but doing so in a more relatable way. I was specific about what kind of food (lunch) and what type of enjoyment (sweetness). This made the copy more personable. It’s easier to read. And it’s the kind of thing to get people excited about bananas.

At least, it’s the kind of thing that will get certain people excited about bananas. People who feel their lunch routine needs something sweet, to be specific. This is why it’s important to know your audience. When you know your specific audience, you can pinpoint their most important desire.

Knowing your audience’s desires will help you to understand what’s going on in their head. Walking in their shoes like this can help you to write compelling copy. If you aren’t writing about your favorite things, that makes all the difference in the world.

Shift attention to the desires your copy most closely matches. This focuses your customers on the best parts of your business. It will help it resonate with them because they’ll feel understood. That means more conversions and more sales.

So rather than trying to list all the reasons above to buy bananas in one piece of copy, I should pick one. Which one I pick depends on who my target audience is. If I’m selling mainly to parents, I could focus on “care and protection of loved ones”. This way, my target audience feels I understand why they’re looking for snacks to give their kids. 

How to ethically inject fear in your copy to drive higher conversions and sales

Again, be careful about listing too many at once. For instance, parents may also feel the desires of 

  • Survival, enjoyment of life, life extension - they want their kids to survive, they want a long life themselves 
  • Enjoyment of food and beverages - they want their kids to like the snacks they provide
  • To be superior, winning, keeping up with the Joneses - they want to give their kids snacks that are “up to scratch” with other parents’ snacks
  • Social approval - they don’t want to be judged for the snacks they give their kids

Trying to put all these together could go one of two ways. First, your copy could be another 50s salesman pitch. The desires that can otherwise be so compelling will fall flat crammed together. They become just another part of a dry list. 

Secondly, and more importantly, using too many of the Life Force 8 will make your audience suspicious and uncomfortable. Think about an infomercial, for example. It’s easy to make fun of the exaggerated acting, but what’s the real reason you’re turned off to their ideas? Infomercials notoriously list problem after problem. Then pose their product as the One, Life-Changing Solution. 

Infomercials feel cheap as a result. They make you feel like they’re just trying to exploit any problem they could think of. Because, well, they are. You don’t feel that they understand you. 

Being specific about your customers’ pain points makes you personable. Your customers will feel relieved. They’ll think, “Oh, finally! Someone who knows exactly what I’m looking for!”

Know the reasons why consumers purchase things in this article.


Handling Objections

How to ethically inject fear in your copy to drive higher conversions and sales

Just pointing out your customers’ fears will do you no good if you can’t calm them. It’ll make your website look like you’re yelling “BOO! Now buy my product.” That’s not a convincing pitch, at all. Well, unless you’re pitching to a ghost of a 50s salesman. Then maybe. 

Since you’re probably not pitching to ghosts, how should you write? First of all, remember that no one likes feeling too scared. So you’ll want to stay away from descriptions that are too graphic or too specific. Imagine if I was writing a piece of copy to sell bananas to parents, after all, and I said:

“Childhood obesity in America is a problem and feeding your kids processed snacks could give your little angel type two diabetes, needing constant finger sticks and injections just to survive. Or early heart problems due to high cholesterol and fats in their blood, requiring medications that are usually prescribed to middle-aged or elderly people. Bananas are much better for your kids.”

Yikes. No parent wants to read that, and they’ll quit and move on before I’ve even gotten to how I could help them. They’re looking for snacks that can help them make sure their kids are healthy. This copy barely even mentions the solution.

On top of that, it doesn’t just showcase a pain point - it’s salt in the wound for a worried parent. If the parent wasn’t anxious, to begin with, this copy would only make them feel uncomfortable, not reassured. 

Your customers want to know that you’re someone they can trust. Be quick to point out their fears, but even quicker to calm them. Let’s try that copy again. What if instead, we write:

 “Childhood obesity in America is a problem. Feeding your kids processed snacks could put them on the path to health problems early in life. Bananas are a healthy way to give your kids the energy they need without extra sugars or fats. Bananas are also high in Vitamin C to boost your kids’ immune system.”

Much better. My target audience feels that I understand their desire to keep their kids healthy. They can see my solution quickly. This piece of copy makes parents feel that I’m looking out for them and their kids.

This copy touches on the pain point and then soothes it right away. It mentions the worry of childhood obesity without going into detail. Then, it answers the problem of childhood obesity almost immediately. Finally, it solves another problem - boosting kids’ immune systems. Maybe before the reader has even thought of it themselves.

Your customers want to know that you have their best interests in mind. Soothing their fears can help to show that. Solving problems they weren’t even thinking of will seal the deal. 

When you solve problems your customers didn’t initially think of, it makes them feel that you have their back. They feel they can trust you. Now more than ever, people want to stick with brands they trust to behave ethically. 

Giving solutions before the customer asks is a way to solidify in your customers’ minds that you’re one of those brands. They don’t feel the need to worry that you’re going to be selling them a solution that causes more problems. They know that you’re looking out for problems just like them.

Learn how to trigger emotions in your copy here.


Calming (And Stoking) Fears To Make Sales

How to ethically inject fear in your copy to drive higher conversions and sales

A relatable pitch isn’t unreachable or even difficult. It’s all about connecting with your audience’s fears — fears that aren’t too different from your own. You can use the “Life Force 8” to find those fears with even more ease. 

Using fears that everyone has and presenting clear solutions will make you stand out to your audience. No more 50s salesman in an ill-fitting suit pounding on their door. Instead, they see a personable professional who knows what they need. 

Without fear, you’ll end up with copy that’s uninteresting or dry. Using fears that aren’t relevant to your audience means you’ll hit a similar problem. 

If you’re unclear about the problems you’re trying to solve, you may end up with a list that sounds random. That list can harm instead of help, particularly if it’s too long. A long list can make your audience feel manipulated. 

So keep things short and to the point. Be specific and use fears your audience relates to. Of course, you also want to calm those fears quickly. Otherwise, your potential customers will run away as fast as they can. You’ll be the “scary” brand, and you don’t want that. 

Calming fears with confidence shows your customers that you’re a person they want to stay with. Solving a problem before it’s even mentioned will knock your copy even further out of the park.

Most importantly, calming your customers’ fears will improve conversions. It shows you’re the clearest choice in your industry. Customers now do a lot of research before they make a decision. Once they see someone who makes them feel safe and understood they stop shopping around.

Make sure you’re the business they stop on.


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About Daniel Doan

Daniel is a proven Neuro-Response copywriter with over a decade of expertise bridging the gap between what your company wants to say and what your customers actually want to read.

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