Marketing truths: People buy pleasure, not prevention
Ian Lurie Jul 8 2011
People buy pleasure, not prevention. I know, deep for a Friday afternoon. It’s a rule that’s helped me sell for years, though. Try it on for size:
Bike helmets and prevention: A marketing failure
It’s hard to scare people into buying something.
When I was in law school, I worked in a bicycle shop that sold a lot of kids’ bikes. Parents would shell out $200 on a bicycle their child was going to ride for a year.
But half of them balked at paying $45 for a helmet. I’d beg. I’d plead. I’d tell them to buy a cheaper bike and get the helmet. I’d show them my Lucky Helmet, which took a car door at 35 mph. I explained how that helmet saved my life. Nothing.
I’d get all manner of excuses: My son won’t wear it. I never needed one when I was growing up. My daughter will just lose it. I heard a kid fell into a lake and drowned because of his helmet (I’m not kidding, someone said that).
Even today, on my street, I’ll see at least half the kids skateboarding, cycling and scootering sans helmet. The stats are crystal-clear: Wear a helmet, no brain damage. Skip the helmet get brain damage.
Doesn’t matter. Folks don’t want to pay money to prevent bad things. They’re not evil. They don’t want to even imagine their child sustaining a major head injury. So they don’t. They look the other way. Nothing to see here. La la la.
They refuse the helmet. It reminds them of Bad Things That Can Happen. And that means they have to admit bad things really can happen. Which is, of course, just ridiculous. Right?
Lots of people won’t buy prevention because it scares them.
Pet clothing and beds: The greatest boondoggle ever
Pleasure, on the other hand, sells like crazy.
I’ll bet the no-helmet parents will plunk down $150 for a nice, fluffy, heated pet bed for their yappy Terrier. This creature is descended from animals that slept on frozen snow and snared foot-long rats out of burrows with their teeth. The chance little Fifi needs a nice bed? Zero. The chance little Fifi will even use the bed? Slightly above zero.
But people buy the pet beds.
Dog beds claim to provide pleasure. If the yappy dog snoozes comfortably in the cushy bed, the owners feel good. Even if Fifi ignores the bed, the owner gets to feel like a Good Dog Owner, which is in itself a good thing.
They’re buying pleasure.
The lesson: Make it Good
This sounds pretty cynical. I guess it is. But you can use it for all manner of good stuff:
Whatever you’re selling, make it a provider of good. Not a preventer of bad.
Don’t sell burglar protection. Sell security.
Don’t sell bike helmets. Sell really cool Transformer helmets that every kid’s gonna want.
Sell a ‘good’, not a preventer of ‘bad’, and you’ll beat your less savvy competitors.
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Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More