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Stay positive: Negative sales techniques are failing businesses

11th Dec 2013
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Negative emotions such as anger, fear and anxiety are essential to human survival. Our flight or fight response to negative emotion snaps us into action, and so it’s no surprise that business has adopted this trait for marketing.

But according to Dr Lynda Shaw, a cognitive neuroscientist and business improvement psychologist, the positive message could be more affective.

She has said that businesses shouldn’t use fear too much as a sales technique – such as describing a negative consequence if a consumer was to go without a product – because once our brains realise that the stimulus is not an immediate threat, we’re likely to ignore it.

“Fear, uncertainty and doubt does work,” she said. “But it is not effective for a large part of the collective audience.”

In a release supporting her research, she went on to describe why businesses think the negative message is the right approach.

“Whilst our attention automatically zaps to negative messages and many think this means that this is an overriding factor in persuading people to buy etc. it is in fact a misconception.

“Just because our attention automatically goes to something, doesn't mean we will take action because of it. 

“Once the brain realises that the stimulus is not an immediate threat, it is likely to ignore it so the process can be highly ineffectual if reliant on people taking action.”

The result has seen businesses spend years tapping into the public’s vulnerabilities, but with this approach there has always been a prospective group that has not been ‘captured’.

Dr Shaw has said that a positive message is more logical because areas of our brain are programmed to actively seek out and approach reward.

Motivation: more effective when positive

This trait has become evident through the advent of modern neuroimaging techniques, alongside the embracement of studying positive emotion.

The reason for a positive approach being more successful is simple - feeling good is attractive to us and leaves us wanting more.

Dr Shaw believes it’s the hope, resilience and a sense of control that encourages us to take action – which is why more businesses should be following the positive angle in their marketing.

“We all choose the more interesting piece of work to do first, or work a bit harder on our favourite clients, and fulfil the jobs first and with gusto that offers us the most rewards. 

“Positivity works and that is why it is more crucial to the success of business than focusing on fear-inducing tactics.

“We are simply more galvanized when positive rather than negative and businesses need to strive to take this into account if they want to become or remain leaders.”

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