Hope Sells

Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.

Albert Einstein

This article won’t demonize fear, believe it or not. Some brands, such as home security systems, can’t live without it. But most brands can, whether they know it or not.

The key to using hope in marketing is understanding what it is. According to a 2005 paper by Deborah J. MacInnis and Gustavo E. de Mello titled, The Concept of Hope and Its Relevance to Product Evaluation and Choice, hope is “a positively valenced emotion evoked in response to an uncertain but possible goal-congruent outcome.”

Many marketers craft messages of hope quite naturally without even realizing it. The language is very familiar to most of us:

  • “Become your better self!”
  • “Be all that you can be!”
  • “Lose the baby weight!”
  • Etc.

Someone resonating with these messages wants to be their better self, or to be all that they can be, or to lose their baby weight. It’s in line with their personal goals. And all goals are personal. Even the loftiest corporate objectives must be embodied by individuals in order to become accomplishments. So start by understanding what your audience wants. Not what your reader’s employer wants, but what the reader wants. “Cut costs” can easily be a corporate objective, but hope is an emotion, and corporations can’t feel emotions, only people can.

So when you’re framing your message, understand what the reader might want personally. If cutting costs is the message to convey, show how cutting those costs might benefit the reader. You might use an image of a line graph that shows decreasing numbers over time, but might two employees congratulating each other be more appealing to the reader? The reader wants to achieve the corporate mission, but more importantly wants to feel successful doing it. Sell the hope of success.

In order to invoke hope, the outcome has to seem uncertain. At the same time, the outcome has to seem possible. If the outcome seems certain, it becomes an expectation. If the outcome doesn’t seem possible, it becomes despair.

It doesn’t matter how uncertain or how possible the outcome appears to be, just that there’s some degree of both present. Studies have shown that patients who are facing very low odds of survival can still take comfort in the hope of a cure.1

In these uncertain times, we’ve all been inundated with fearful headlines and messaging to the point of numbness. It doesn’t matter on which side of an issue one stands, fear has been used as a prime influencer to effect behavior this year. It’s nothing new.

But fear without hope is a very ineffective message. It only makes problems larger than they are. A company selling security systems might raise the specter of home invasions, but probably won’t induce you to buy without instilling the hope of avoiding them.

When was the last time a customer ever thanked you for making their problem larger?

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