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Negative versus Positive Marketing Messages: Which Works Best?



Nancy is a small business owner who helps nonprofit groups create fund raising events that can double even triple their average donation.

Until recently, Nancy has gotten her business primarily through in-person meetings: attending networking events, taking people out for coffee, and giving presentations.

In-person is great for getting local business but Nancy wants to serve a national customer base. So she hired someone to design a Web site and using E-mails and postcards to market her services.

She’s been using E-mails and postcards for the last ten months and the results have been dismal.

“I haven’t gotten a single new client,” she told me.

So I took a look at the E-mails she was sending out and I immediately saw the problem.

Enthusiasm Can Turn People Off

Nancy loves her work and really wants her clients to succeed. It’s hard to spend time with her and not get excited about what she’s doing.

Her enthusiasm works to her advantage when she meets people in person.

It seems logical then that enthusiasm would work in all her other marketing.


Establishing Trust is the First Step

There’s a saying, “People want to know you care, before they care about what you know.”

As human beings, we have a natural desire to belong and feel valued. It’s the reason why people hate to be sold to…we don’t feel understood or valued for who we are.

When you meet someone in person, it’s a lot easier to build trust because you can communicate that you care in many ways:  in your tone of voice, in the way you look at others, in your gestures.

For people like Nancy, building trust occurs almost immediately during in person meetings because she communicates that she cares both in what she says and what she doesn’t say.

But when communicating in less personal ways—using E-mail, postcards, and other types of written media, you have only words to work with.

Which means you must take an extra step and deliberately demonstrate
empathy before you enthusiastically share why your products and
services are so wonderful.

Establishing Trust Means Starting with the Negative

So how do you show you care when you use E-mail, Web pages, and other mediums that limit your ability to express yourself?

You start with the problem or pain your customer is likely experiencing.

When you do this you are saying, in effect to your audience:

“I understand you have this problem that you’re struggling to solve.”

“I, too, have struggled with it”

“Through my experience, education, research, etc., I have come up with a solution to solve the problem.”

“My solution will work for you too.”

Once you say these things, you are free to bubble away about your wonderful solution.

Example: Establishing Trust First

So let’s go back to Nancy.

Instead of immediately starting her E-mails off with how she helps her clients double their fund raising results she begins with demonstrating empathy and understanding.


“Non-profits, let me show you how to double, even triple your donations.”


“Non-profits, are you struggling to compete for funding in today’s difficult economy?”

Can you feel the difference?

Nancy’s E-mail then went on to describe her own struggles with fundraising and how she developed her solution.

When Nancy began using this approach, her prospect inquiries immediately increased and she’s now in the process of turning some of the prospects into clients.

But she first needed to demonstrate she understood and cared before they were willing to make the call.

Bottom Line

The less personal the communication, the more important it becomes to first establish trust with your prospects.

For E-mails, blog posts, Web pages, etc.:

  1. Start with the Negative: demonstrate you understand their problem and how they are struggling to find a solution.
  2. End with the Positive: share why your solution is better and will work.