Ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed?
Of course you have. We all have.
Ever wake up on the wrong side of the bed, and then have to be cheery? Like, interact in social media? Write an engaging blog post? Put together a lovable email marketing campaign?
Ugh. Those are the times you wish you could shut out the world, or at least channel a little of your inner snark. Well, the good news is you can do that once in a while, and your marketing results may even thank you for it! Sometimes, it's good to embrace the negative -- whether it's shutting out audiences, casting a villain, or even just a less than cheerful attitude. (Trust me -- this will all make sense in a second.)
So, here we go ... if you ever wake up wanting to shut out the world, here's how you can take it out (positively!) in your marketing.
8 Opportunities to Be More Negative in Your Marketing
1) Create Negative, or Exclusionary Personas
Let's start with something a little bit easier to swallow than just being a total grumpy pants -- exclusionary personas. Exclusionary personas, sometimes also referred to as negative personas, are kind of like the opposite of buyer personas -- they're the personas of the people you do not want to target in your marketing.
This is about more than just recognizing that not everyone in the world is a potential future customer -- it's about recognizing that your marketing attracts certain types of people who totally clog up your funnel, waste your sales team's time, and will never become customers. Why won't they ever become a customer? Could be a lot of things -- they don't have the budget, or they're just fans of your content or social media presence. Or maybe they do become customers, but they cost you a ton of money; for instance, they could have a high acquisition cost, or a high propensity to churn.
In this case, it behooves you to identify who these folks are so you can ensure you either 1) stop creating content that draws in the wrong people, or 2) let them keep reading and engaging with your content to help you spread your reach, but keep them from getting rotated to sales reps using methods like assigning them a low lead score.
2) Leverage Exclusivity
This is the VIP, red-carpet tactic we all know and love (or love to hate). When you tell someone they can't have something, or what they want is scarce, it often makes them want it more. You know, the whole "playing hard to get" thing we've all either been victim of or practiced ourselves at one point or another in our love lives. This just so happens to be a common sales tactic, but marketers can use it, too. Tell prospects they can have an offer ... but only for a limited time. Or only for the first 10 that respond in social media. Heck, you don't even always have to tell them what it is. The 11K Club, which I wrote about in more detail in this post about leveraging exclusivity in your marketing, launched a campaign where they asked people to sign up for something -- but they couldn't tell you what.
I totally signed up.
This tactic is particularly popular with savvy ecommerce shops, too -- ModCloth, for instance, frequently sends me emails letting me know that an item I like is so popular, it's almost out of stock. "Oh no! Everyone else is snagging it! I have to get it before I'm left out!"
The moral of the story? Leave people out once in a while. If everyone gets something, it's not as special. And when you go VIP, the ones who do get it feel uber-special. (There ... we just turned a negative into a positive. See?)
3) Craft Negative Titles and Headlines
I don't know what this says about human nature, but there's an undeniable correlation between page views and negativity. Consider these titles that showed up while scanning CNN's homepage today:
- What you get wrong about BBQ
- Worst U.S. cities for allergies
- Ivy leagues accepting fewer students
- Could our favorite flavorings be damaging our DNA?
- Beware the parental overshare
These are about clicks. No question about it. We all know the news has gone the negative route for years, and they do it because it works.
Now, you shouldn't throw out some inflammatory headline just to get clicks -- if you're going to get negative with your titles, you have to back it up with some solid content that actually merits that bombastic title of yours. Here are a few examples that worked out extremely well for us:
- 15 Things People Absolutely Hate About Your Website
- 13 Hilarious Examples of Truly Awful Stock Photography
- Your Mom Hates This Blog Post
- Does Google Hate Small Businesses?
4) Create a Bond Over a Shared Negative Experience
Alright, now we're getting warmed up! So you're throwing out some negative titles, but have you considered drawing that negativity into your content? When you draw on a negative situation in your content -- particularly right in the beginning -- it can actually help reader retention and engagement. Some marketers are afraid to stir up negative feelings in their reader, but it can actually create a shared experience and tap into a level of emotion that some may not expect to get while reading marketing content, particularly if you're a B2B marketer.
I mean, that's why I started this post the way I did -- getting up on the wrong side of the bed is an experience everyone I know can relate to. And sometimes, it's easier to form a bond with someone over a shared negative experience than something warm and fuzzy.
But be forewarned -- once you have a bond with the reader based on a shared negative experience, it's crucial to shift the mood to something more positive and solution-oriented. People like to know they're not alone (misery loves company), but most don't like to dwell on the negativity.
5) Cast Some Villains
Just like we can all bond over a shared negative experience, so too can we bond over a common enemy. Casting a villain has been a common marketing tactic for years, and I'm not just talking about the Hamburglar. Villains can take more subtle forms, playing on common tropes -- the dopey husband, the nagging girlfriend, the jerk boss. These take common experiences and personify them in order to elicit a feeling in the consumer, and help tell the story you're trying to tell. For a great example of using multiple villains in your marketing, just check out Career Builder's 2009 Super Bowl commercial, brought to my attention via Graeme Newell and 602 Communications.
6) Stir Up Some Controversy
This one's not for the faint of heart, but if you feel confident about your brand, your PR team, and your position on an issue, you can take a controversial stance on a popular topic. This does a few things for your marketing:
- Positions yourself as a thought leader (only if your thought was a good one -- so try to make sure it is)
- Sends a ton of traffic your way
- Helps you define your brand
- Drives natural PR
- Elicits strong emotions, both positive and negative
That last one is what I want you to pay the most attention to. When you take a staunch position on a polarizing issue, you will have people that despise you for it. You will also generate some seriously ardent supporters. If you're going to play the controversy game, be prepared to deal with both, because while some results could be really exciting for your brand, some backlash will inevitably come with it.
7) Use Data to Build a Case Around Why Something Stinks
Let's start this off with an example, since we did this just this morning in our blog post, "Why the Blog Post Is the New Ad Unit." The beginning of the post included this data point:
While clickthrough rates (CTR) are not the only metric by which you can measure a banner ad's performance, typical online banner ad units achieve a CTR of 0.10% according to MediaMind's Global Benchmarks Report, and that figure is on a downward spiral due to banner blindness, among other things.
You build a case around why one thing stinks (banner ads) ... so you can show why something else is awesome (blog posts). This can be made even more compelling if you have two data points that demonstrate a stark contrast; the juxtaposition of positive and negative paints a pretty dramatic picture in readers' minds, and the succinct data points make it easy to quickly demonstrate the bad versus the good.
8) Make Fun of Yourself
Finally, turn that negativity inward. A little self-deprecation can be fun for others, makes you seem more human, and actually might make you feel better about your slip-ups. After all, we all have them, and it's important to learn how to make light of your mistakes. For example, this very feeling was the impetus for a blog post we wrote several months ago: our very own Marketing Hall of Shame. In it, we detailed some of our dumbest marketing mistakes. It was helpful not only in the "being-the-first-to-laugh-at-yourself" way, but because people can learn from these mistakes, and hopefully not have to repeat them.
When Negativity Backfires
All this being said, it's important to always consider whether your negativity is going to backfire. Are you being an unadulterated jerkface? Is this negativity going to be lost on your audience? Does your buyer persona really hate this kind of stuff?
For instance, something that almost always comes off as totally petty and unnecessarily negative is bickering with competitors. I mean, think about how annoying political ads are; you certainly don't want to come off like that. I think one piece of advice from my childhood can sum up how you should approach bickering with competitors:
"If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."
Yes, even if they started it.
It's also important to remember that any negativity you draw on needs to be tempered with some positivity. For instance, we learned this the hard way with a post we published a few months ago called, "101 Sure-Fire Ways to Make People Hate Your Marketing." It was a snark fest, but it didn't perform that well, and some readers thought it was just too much negativity. The lesson? If you're going to get snarky, 101 doses of it may be too much. Furthermore, had the balance of the post been tipped more heavily toward positive things, like how to fix these 101 mistakes, the response may have been more positive.
Finally, I think striving to be inspirational should always be an aspiration for marketers. There's no question that marketers capable of inspiring people -- take charity:water's unbelievable case study videos, or even our own founder Dharmesh Shah's deck on creating a company we love at HubSpot -- see unbelievable success from their efforts. In fact, I think if you're able to inspire people in your marketing, the effects last much longer, and are much stronger than any of these negative tactics.
What do you think about getting a little negative in your marketing? Do you ever get a bit edgy, or do you keep it to more behind-the-scenes stuff, like exclusionary personas? Share your thought in the comments!
Originally published Apr 3, 2013 2:00:00 PM, updated April 09 2019