Want To Get Your Readers’ Attention? Scare Them

One of the hardest things to get right in B2B writing is choosing the right way to approach your topic. It’s easy enough to say, for instance, that you’re going to write about artificial intelligence (AI). Everybody is interested in AI. But how can you find an angle on that much-discussed topic that will make readers sit up and take notice?

One way to grab your readers’ attention and keep it is to scare them.

Businesspeople reach out to vendors when they have a problem. Think about your own business. You might call an IT provider when you’re running out of data storage, you’re worried about a cyber breach, or your systems have stopped talking to each other. You don’t pick up the phone when everything is running smoothly, or because you have a sudden urge to own a shiny new robot.

Purchasing goods or services for fun is something we do in our leisure time. Then we buy stuff we don’t really need, like a Bose speaker system, a puppy, or cooking lessons.

That kind of buying is fun.

Buying an enterprise-wide cybersecurity assessment is not fun. That, of course, is why it’s called work.

So, if business executives don’t buy for fun, why waste time describing the fun of anything?

Sticking with AI, here are the titles of four recent articles:

  • What Will Our Society Look Like When Artificial Intelligence Is Everywhere?
  • 31 Ways AI Will Affect the Future of Entertainment
  • 18 Artificial Intelligence Researchers Reveal the Profound Changes Coming to Our Lives
  • 7 Predictions on the Future of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning

These aren’t bad articles. But there’s not much reason for someone running a business to read them – or call the people that wrote them – unless she has a great deal of time on her hands or she’s a total AI nerd. The first prediction in #4 is that “AI will empower businesses by giving to analysts, developers, marketers and many more professionals the chance to interact and understand users much better.” Maybe so. And that might be fun one day. But there’s nothing in the article that tells a CEO or COO what she should do about it today. Or tomorrow.

By contrast, here are four recent AI articles that might catch an executive’s attention:

  • What Boards Need to Know About AI
  • Artificial intelligence: The time to act is now
  • Why Companies That Wait to Adopt AI May Never Catch Up
  • 3 Things AI Can Already Do for Your Company

It is clear what these articles are about, and why an executive might want to read them. They all tickle the fear bone. Is there something my board may not know about AI? Why is the time to act on AI now? Are we already hopelessly behind on AI? What advantages are my competitors gaining with AI while we sit here twiddling our thumbs?

These articles appeal to fear and greed, not to the rainbows and unicorns of an imaginary future.

Now, to modify my theory of purchasing behaviors slightly, we do, of course, make many purchases in our private lives that are driven by need. No one buys car insurance for the fun of it. And, in fact, many executives have invested company money in a beautiful dream because they wanted to. A former CEO of Ford who once led the acquisition of loss-making Jaguar Cars, admitted (to an MBA class) that he did so because he wanted to, irrespective of what the numbers said.

So, it’s possible to sell to a business based on a bright new future just around the corner; tech companies have been doing that for decades, with some success. But if you want a surer way to get an executive to call you for help, you might try to scare him.

Fear is a powerful motivator. And, in your trembling heart, you know I’m right.

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