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Misery Loves to Spend

Apr 29, 2008
The John F. Kennedy School for Government at Harvard University recently released a study that found that even momentary sadness causes people to increase spending.

We know, as persuaders, that consumers buy based on their emotions and gut instincts. Part of how we access these emotions is through criteria elicitation and appealing to their core values. The Harvard study, entitled, "Misery is Not Miserly: Sad and Self-Focused Individuals Spend More" will be published in 'Psychological Science' in June 2008. The study shows that people spend more when they are in sad or inwardly focused states of mind as opposed to people in neutral states of mind.

As persuaders, we can use anchoring and peak emotional states in our sales. We utilize self focus, introspection, and occasionally sadness, when working with our prospects and clients.

The study was performed by inciting a heightened state of self focus. Then the participant was shown either a sad video clip or a neutral video clip which advertised the product they were being presented with. The people who watched the sad clip offered 300% more than the neutral participants.

I suspect that if the folks doing the study also had a very happy, positive video clip of the product, that too would have incited increased spending. And had the researchers been aware of the towards and away continuum, they would have been able to further understand the benefits of peak emotional states in sales.

Towards and away is a powerful tool in determining how your prospect responds in specific contexts. We don't all view the world through rose colored glasses. What this means is that there are some people who will respond positively to a negative attitude.

If you're a financial adviser and you determine your prospect's deepest criteria is 'security', you can then determine the orientation by asking the question, 'What will having financial security do for you?' Depending on the answer, you can fashion the language you use to that orientation, whether towards or away.

If they say, 'Well, I'm tired of worrying about my finances. . .' That's an away from. If they say, 'Well, I just want to stay in control of my finances. . .' That's more of a toward orientation.

With the away from person, you don't want to be optimistic, just as with the toward person, you don't want to be pessimistic. Tailoring your language in such a way that you bring more "pain" to the away person and more "ease" to the toward is really the key to selling.

While the Harvard study has some interesting points, I don't think they got all of the story.
About the Author
Kenrick Cleveland teaches techniques to earn the business of wealthy clients using persuasion. He runs public and private seminars and offers home study courses and coaching programs in persuasion techniques.
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