The Feel Good Principle: Making People Feel Better by Avoiding Inadequacy Marketing

We like things that make us feel good.
We avoid stuff that hurts, feels bad, or is painful.
It’s a basic human principle — embrace pleasure, and avoid pain.
This explains why so many of us fail at New Year’s resolutions.

Let’s be honest, most of us suck at resolutions.
Here’s the reason why: they’re usually about things we have shame or feel bad about.
You want to lose 30 pounds, get out of debt and publish a best-selling book — all in 60 days. Of course you do.

Yet those same resolutions often come with a giant pile of insecurities.
Within a few weeks, that sexy new gym membership goes unused and you can’t get past a second draft outline of your Great New Novel.
Cue feelings of guilt, shame, and failure.
Embrace pleasure, avoid pain.

Sad truth: the more we feel bad, the less we tend to face or engage the subject. While this might make Planet Fitness rich from the 1-year membership contract we can’t get out of, it doesn’t actually facilitate the shift in behaviour or thinking we wanted in the first place. Insanity, right?

This has huge implications to the use of storytelling in marketing and change-making work. In fact, it’s been at the heart of my inquiry for the past 12 years.
The same desire for pleasure applies to goals. Goals have to be written in a way that makes you say, “I want that because it makes me feels good.” Otherwise, all the rational thinking in the world won’t get you to eat brussel sprouts, run 5 km a day, or skip your morning latte. The goal itself has to make you feel good, along with a payoff for following through.

In the New York Times Bestseller The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg talks about the three-step process for changing a habit. Want to wake up earlier?
Anchor it.
Step one, set up a cue that triggers your behaviour.
Step two, create a routine.
Step three? Reward yourself for it.

If you want to change a habit, give yourself a positive reinforcement. Once again, make yourself feel good, not bad, about what you want.

If you want to transform how the world thinks about your product, cause, or message, make people feel better about themselves.
Make them feel good without first making them feel like crap!
This flies in the face of what most of us have been taught about marketing.

Invent the disease, give them the cure.
Does this bug you as much as it bugs me?
It’s not really our fault, we’re all following the magic formula we’ve been taught and socialized to use since the dawn of modern advertising.

This is one of the biggest blind spots for marketers, change-agents, and leaders. Especially when you’re making a presentation, selling a product, or leading a transformation.

Both consciously and unconsciously, we use certain patterns to frame our story that make people feel bad — and often times we’re not even aware of it. Then we wonder why we’re not getting the level of engagement, buy-in, or sales that we hoped for!
Most of the stories we tell don’t focus enough on making people feel good.

Reality check: this playbook has been in use by consumer advertising and marketing since World World II and the rise of consumerism. Remind people what they’re missing, lacking, or deficient in. Then give them the cure or pill to make their troubles go away.

Hooray! Your product is the hero. Ahem.

This approach, known as Inadequacy Marketing, preys on people’s vulnerabilities and inherent dissatisfactions of modern life. Some of us celebrate it as Retail Therapy — go buy something expensive and amazingly your troubles/worries/stress will melt away. Of course, this approach doesn’t really work, and comes at a huge cost to our personal and collective wellness.

Inadequacy Marketing is well described in Jonah Sachs 2012 book, Winning The Story Wars: Why Those Who Tell and Live the Best Stories Will Rule the Future:

“Since the emergence of modern marketing, professional communicators have relied on the “inadequacy approach.” Tell your audience that the world is dangerous, that they lack what they need, that they don’t quite fit in. Then offer the magic cure — your product. Our marketing forefathers developed this powerful storytelling language that casts a brand as the hero come to rescue the consumer — the damsel in distress. A 2005 study by consumer-research group Yankelovich revealed that, in the US, people received more than 3,500 commercial messages a day. The majority of them rely on inadequacy stories.” — Jonah Sachs, Wired, 2013.

For far too long, “feel bad marketing” have relied on storytelling tactics that make people feel like sh*t in order to pressure them into needing what one has to sell.
And you wonder why audiences are so cynical and jaded when hearing your message?

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