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Want to Increase Your Average Order Value? Frustrate Your Customers

“You’re gonna get a tetanus infection.”

“And, then, you’re gonna die.”

Howard Leventhal invited students to participate in what they thought was an evaluation of public health brochures. He divided them into two groups and then showed each group a tetanus brochure. The students read the brochure and then filled out an evaluation report.

Those in the “high fear” group received a brochure with horrifying images of what tetanus does to people.

People in the “low fear” group got less language and horror.

Leventhal wanted to see if more fear = more persuasion.

It didn’t.

His classic study showed that fear, by itself, paralyzes its victims. In fact, only one person in the entire group decided to get a tetanus vaccination.

Fear failed to persuade.

But, it wasn’t because his students didn’t understand the problem. Leventhal’s research showed that every student understood how serious tetanus was and how important it was to be vaccinated.

Some students planned on getting vaccinated.

But, only one student (a measly 3.3%) actually followed through.

Fear + the solution changed everything.

Leventhal decided to give his “high fear” group guidance. He shared specific, step-by-step instructions on what to do. He drew students a map and told them where to go.

And the results?

He saw a tenfold increase in conversion.

Research studies continue to confirm Leventhal’s findings. Using fear and the solution together increases the likelihood that your customer will buy. Fear is what we remember. It creates what Martin Lindstrom calls “somatic markers,” or brain shortcuts that link your brand to your customer’s fear.

Do you want to prevent a heart attack? You need Bayer. Are you struggling with erectile dysfunction? You need Viagra.

Fear is the problem, and problems need solutions.

When our fear has a solution, we’re far more likely to take it.

But, what happens with most upsells?

They offer their customers a product. They lead with features and benefits. They’ve done their research, and they’re targeting the right audience.

Some customers said they were ready to buy.

And then… Those customers said no. Remarkably, they say no, even when they need your product.

What your customers really need is frustration.

They need to experience the stress and anxiety that comes with the problem. The problem gives your products (your solutions) context.

Customers need you to frustrate them.

Whaaaat? Frustrate your customers? Isn’t that manipulative or counterproductive?

Not only is it not manipulative or counterproductive, it’s necessary. Increasing your average order value depends on your ability to re-create the customer’s problem. But, you’ll need to give their frustration purpose and direction if you want to convert it into money.

What do you expect when you hear “Tonight at 10”?

You prepare for the bad news, because you know it’s coming. Your news anchor won’t use those words without telling you about the fire, robbery, murder, or destruction that follows.

It isn’t pleasant, but it does get your attention.

It provokes a strong emotional response, so much so that some people decide to ignore the news altogether. “It’s mostly bad news,” they say. Regardless of which side you’re on, one thing is clear.

The news thrives on problems. As the saying goes, “If it bleeds, it leads.”

But, why are we so focused on finding problems? And, what does this have to do with increasing average order value?

All of your customers are obsessed with problems: finding problems, spotting problems, avoiding problems, and fixing problems.

Problems create stress and anxiety. They raise our blood pressure. But, they also get our attention. When we discover a problem, we’re more receptive to the solution because…

Problems create stress and anxiety.

Solutions relieve stress and anxiety.

We’re all on an obsessive hunt for problems.

Each of us is born with what researchers call a “negative bias.” Dr. John Cacioppo at the University of Chicago discovered our brains react more strongly to negative stimuli.

He recorded activity in the brain and discovered there’s a greater surge in brain electrical activity when we view something we think is negative. He also found that our attitudes are more heavily influenced by bad news than by good news, more by problems than by solutions.

So, what do most marketers do?

They peddle the solution. But, a solution without a problem is an annoyance. A solution without a problem does not create desire in customers. It increases resistance.

That’s because a solution can’t relieve a non-existent problem.

When the solution comes first, there’s no problem to solve. There’s no context. A customer wonders why they’d need your upsell. They can’t think of a reason.

So, they say no.

This brings us to your average order value.

Every product, and every service or opportunity, creates more problems.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Neil Patel recently started promoting QuickSprout University. He offers short, concise videos that show marketers how to generate traffic. Visit his page, and in a few seconds, you see this:

Quick Sprout University

If you want to decline his offer, you need to assert that you don’t want more traffic, which leads you to this:

Quick Sprout University-2

Here, you’ll either sign up or assert that you can’t be bothered to improve your conversion rate. But, who would say that? Of course, you want more traffic and a better conversion rate!

This suggestive selling puts would-be customers in the right frame of mind. It shifts the focus from an explicit yes or no to “this is my problem.”

Threadless sells t-shirts, and they rely on a community of artists to create their designs. Their customers make a mad dash for the “add to cart” button whenever a popular design becomes available.

But, why?

Funny t-shirts aren’t exactly a must-have. Aren’t there lots of places that sell funny t-shirts? What makes Threadless so special?

The Communist Party Threadless.com

No one else sells these t-shirts. If you want these t-shirts, you’ll have to buy them now.

Threadless realized they didn’t want to carry a ton of inventory, so they built scarcity into their business.

They print t-shirts in limited quantities. When they’re gone, they’re gone, with no indication of when the design will be back. The scarcity is frustrating enough, but realizing the t-shirt you’ve picked isn’t available? How could they?

Afterward, they could leave you alone to stew about the fact that you’ve missed out. But, they don’t do that. Instead, they add you to the waiting list. When there’s enough interest and the stars align, your shirt becomes available again.

Shopify empowers people and businesses to sell their products and services online. What makes their system so special? They’ve built upsells into their product.

Shopify Upsell Demo product page

Take a look at the example they use. There’s a digital camera. And, as soon as you click “add to cart,” you see this:

Shopify Upsell Demo upsell window

It makes sense, right? When you buy a new camera, do you get just the camera? Of course not. You get the carrying case, wide angle lens, extra batteries, and an extra power adapter.

Do you see what’s happening here?

Every product, and every service or opportunity, creates more problems. You’ve got the camera, but your battery lasts only so long (problem); therefore, you need an extra set of batteries.

You’re on the road a lot and you need to keep things charged (problem), so you need a car charger. Each product or service creates additional problems that need solutions. Each problem is an upsell or cross-sell opportunity – a sale waiting to happen.

And, the more urgent a customer’s desire, the better your chance of making the sale.

Bringing these problems up at just the right time gives you an opportunity to educate your customer. Yes, it creates anxiety, but it’s necessary if you’re going to give your customer the care and protection they need. Would you like to make this work for you? Test it on your site. Lead with the customer’s fear, with the problem, and then measure the response.

Isn’t it manipulative to increase average order values this way?

To some, this sounds like emotional blackmail. It would be if you created a non-existent problem. Imaginary problems may work at first, but they do irreversible damage to your customer relationship when they’re exposed, as they should.

That kind of manipulation is sleazy and dishonest.

But, what if a problem is real?

A few months back, I needed a new remote for my TV. I went to Amazon and found a Logitech universal remote that worked with my TV and PlayStation 3. I read the reviews and was pretty happy. Before checkout, I decided to glance at another review.

And, it’s a good thing I did.

I found out I needed an adapter in order to use the remote with my PlayStation 3. Now, put yourself in my shoes. Imagine you’ve purchased a product, had it delivered, and tried to use it, only to find it doesn’t work? You’d be really irritated, right?

Now, imagine that Amazon could’ve recommended the adapter to you, but didn’t, for whatever reason. What would be the first question out of your mouth?

“What the H*!! Amazon, why didn’t you tell me?”

Customers aren’t opposed to buying. They want you to help, support, and protect them.

It’s up to you to care for and protect your customer. When the problem is real, you should tell them. In fact, you’re expected to tell them. Exposing the problem gives you an opportunity to share the solution, increasing your average order value on demand.

Won’t customers buy more when they’re not frustrated?

They might, but they might not. Maybe they already understand their problem. Maybe they already know what they want.

However, the odds of them buying increase dramatically when there’s a problem. When there’s pain, we want it to stop. The more intense the pain, the more willing customers are to listen.

Without pain, there’s no motivation or incentive to buy.

Customers are less likely to say “no thanks” when there’s pain involved.

So, when the customer’s problem comes before your solution, they’re far less likely to give you a casual “no thanks.”

You may not be offering tetanus shots, but that’s no reason to ignore the problem. Find your customer’s problems. Then, use those problems to frustrate them, and you’ll have all the opportunities you need to increase your average order value.

I want to hear your thoughts. Do customers freak out when you tell them about a problem? How do you handle a customer who wants help but refuses to listen to your advice?

About the Author: Andrew McDermott is the co-founder of HooktoWin.com. His free 5 day mini course shows marketers how to fix website failure and convert customers automatically.

  1. Great article and explanation on the difference between “emotionally blackmailing” your customers, and showing them real potential problems (and then the solution).

  2. Darragh McCurragh Dec 03, 2014 at 7:24 am

    “… a solution without a problem is an annoyance …” Oh, I have to remember that sentence! The whole issue is compounded when marketing people begin to jabber about people not reading lengthy texts and all that. Yet they read crime and vampire novels that run into hundreds of pages and are but nothing than a problem with the solution only at the very, very end …

    • Andrew McDermott Dec 03, 2014 at 11:35 am

      Darragh! Awesome example. You’re right, crime and vampire novels are basically using problems and the solution. Mind if I borrow that?

  3. awesome article. im doing research on customer improvement for my business and I found this to be helpful guys. thanks again!

  4. Great article, great ideas..keep it on. Looking forward to new posts from you.

  5. Partha Sarathi Dutta Jan 07, 2015 at 1:06 am

    Simply WoW.. :-)

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