“‘Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe,’ I cry, / ‘Full and fair ones; come and buy'” – Robert Herrick

Conventional marketing wisdom says that people buy most products and services for emotional reasons — and that the emotions that most motivate buying are greed and fear. If you can figure out how to equate your product with avoiding disaster, getting rich, or both, you’ll be enormously successful and develop a reputation as a marketing genius.

I used to believe that. Until I wrote my first sales letter. Something happened in the process of my writing that letter. I was attempting to persuade a group of older men — men very different from me — to buy an investment-advisory product I had just invented. I wasn’t sure exactly how to position the promotion — but every time I tried a straight fear or greed approach, it felt flat and phony.

The words I wrote sounded like advertising language I’d read in the past, but they had no vitality, no intimacy, and, ultimately, no chance of turning on the old geezers I was writing to.

I worked on the letter for seven weeks, aided immensely by the very critical comments I received from JSN, my boss at the time. At the end of the 28-day, brain-busting marathon, I’d completely reworked the first draft into something entirely new and different. The headline was changed, the lead was completely different — in short, everything about the promotion was new. And there was, in the end, very little straight-out greed or fear left.

That experience taught me something about selling that has allowed me to create, edit, or supervise more than a billion dollars’ worth of direct-response sales. I think I understand something important about why people buy that most marketing experts don’t. Today, I want to tell you what that is — and to promise you that if this makes sense to you and you can find a way to incorporate it into your own business, you will be very happy you did.

The truth is that people buy products and services for a host of reasons, including a desire to be smarter, better-looking, thinner, stronger, more assertive, more certain, or more sensitive.

When I teach AWAI graduates “advanced” copywriting, I cover dozens of psychological triggers — thoughts, feelings, and beliefs — that motivate (or de-motivate) buying. Because none of us is as simple as the “greed-and-fear” rule would make us out to be. We are all — even the simplest of us — extremely complex beings with all sorts of complementary and contradictory impulses.

Failing to recognize that complexity will limit your growth as a marketer. If you believe, for example, that all men only want one thing — s-e-x — you’ll never be able to reach the millions of men who have other drives. More importantly, perhaps, if you don’t recognize that in the heart of every horny man there is also a range of other emotions, including the desire to be kind, to be thought of as gentlemanly, etc., you’ll never be able to speak to most of them in a subtle way. Every promotion you write will have only one theme, one predictable headline, and one obvious conclusion.

One-trick (or even two-trick) marketers seldom make it to the top — and if they do, they seldom stay there. If you want a long and powerful career selling what you are selling (and it doesn’t matter what it is . . . a product, a service, even yourself), you need to recognize the complexity of your audience and treat them accordingly.

In another message, I’ll show you how to go beyond fear and greed. Meanwhile, if you’d like to deepen (dramatically) your understanding of how to sell, I strongly recommend the AWAI program in copywriting. They consider knowing how to unearth a prospect’s deepest motivations to be such a powerful tool that they give it to their beginning students in order to get them thinking like masters from the get-go.