'X' is less bad than 'Y'



“You need to do more of X, or Y will happen.”

The ‘lesser evil’ type of message is everywhere. Buy insurance or… one day your house will burn, or you’ll crash your car, or your pet will become ill and you’ll be on your own to deal with it. Take greater care of your health or… one day you’ll be diabetic, or have circulatory disease, or have a stroke. Feed your kids better, or you might outlive them. Take away their smart phones and make them play sports, or they will have no social skills when they grow up. Pay into a savings account and start a pension as soon as you can, or you’ll be broke when you retire…

We’ve all heard these messages and regardless of their truth, they never make us feel good.

The problem is in the construction of the message. It suggests that the behaviour we are encouraging, X is unpleasant, just not quite as awful as Y.

X < Y

Let’s take walking as an example. We are told to walk more, aiming for 10,000 steps a day, to help us be less likely to get a string of long-term conditions. But actually, walking is quite a nice thing to do on its own. Why would we beat people up with a negative bat about doing something they might enjoy anyway?

I’m not saying that negative motivators don’t work – they certainly do! People are hugely motivated to avoid a loss – just look at the insurance industry. But if the only reason you can think of to do something is to avoid a greater evil, then you will never intrinsically enjoy it for its own sake.

Also X < Y only works if we remain afraid of Y and we don’t find an easier alternative to X (such as taking a pill of some kind).

People simply do not enjoy doing something out of fear of something worse. They do however, very much enjoy working towards the things they actually want. It feels NICER to work towards something we want rather than away from something we don’t want, and often the difference is a simple reframing of how you tell them about your thing.

So, in what amazing ways will your service or product change your customers’ lives? Will it make their confidence skyrocket? Will it help them sleep? Maybe concentrate better? Feel better about themselves? Give them and uplift of energy? Make their day easier? Make their children happier? Help them master a cool new skill? Enable them unlock the next step in their dream career?

Tell us the good stuff.