Fear. It’s the great emotional elephant in the room of our lives. While we sometimes deal with its less-potent emotional cousins — insecurity, uncertainty, procrastination, denial — fear remains one of our greatest motivating (or de-motivating) factors. There’s fear of failure. Fear of acceptance. Fear of change, fear of flying, fear of public speaking, fear of missing out — which is amplified by the incessant connectivity of the digital age. And there are many other fears that, quite frankly, I’m too afraid to mention. But what is the influence of fear in marketing?

Fear manifests itself in a myriad of ways throughout our lives.

It prevents us from taking action when we should. It clouds our better judgment. It stops us from listening enough, makes us react irrationally, and drives us to find ways to combat it.

In the digital age, we can keep fear at bay with the satisfying hits of dopamine we get every time someone likes one of our posts or follows our feed. It’s a pretty easy and effective way to soothe ourselves with virtual pain-killers. Of course, all the while we’re self-medicating through social media, we are marketed to relentlessly and with blinding speed.

So what’s a marketer to do?

As marketers, how do we connect with audiences when we know that everyone is being barraged with constant messages and emotional distractions? With keen insight, which we can oversimplify into two steps.

Step one: Understand the role of fear in marketing. What does it make your target audience do or not do? What additional barriers does it represent? How can you communicate with your audience in a way that alleviates fears and overcomes barriers?

Step two: Nurture your audience. There are no silver bullets for fear-induced behavior. You have to assure your audience with truths, and reinforce the benefits of the positive change your product (or brand or service or program or widget or technology) represents. And you have to reach out to them frequently, consistently, and honestly.

Both steps require time, care, attention, and flexibility to be executed successfully. But fear not: with the right mix of all requirements, you will connect with your audience. How does that work? Here’s just one example of using your understanding of fear in the minds of an audience that is hesitant to act. In a recent prediabetes marketing campaign we created for the Rhode Island Department of Health, we featured graphic images of some of the health repercussions of not being screened for diabetes. We also nurtured this audience by meeting them where they get their messaging, online and off, over the course of the campaign. Fear of consequences proved to be a strong motivator for getting screened — a great first step in improving their health.