January 16, 2008

Fear and Greed

When I was a stock analyst, I learned the maxim that all investor behavior could be explained by two factors: fear and greed. Any stock’s price reflects a balance between fear of the reasons it could go down, and hope based on the reasons it could go up.

Buyers of enterprise information technology operate pretty much the same way. They buy technology because of what it can do for them. They avoid purchases for fear of project failure, or of the products not living up to their promises, or of difficulties in the products’ use. Indeed, in its heyday, IBM was said to sell largely on the basis of Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt (FUD), in a memorable phrase sometimes attributed to analyst Ulrich Weil.

Voters do much the same thing. Hence the constant tension between “Voting your hopes” and “Voting your fears.” But the voting example illustrates a subtlety, in that they are voting on at least two different kinds of fears:

  1. Fear of specific threats, like terrorism or widespread job loss. (An analogy in the IT case would be buyers of security technology.)

  2. Fear of non-performance. Inexperienced candidates are feared for their naivety or inability to execute. (Thus, not having a track record is bad.) Experienced candidates are feared for their past propensities to do things the voters don’t like. (Thus, having a track record is also bad.) Most IT fears fall into this category, and of course most investment fears do as well.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is why opposition research and negative marketing are so powerful. It doesn’t take much to induce fear of non-performance.


4 Responses to “Fear and Greed”

  1. The 4 reasons anybody ever consumes information (or opinion), and what that tells us about business models | Text Technologies on May 17th, 2009 4:12 am

    […] a company and stock to suddenly fall apart. Many other decision processes are similarly guided by fear, especially of risks yet […]

  2. Faith, hope, and clarity | Strategic Messaging on May 10th, 2013 9:23 am

    […] Decision makers are motivated by two emotions above all — fear and greed. In the case of enterprise IT, that equates roughly to saying they want to buy stuff […]

  3. Judging opportunities | Strategic Messaging on July 16th, 2014 12:00 pm

    […] to its promises. FUD can be spread by rival vendors, or it can just grow organically; either way, fear is a powerful […]

  4. Modifying beliefs | Strategic Messaging on March 19th, 2018 12:49 am

    […] fear-based messaging takes the form of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt), wherein you undermine your audience’s confidence that a […]

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