Negativity Bias

Imagine this…

It’s almost the end of the year which means, yep, it’s that time.

You’re prepping for your Cyber Monday sale.

Part of your prep (arguably the most important part) involves using ads to figure out what messaging drives the most traffic and A/B testing different headlines to increase conversions.

You setup your ads and landing page variants.

Your plan is to circle back at the end of the week to see how each variant performed.

The headline that leads to the most clicks is where you’ll put your ad dollars.

(And thanks to your , you can spend money on ads confidently knowing that visitors are more likely to buy)

The two headlines you wrote are,

“10 Ways to Improve Your Productivity with Our Coffee Alternative”

“10 Ways You’re Ruining Your Productivity By Drinking Coffee”

Which headline gets more clicks?

In today’s edition of Why We Buy, we’re taking a look at Negativity Biaswhy messages with a negative slant often garner more attention, clicks, and conversions.

Let’s get into it…

“Top Marketing Newsletters You Need to Subscribe To”

The Psychology of Negativity Bias 🧠

In 1998, social psychologist Tiffany Ito found negative images spark more brain activity than positive or neutral images.

Three years later, psychologists Paul Rozin and Edward Royzman coined the term Negativity Bias to explain the psychological phenomenon.

In 2014, a Russian newspaper decided it wanted to only spread positive news.

They flipped all their headlines to have a positive spin.

Within one day, they lost two-thirds of their readers.

But wait…there’s more.

The average click-through rate of an article increases by 63% when it has negative superlatives like bad, worst, and never in its title.

(This is in comparison to the positive superlatives always and best.)

Negativity gets attention, clicks, and conversions. But too much negativity shifts your brand from friend to foe.

Inside Your Buyer’s Mind 🧐

Your buyers are loss averse — they’d rather opt out of winning $150 than risk losing $150.

That’s because studies show that the feeling of loss can be 2X more powerful than the pleasure of gain.

This is the root of our Negativity Bias.

Your buyers unconsciously pay attention to negative or adverse news, trends, and stories, so they can avoid potential losses in the future.

Like moths are attracted to light, they look for negativity, hoping that knowing this information will keep them safe in the future.

Buyers aren’t looking for an onslaught of consistent negativity from your brand, though.

A little negativity can drive action, but too much can drive buyers in the opposite direction.

How To Apply This 🤑

Alright, so how can we apply this right now to sell more.

Use negativity to craft compelling messages

Adding negativity to your content grabs attention that feeds into Negativity Bias and Loss Aversion. What negative spin can you add to content that makes it stand out amongst all the online noise?

Hubspot could have written an article titled “17 Tactics to Improve Your Website,” but they’re in on the power of Negativity Bias. They spun the article to have a stronger emotional response with this title:

Their readers lose out on impressing their website visitors if they don’t read this article. This drives more clicks than the feeling of gaining tactics to impress visitors.

Show that you relate to your customer’s pain points by highlighting them

Customer research tells you exactly what challenges your customers have regarding your products.

(If you don’t have a clear idea of their biggest pain points, stop right now and figure it out. You can or for insights. These pain points are the foundation of your entire marketing strategy.)

Once you have a long list of pain points, you’ll test which leads to the most conversions.

Use an A/B testing cool like to know which pain points drive the most conversions — and then litter your marketing campaigns with them.

(Thinking of skipping out on this step?

We came across THREE different landing pages for Amazon’s Become a Seller program while doing research for Amazon vs. Shopify Brainy Battle. If Amazon does it, you probably should too.)

Bring controversy into your marketing

Who are the villains holding your customers back from getting their solution? What’s a shared belief that you can fight for together? What opinions do your customers have that they’ll rally behind?

Strategically bringing controversy into your marketing grabs attention and creates relatability between your brand and buyers.

Oatly, an alternative milk product, has taken the stand that plant-based milk should be an option at school. They regularly post to their social media channels about the issue and what they’re doing to get plant-based milk into school cafeterias.

For their buyers that feel the same way — they’ve strategically created a separation between Oatly and the dozens of other plant-based milk options on the shelves.

The Short of It 💥

People pay attention to negativity more than positivity.

There’s something about bad news and adversity—try as we may, we can’t look away.

Rallying around the negative stories, pain points, and adversity garners attention and creates relatability to a degree. 

Remember: too much negativity and your customers will associate your brand with a dark cloud, so don’t overdo it.


Until next time, happy selling.




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Written By Katelyn

Katelyn Bourgoin is the CEO of Customer Camp, a 4X founder, and a cheese lover. She lives by a simple mantra: whoever gets closer to the customer wins.

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