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Scare With Flair

Using fear to flag down prospects.

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This story appears in the November 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Barbara Corsa, who runs H.I.S. Home Inspections in Akron, Ohio, was dumbfounded last year when the leader of a seminar she attended on brochure-making declared he "wouldn't change anything" about her current effort. Corsa knew something was amiss. Either this guy was working for a rival home inspector, or he'd had too many pre-seminar cocktails, because her brochure was doing zilch, and she needed help. Hence her letter to "Ad Workshop."

To be fair, the body of Corsa's piece is well-written. Except for the lack of testimonials (always a critical component), it's informative and convincing. But the cover--the "storefront" of every brochure--does little to attract passersby. As a result, the response has been flat, and, Corsa writes, "When our brochure's not working, we're not working." My first thought was that the cover should employ one of the most responsive levers of human motivation there is: fear--fear of being an unsuspecting home buyer who moves into a cosmetically appealing house only to find major problems lurking beneath the surface. So my cover headline recommendation, with a little flair thrown in, is: "Will your new home be a peach or a lemon?" What follows is a subhead recommending, "Avoid any risks by having H.I.S. Home Inspections check it out before you buy." What should you learn from this example? Next time you're about to plunk down good money on a sales brochure that has little more than your company name on the cover, consider whether it'll bear any fruit.

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