Friday, 31 August 2018

What health and safety taught me about selling things people need, but don't necessarily want


Not every purchase is wanted.

There are some things people have to buy — not necessarily because they want them, but because they need them.

I'm talking about things like insurance, medical prescriptions, pensions and legal cover. Things people often begrudge paying for, but could be in trouble without.

As it happens, I have some experience in communicating the benefits of things people need — and of communicating the consequences for people who don't do what's best for them.

I used to be a health and safety copywriter.

In 2005 I worked as an in-house copywriter for a company that produced innovative and original workplace health and safety posters. The posters were designed to 'sell' the benefits of health and safety to employees and encourage them to follow the safe practice.

But a claims culture was unfolding.

In 2005 the UK was starting to develop a claims culture, where "accidents" could be exploited by solicitors, cheats and chancers as a way of making some easy money.

With a rising threat of damaging claims, health and safety soon became the definitive excuse for banning or cancelling anything with the slightest hint of danger.


“Health and safety” was becoming a clichéd excuse.

Balloons were banned from children's parties, village parades were cancelled, bath mats were removed from hotel bathrooms and conkers were confiscated from school playgrounds. In every case, because of “health and safety”.

It became the motto of council jobsworths and overzealous organisers — and people were starting to get sick of hearing it.



Workplace health and safety was suffering.

In the workplace, too, health and safety was losing some of its potency. There were grave concerns that vital safety precautions were being equated with this stifling wave of over-cautiousness.

Our challenge was to change that and to reverse this mentality.


5 Techniques I've learned for selling things people need, but don't necessarily want.

1. Understand your market
You need to know who they are and what motivates them: why they need what you're proposing and why they don't want it. The resistance part is important.

If they're not using your product or service, what are they doing instead? And why are they doing what they're doing?

In the case of health and safety there were several pain points that stopped workers doing what they were supposed to do. For example:

  • Workers felt machine guards got in the way and make the job more difficult, so they decided to remove them
  • Following safety protocol took more time and this made the workers feel less productive, so they decided to ignore it in favour of getting more done
  • Protective workwear could be hot and cumbersome to wear, so workers would remove it or decide not to wear it


2. Develop a winning concept
You can be creative here and think of a different way to express your proposition. It could be something shocking, surprising or unexpected, but it needs to relate to your proposition and get your audience's attention.

Your concept should give proper context and reason, so think about:
  • What the consequences might be if they don't take up your offer
  • How those consequences could impact their: 
    • health and wellbeing
    • finances and assets
    • quality of life
    • loved ones
We produced a 'Spot the Difference' poster showing a person's hand and piece of wood. The message was that, while the difference may be obvious to you, a machine can't tell them apart and is just as likely to cut your finger as it is to cut the wood.


3. Back it up
Baseless statements don't cut it any more, people need reasons and evidence.

For example: "You need to do A, because if you don't, B will happen."

I used this statistic from the HSE to educate workers on the serious risks of slips and falls:


"95% of major slips result in broken bones."



4. Get where they can see you
Understand that the audience you're trying communicate with is probably looking the other way, is possibly in denial and may even be actively trying to avoid you.

If you want to be seen make use of targeted advertising and put it in the places where you know your audience demographic hangs out.

We put our posters in workplace cloakrooms, corridors and canteens, where all the employees would see them.



5. Make an impression
An online advert has a two-second window to grab your audience's attention, so don't let them scroll past it: 
  • Have a clear concept that works for your product and your brand
  • Make it stand out by using good design and bold colours
  • Use an eye-catching image that is relevant to your concept and proposition 
  • Create a killer headline that will stop them in their tracks

About the author.

Jenny Lucas is a professional copywriter with 12 years' experience of writing effective health and safety campaigns that have helped to reduce life-changing accidents and save lives.

To find out more about her and how her words can help your business, please visit her website.

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