Approaching writing content from a prospect’s levels of risk

As consumers, whenever we buy an expensive product or buy from a new supplier we instinctively make the decision whether to buy based on levels of perceived risk. Perceived risk is the Consumer’s level of uncertainty regarding the outcome of a purchase decision.

One of the ways I approach writing any new sales copy (content on a website, sales based emails/ newsletters, paid search advert etc.) is to start by listing all the reasons why a prospect may be reluctant to buy. By doing this I am identifying the perceived risk factors. [mc4wp_form id=”15877″]

But shouldn’t marketing be positive?

It might sound like a negative way of doing things, and you could argue that starting from a more positive angle of “why?” – rather than “why not?” – the prospect would want to buy would work better.

But if you did, I would say you are wrong.

I would say you are wrong because by starting with the reasons “why not”, and then ranking them in the order of importance, you can then start to address their concerns in your sales copy in a very systematic manner.

This is especially useful when you are writing very short paragraphs or bullet points.

What are perceived risk factors and why are they important?

Perceived risk factors have a huge influence on a customer’s buying decision process if they are buying from someone new or making a considered purchase.

A considered purchase is one that requires research and will not be done on a whim. For example, from my perspective toothpaste is a non-considered purchase and I am heavily influenced by price promotions, whereas my new car would require a lot of research to ensure the risk factors are all ticked off.

A consumer’s level of uncertainty regarding the outcome of a complex purchase decision typically sees them attempt to reduce their anxiety by collecting more information.

A quick note about branding: This is where brand recognition and product experience benefit a company. The more comfortable a customer is with a brand, the less risk they feel.

The six risk factors are:

  • Functional: Will the product work?
  • Psychological: Am I doing the right thing?
  • Social: Will my peers approve?
  • Financial: Can I afford this?
  • Time: Do I have the time to complete this purchase?
  • Physical: Will this product harm me?

It is important to note that risk is completely relative to an individual. For example, I would have to do a lot of research into a Rolex watch (and I mean a lot), whereas there are some people (some very lucky people) who would buy one on a whim.

To be fair that is an extreme example, but you get the idea. This is why having identified and understanding your target audience is so important.

Identifying the key reasons ‘why not?’

If I were writing a sales piece for an email about a new data backup service, what are the key reasons why someone would be unsure whether to buy it, and what information do they need to be confirmed before they buy?

If we put the risk factors in to a matrix we can see how this will help me write the email.

Risk factor

Risk of this product

Overcoming the risk


Is this going to be too expensive?

– Discount if you pay annually

– Money back guarantee


Is this a company others trust?

– Testimonials from customers

– Award winning

– Examples of it being used


How much data will be stored?

– Backs up all your data

– Restore your backup at any time


Will I lose any data?

– Automatic backup every day


How long will it take?

– Fast and easy backups

(Another risk factors that are not relevant to this example, but may be for your products, is psychological risk)

You’ll notice that the copy itself is actually very positive, and overcomes reasons why they may not buy from you. [mc4wp_form id=”15877″]

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