What Constitutes a Truly Great Hot Button?

We all have strong feelings about certain issues. Whenever these issues come up in conversation, we snap to attention. We tune in more intently. We become fully engaged with what is being said.

Marketers call these emotionally-laden topics "hot button issues." And triggering them is referred to as "pushing a hot button." Well-crafted marketing and advertising messages grab attention by pushing hot buttons at the very outset.

Hot buttons are statements, questions, symbols, or images that immediately bring an emotionally engaging issue to the forefront of someone's attention. In this case, that "someone" is a prospective customer.

Push the Hot Buttons Early!

Whether a marketing message is written or spoken, it should instantly confront prospective customers with a hot button issue.

The opening moments of a marketing message must capture attention by creative use of a hot buttonPlease note that these are the prospective customer’s hot button issues. Not your own. That's why the first step in marketing is to know your prospective customer well.

Once the hot button issue has been triggered, the message then turns to what you offer and how it provides relief or resolution for the issue.

Of necessity, then, the hot buttons that you use must relate directly to the relief or resolution that your are ready to offer.

If you use a powerful hot button to gain attention, but then offer a product or service with no obvious connection to the issue that you have raised, you destroy your credibility. People on the receiving end of your message will feel manipulated or betrayed. And they will certainly hesitate to be your customer.

Two Types of Hot Buttons

Hot buttons come in two varieties. We could call them "away-from" and "toward" hot buttons. As the name suggests, "away-from" hot buttons are tied to things that the prospect does not want. The prospect is looking for a way to get away from them.

So advertisements for pain relief, solutions for financial problems, or repairs for storm damage are likely to fall in this category.

"Toward" hot buttons involve something that prospects would like to have. They are drawn toward it. Advertisements for relaxing vacation destinations, motivational seminars, and real estate investments typically rely on "toward" hot buttons.

It’s possible for a single marketing piece to touch both an "away-from" hot button and a "toward" hot button simultaneously. A trade school might do this by asking whether the prospect is trapped in a boring, low-paying job and would like to gain new skills and a higher-paying career.

You can also use hot-button issues in tandem, so that one reinforces the other. As an example, an advertisement to repair storm damage might also warn against the risk of scam artists who frequently descend on a neighborhoods ravished by severe weather.

Identifying Customer Hot Buttons

In designing any marketing piece — especially those aimed at surfacing qualified leads — your first objective is to identify the hot-button issue (or issues) that your copy will address. Commonly you will come up with several potentially useful hot buttons. So how do you choose among them?

One way is to assess the level of emotional intensity which your prospects are likely to feel when a hot button issue is raised. If this emotional intensity is relatively low, you are dealing with more of a "warm button" issue rather than a hot button issue. To separate "warm button" issues from hot button issues, I use a four-tiered ranking.

I do so by asking this question: When it comes to resolving the underlying issue, which of the following statements is most likely to describe the prospect’s sentiments about my proposed resolution?

  • It would be nice to have it.
  • I would like to have it.
  • I need to have it.
  • I must have it!

Resolutions that are merely "nice to have" or that the prospect would "like to have" are evidence of "warm button" issues. To be a hot button issue, the resolution must at least qualify as something that the prospect recognizes the need to have. And whenever possible, you should offer a resolution that falls in the fourth tier: "I must have it!"

It’s easy to be drawn into marketing to the "need to have it" category almost exclusively. The problem is, people often recognize the need for something (like having a dentist fix a chipped tooth that occasionally hurts). But they may not be sufficiently motivated at present to take action. Once the chipped tooth is throbbing, causing almost disabling pain, resolving this issue clearly falls in the "must have it" category.

Your goal in marketing is to pursue one of two strategies when it comes to hot buttons.

  • You either want to address the "must have it" motivation.
  • Or you must focus on raising a "need to have it" to a "must have it" sense of urgency in the mind of your prospect.

Then and only then are you likely to see amazing results from your marketing.

And what about those "warm button" issues? Do you just discard them in your marketing? Not necessarily. After all, they do have motivational value. The value is simply much lower than is true for hot button issues. So resolving a "warm button" issue can sweeten your offer. Your value-adds, for instance, might be drawn from easy-to-provide "warm button" benefits.

But only use "warm button" benefits as value-adds once your hot button benefits have largely closed the deal. Your leverage is in the hot buttons.

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