Can You Really Smell Desperation?

Time To Get A Little Creative With Your Marketing Mindset


Can we really smell desperation? It may not carry a real scent. Still, we sense when it’s there. The source of this power is a mystery.

Here’s what really fascinates me about it.

How We Respond To Desperation

There are two universal responses to desperate people. We either exploit them or avoid them.

Pretend you’re at the store buying furniture. The salesman tells you he needs the sale to make his quota. Knowing he feels desperate, what do you do? You squeeze him for every last dime you can.

Of course, you can take this too far. There are those who exploit others in their most desperate hour of need. I like to think that is the exception not the rule.

The most common response is to avoid the desperate ones. This happened to me yesterday.

The Desperate Gym Instructor

I stopped into the gym for a workout. Ahead of me were a few other gym-goers.

As they walked in, I heard one of the trainers ask in an anxious voice:

“Are you here for the 5:30 spin class?”


“Why don’t you join me for this class. It’s a great workout,” she said.

“Uh… I would. I’ll try it next time. I’m in a rush today.” Just like our radar zeroes in on desperation, it spots fake excuses too.

Spotting the potential for discomfort, I ducked around the person in front of me and swiped my membership card. I darted out of the way towards the locker room.

Fifteen minutes later I peeked inside the spinning room. There were two people in a room that holds over twenty. Meanwhile, a class downstairs had to turn people away.

What’s the moral here?

Never Show Desperation

Desperate marketers make poor marketers. As consumers we buy from people who exude confidence. Their time is valuable. That makes them more desirable.

In face to face encounters we sense desperation from body language, tonality and words (in that order).

In writing, your audience only judges you buy your words.

Writing often screams desperation, even when you’re not desperate.

Here are some common examples of what I call desperation writing. These are marketing and business examples but they are universal.

  1. Dumping “Buy Now” buttons every few lines in your email or sales letter. Ask once and it’s respectable. Ask a dozen times and now you’re needy.
  2. Setting a deadline for a deal and then giving a lame excuse for keeping it open — “Due to some technical issue we’re extending the deadline another 24 hours.” A follow up then appears 24 hours later. “Last chance. One more 24-hour extension due to [insert lame reason here].”
  3. Sheepish apologies. Sure, if you screw up or hurt someone you should apologize. What I’m talking about here is apologizing for doing what you do. If you provide value that helps others, why apologize? It only makes you look like you’re doing something wrong.

What if we really do feel desperate? Let’s get a little creative with our mindset.

The Privileged Mindset

Instead of the desperate approach, adopt the privileged mindset. You provide something of value. It’s a privilege to buy from you, listen to you or work with you.

  1. Your time is valuable. Others should respect it.
  2. Offer your product or service. Do not beg.
  3. Avoid screaming in your writing. ALL CAPS = BAD. That goes double for excessive exclamation points.
  4. Never apologize for selling your product, service or yourself.
  5. Respect your own deadlines.
  6. If they don’t buy, it’s their loss, not yours.

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