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December 01, 2022

Anna Ruth Williams



“FUD” has taken some heat over the last few years as cybersecurity marketers – including my colleague Willa – have soured on using fear tactics to motivate cybersecurity sales cycles. 

Lior Div, CEO of Cybereason, writes that FUD is “fear mongering [used] to meet a short-term goal,” which is nicer than Wikipedia which just calls FUD straight-up “propaganda.”

So, with all this FUD-hating, many infosec marketers are now paralyzed with their own set of fear, uncertainty and doubt about how to effectively message their solutions and go-to-market.

Reality #1

FUD works. In fact, FUD first emerged as a sales strategy in the 1920’s, making it one of the more lasting marketing concepts (RIP cold calling). 

Why? UC Davis psychology professor and TED Talk speaker Alison Ledgerwood says that a negative frame is much more persistent, or “stickier,” than a positive one. For example, if you saw the headline “Nugget Heaven’s Health Rating Plummets to 10 After Recent Inspection” would you eat their delicious chicken plate again? I bet not. It’s hard to shake the fear of projectile vomiting. 

Further, FUD is effective at helping buyers make a decision between two or three choices. Just like negative political advertising in the weeks leading up to an election are effective at swaying votes for the “better” candidate.

Reality #2

The cybersecurity industry can’t avoid a little FUD. The entire buying cycle is motivated by fear of business disruption, financial loss and reputation erosion. And that fear is arguably the highest it’s ever been, with PwC finding that 66% of today’s organizations are increasing the size of their cyber budgets to guard against rising cyber crime.

Effectively Embracing FUD

So, instead of avoiding it, cybersecurity marketers should try to have fun with FUD by deploying it intentionally and creatively. Here are two ideas:

Mix It Up. When presenting a message to your audience, consider blending positive and negative frames. Here’s how – on digital channels, use positive copy contrasted against a negative image (or vice versa). This can achieve the effectiveness of FUD without casting your brand as overtly alarming. You can also mismatch phrases by putting a positive frame on “scary” words.

A great example is PICNIC, which has a super fresh brand identity that uses playful fonts and colors while still effectively sounding the alarm about social engineering attacks.

Educate, not bait. While most of your product marketing and thought leadership might use positive framing, don’t be afraid to use FUD when illuminating a problem. Organizational consultant Amber Wendover says “when there is a problem, there is often a perceived negative emotion.” And as we discussed in Reality #1 – negativity compels action. 

When Cynerio, a leading provider of medical IoT security solutions, needed to capture the attention of hard-to-reach enterprise healthcare buyers, they turned to our cybersecurity marketing agency to get creative. We constructed an educational data report that found, among other statistics, that over 50% of IoT devices used in hospitals have a critical vulnerability that could put facilities and patient lives at risk. 

The piece lit fear, uncertainty and doubt throughout the industry – highlighting a new problem that must be addressed. The topic quickly landed 50 headlines and drove double-digit upticks to Cynerio’s website, but didn’t paint Cynerio as a fear-mongering vendor. In fact, dozens of professionals visited their RSA booth to comment on how valuable the report was.

See the full case study.

Alloy’s cybersecurity marketing strategists’ subject matter expertise combined with our client results have earned us the title of ​​Most Innovative Cyber PR Firm three times as well as Best Overall PR Firm for Infosec Companies. We love meeting new people – so let’s talk.