Address the Five Dimensions of Risk Your Customers Face


Color is the place where our brain and the universe meet

In the 1950s, consumer behaviorist Ernest Dichter determined that most people
perceive at least five dimensions of downside risk every time they
engage in a purchase experience:

  1. Economic — will this waste my money?
  2. Functional — will this work reliably well?
  3. Social — will others think less of me?
  4. Physical — will this be painful in any way?
  5. Mental — will I think poorly of myself?

Most business owners wonder — how can I make what I offer stand out to gain more customers? The answer — and opportunity — is based upon closing the gap between the promises you make with your product and service and those you keep.

Let's pick on each of the questions with some thought starters.

(1.) Will this waste my money?

value is subjective, the quality of your product and service is
something you can address. If you're building your reputation with a new
service or product, consistency can shore up the lack of proof on

In the absence of a relationship that can give us information about
reliability and experience, your product or service will be compared to
that of others. How do you stack up based on price? How about quality?

Do you address the
perceptual difference with customers reviews and recommendations? Do you offer money back guarantees and free trials?

(2.) Will this work reliably well?

an experience around your product and service. In both cases,
functionality depends on what individuals choose to do with it. Do they
use it often? Do they rely on your service for things that are critical
to their success?

Integrating social media and networks into the purchasing and service experience supports adding third party product use cases and testimonials that can help new customers get oriented by people like them.

Appreciating the functionality of a product or service is
easier with the aid of a community. 

(3.) Will others think less of me?

proofing is very important. This is another place where design of
experience can help. On one side you have the aesthetics of the product
itself — while these are subjective, there are some universal
principles that govern beauty.

For example, we may not know we respond
to it, an oval face is considered by and large more attractive.

respond to it instinctively. The fashion industry is built upon our
need to be accepted and liked. Many brands appeal to social conventions.
You sense of self-identity is engaged here as well. Would you rather be
seen driving a Ferrari or a Honda hybrid? Who are you trying to

(4.) Will this be painful in any way?

and consistency help us feel safe physically as well.

We have a need to
feel safe, it's the lower regions of the brain that dictate that.
Painful is a difficult customer service transaction, for example. If you
operate in an industry that has a very poor track record, standing out
for superb customer service could be a major differentiating point for your brand.

Are you asking for customer collaboration for crowd-sourcing and then making them jump through hoops?

(5.) Will I think poorly of myself?

three main reasons why people buy are fear, love, and hope. We have
internal barometers and follow our own instinct on each of these. When
we buy out of fear, we tend to despise the brand a little, or treat it
as commodity — can we get that same thing at a cheaper price?

can you do to be in the hope and love categories? Delivering on your promises is critical. It allows you to make better promises in the future. Creating a
smashing experience with a service or a product will help
you stand out and make your offer irresistible.


Your customers have many options and rely on embedded psychological cues in the absence of recommendations from friends, still the number one source of referrals, and/or direct past experience with your product and service.

Keep your promises and you help address the five dimensions of risk your customers face.


[updated from archives]

[image credit / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


Valeria is an experienced listener. She is also frequent speaker at
conferences and companies on a variety of topics. To book her for a
speaking engagement click here.

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