Marketing 5 MIN READ

The Benefit of the Doubt in Advertising Online Courses

Take a minute to think about regular adverts. Which one would work best for you? One that includes all of the product’s features and advantages or one that makes you imagine and wonder?

For example, look at the following ad. No features are explained-it looks uncertain- and we get into a stronger anticipation of the product.

Uncertainty as an Advertising Tool

In general, a marketer would think that consumers prefer to spend money on products or services that provide known or certain benefits. It is reasonable enough that if buyers are uncertain about the potential drawbacks of a particular product, an unfavorable attitude may ensue. For this reason you may also want to explain your courses in all detail- its content and activities.

However, there is a tricky loophole here.

Recent research has shown that uncertainty may increase and prolong customers’ positive feelings when they evaluate a particular product in a purely positive light. Uncertainty offers consumers the opportunity to imagine and speculate on a product’s positive characteristics.

In their research, Ketelaar, van’t Riet, Thorbjornsen, & Buijzen (2018) exposed consumers in the United States and Japan in a between-subjects experimental design to investigate uncertainty in advertising.

The researchers showed people advertisements that focused on two different types of products, that were either present-framed or future-framed. The study indicated that contemplating future products yields more uncertainty than contemplating presently available products.

What are the benefits of this uncertainty?

Predictions hold inherent challenges. Uncertainty amplifies one’s experiences. It increases physiological arousal, which in turn makes people experience their emotions more intensely. According to the researchers,

“Mere information about a forthcoming brand product can lead consumers to focus on desirability over feasibility and shift evaluation of brand products in a positive direction.”

People tend to be overly optimistic about their lives and the products they consume and, may be inclined to imagine predominantly positive things. This is why future-oriented advertising facilitates consumer curiosity and product interest.

Future products are not yet available, and their advantages and disadvantages cannot be known for sure up-front. New product pre-announcements (versus product announcements) offer consumers the opportunity to imagine and speculate on a product’s potentially positive characteristics and outcomes.

Now we see why consumers may sometimes prefer uncertainty in products. It is all about the anticipation!

Creating Teaser Ads and Course Pre-announcements

Given the fact that online courses are mostly high-involvement products (as an important purchase decision), uncertainty is a mechanism that can make your services more appealing. The uncertainty generated by the pre-announcements of your courses can motivate your target audience to elaborate on the products’ potential benefits and positive characteristics.

It will make your audience focus more on desirability and speculate, dream and think more about the superordinate benefits of course that is upcoming. And what’s the magical thing about it? Such positive feelings can lead to increased purchase behavior.

You should also keep in mind that future-framed marketing tools are very effective in generating positive electronic Word of Mouth for new products. Word of Mouth is a mechanism that brings even more traffic to our sites and works best for upcoming products than products that have been already launched. So, here are three ways we suggest you can build anticipation and word of mouth for your next products:

Pre-announce a course in your social media sites

Announce your new course using an exciting title and great reasoning why someone should take the course at least one month earlier than the official launch. Begin with a simple announcement. A few days later add a link of your created course and make sure your audience sees your brands’ style. See how you can pre-launch a course with LearnWorlds.

Your course page is the key to create high expectations about a course without necessarily giving explicit explanations of the course content. Therefore, make sure to create an appealing landing page and course layout and add the most promising video with the course overview. See how LearnWorlds helps you create the most appealing course layout and landing pages here and here.

We suggest that you do add a list with your course’s main sections/units, however not be explicit about the included material and activities, unless you want to emphasize some of them for marketing purposes (eg. certificates). At the same time, build higher expectancy of your course through your social media posts. Make sure not to overdo it.

Build anticipation with email marketing

Email marketing has four times the Return of Investment (ROI) of any other marketing channel. It is a great way to launch your online courses. Use an automated email sequence, if you have decided how you want to pre-launch your course and let your Email service provider do the job for you. Learn more about the benefit of email marketing in selling online courses here. In your emails, you can use the same content you use in your social media posts, however, you can be a little more analytical here.

Create school social posts

You can use your school’s community to post teaser ads (in the form of announcements) that will build anticipation for an upcoming course or event. If you want to provide a course or another product as a gift, do not always let people know what the prize is! Surprises have much more fun 😉

So, building anticipation about a course, sprinkled with uncertainty about what exactly the course contains is a tricky way to increase your sales. However, make sure that your content doesn’t deviate too much from what you are promising. You don’t want to lose your audience’s trust about your products! If you liked this article you can read more about psychological tricks to increase your sales here.

Further reading you might find interesting:

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Course Designer & Content Creator at LearnWorlds

Anthea is a Course designer and Content Creator for the LearnWorlds team. She holds years of experience in instructional design and teaching. With a Master of Education (M.Ed.) focused in Modern Teaching Methods & ICT (Information & Communications Technology), she supplements her knowledge with practical experience in E-Learning and Educational Technology.