Thursday, February 07, 2008

How To Scare the Pants off an Investor

Fear may drive the markets. But when it comes to scaring investors, most people are amateurs.

Take all these doom and gloomers you see on TV. I bet they think they're reeeeeeally scary. With their "GDP numbers" and their "recession forecasts".

"Well, Sue, it's pretty bad out there. In fact, we've upped the likelihood of recession from 45% to 52% by Q2." (Pause for reaction).

Is that supposed to scare me? To you, I say, "Ha, would-be fearmonger! You've got nothing! I've seen Barbra Streisand movies that are scarier than that!"

(Actually, I find all Barbra Streisand movies utterly terrifying... perhaps that's a bad example)

You know why their analysis isn't scary? Because it's not emotion... it's math. I mean, you're not even engaging the right part of the human brain! (Dr. Peterson's opus is the definitive source on that subject).

"Uh, wait. There's a 52% chance of recession... but only a 76% chance of that. And that's only if LIBOR drops under 4%... Hold on, let me get my calculator." I mean, honestly.

Math is only scary when you're in 5th grade and are asked to go up to the blackboard and do long division problems in front of the class (and you know Mrs. Schecter picked you because she caught you passing notes to your buddy, Rob earlier in the day).

You want to know how to really scare the pants off investor? You want to really know how to get the stampede started?

First off, ditch the math. The odds of experiencing a loss don't scare people; it's the amount of that loss that scares people. This is the first crucial step toward sewing fear. Ever seen that show, Deal or No Deal? (e.g., I know my odds, but I could lose a guaranteed $300,000). It illustrates the difference beautifully.

And it's not just the degree of loss. Even that's still numbers, and number is the language of math. It's how those numbers will impact the quality of the investors' lives that generates the fear.

Investors have to imagine what they will feel like when the loss changes their lives. That's what turns their stomachs.

Also, fear is personal. You want to scare investors? You gotta make it personal.

You pictured sending your beloved son to an Ivy League School. You pictured walking across the quad and soaking in the beauty of the gorgeous Georgian style buildings and 300 year old Elm trees. How proud you would feel. Nothing but the best for your son! But...

There's no way you can afford that now. Your vision and his dream have been crushed. Instead, imagine the sense of shame and longing when you pull up to that shabby dorm at the state school with it's ugly utilitarian architecture. The best companies barely even recruit there. He'll never get the opportunities there you envisioned for him.

(MARKETPSYCH LEGAL COUNSEL DISCLAIMER): State schools provide excellent educational experiences. The quality of education is often superior to that of private colleges. In fact, Marketpsych founders have attended public schools, proudly. Moreover, many state schools have lovely campuses. They are not necessarily ugly or utilitarian, with the exception of the State University of New York at Buffalo's Amherst Campus which was apparently outsourced to the Soviet Ministry of Architecture in 1971.)

Not scary enough yet? Fine. You know that 0ctogenarian who was behind the counter at that chain book store? Remember the twinge of pathos you felt? Well guess what? You're going to be that guy because you can never afford to retire. Every morning you will put on your uniform, get the bus to the mall and spend all day on your aching feet squinting at book prices because your eye sight "isn't what it used to be". At lunch you will get a half an hour to eat the bologna sandwich you made that morning. You will be doing this the rest of your life.

I think we're getting warmer.

Lastly, add some regret. (i.e., And not only did this awful thing happen... but it was all your fault!)

Of course, different investors imagine different worst case scenarios. But we all have them. Wheyn you create the connection from how their investing loss would lead to that terrifying reality, and the investor actually pictures themselves in that situation and feels what it would feel like... that's when you really.

Fifty-two percent chance of a recession?

Whatever, math-guy.

Talk to me when we get to the catfood.

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