The term is also used to describe aggressive sales techniques used by company representatives, particularly in the context of doorstep selling.
The concepts that distinguish a hard sell from a soft sell have to do with directness of an advertiser or seller, rational appeal, and the amount of information given to the buyer about a product. A hard sell is extremely direct in nature. An advertisement will contain a forceful, loud slogan to grab buyers' attention, or a salesperson will be very persistent, cornering their buyer into purchasing the product they are selling. In a hard sell, the advertisement or seller will focus heavily on the quality of the product and explain how purchasing such a product will be a rational decision that will help improve the buyer's life. This type of selling supplies an abundance of information to the buyer so they receive as much information about the benefits of the product as possible. The advertisement or seller uses such tactics to overwhelm the buyer with explanations, information, and persistence to ultimately create an incentive to purchase the good or service.
A soft sell is much more emotionally focused when put in comparison to a hard sell. An advertisement or seller will attempt to trigger feelings in the buyer that will make them want to buy the product that is being advertised. This selling technique is also much more indirect in nature than that of a hard sell. The subtlety of a soft sell is very evident, and many buyers often do not realize that they are being purposely directed in such a way to buy a product how a seller predicts that they will. The ultimate goal of this type of selling is to create a mood or image that will appeal to the buyer and make them want to spend their money on a product, all without the buyer realizing that this is occurring. Persistence is not as involved in a soft sell as it is in a hard sell.
The advantage of immediacy plays a large role in the concept of a hard sell and why so many advertisements and salespeople use this type of technique. Because this type of sell is so direct and blatant in nature, the person will most likely buy the product on the spot. A perfect example of this are mail order ads, where readers are urged to fill out a coupon right away. In opposition, a soft sell ad, because of its indirectness and subtlety, will allow for a person to have more time to make a decision as to whether or not they would like to invest their money in a product. A prime example of this type of sell would be life insurance advertisements where emotional appeals of family and security are mentioned. Persons are put in a less pressured environment, allowing them to contemplate their decision on whether or not to buy a product. Immediacy is more evident in a hard sell.
A hard sell may alienate some customers, who find it off-putting. Sometimes the pressuring nature that comes along with hard sell tactics can overwhelm a person to the point where they dismiss the sales pitch or turn away from the advertisement altogether. Emotional appeal is more involved in a soft sell and with the absence of this in a hard sell, business can be lost if persons do not respond well to the tactics, especially when times are hard. During the Great Depression, soft sell tactics, like brand relationship and humor, proved successful approaches. People's inability to spend on luxuries required some wooing for a sale. More direct hard sell tactics pushed away already stressed, calloused minded persons during this time period of economic hardship.
There is also criticism of hard sell tactics in regards to lack of creativity on the part of advertisements and sellers, which causes the would-be customer to never acquire intrigue towards the product being sold.
Comparison with soft sells
The frequency with which either a hard sell or a soft sell is used is dependent upon the intent of its use—the goal of advertising agencies or salespeople. There are times where hard sells are the more rational choice for a sale, and where soft sells are required.
A hard sell is usually used when a seller wants their potential customer to do something soon—to make a call, to sign up for a subscription, or to buy a product in person on the spot. Sharpness and urgency is key in these situations to successfully make a sale. These tactics do not involve personable qualities or emotional appeal.
When situations change, a soft sell is used to help promote a brand and make the product likable in the eyes of a potential customer. Warmth and desire towards a brand induces a connection between the product and the individual, rather than action on the product by the person. Immediacy and urgent buying is not involved in a soft sell, but long-term value and loyalty to a brand can be established.
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