SELLING FEAR – A Discussion of Levering the American Disabilities Act in Your Positioning and Marketing

By: Paul Delfino

I have been quoted in most of the HMI Discovery & Training Seminars as saying: “The American Disabilities Act may be your new best friend!” This may be one of the rare cases where “I am from the Government and Here to Help You” can be true for a service/industry.

What Is the Law?

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 defines a ‘trip hazard’ as any vertical change of over 1/4 inch or more at any joint or crack. Since the ADA demands strict compliance, trip hazards represent a legal liability to your potential prospects. Cities, school districts, hospitals, churches, shopping malls, universities, apartment complexes, homeowners associations, large buildings as well as private residences should all be sensitive and concerned with this liability.

How big is the liability issue?

According to the 2006 Liberty Mutual Workplace Safety Index, the annual direct cost of disabling “occupational” injuries from trips and falls is estimated to exceed $6.7billion. That is just “occupational!” I struggled for find reliable statistics on the overall environment.

An entire specialty of the law has evolved for this problem. I suggest you google “trip and fall attorneys” locally to understand the scope of what has evolved in the legal community.

Am I suggesting that your marketing pieces should have a headline “Call Me or Get Sued?” Absolutely not!

Although fear marketing is a growing strategy, overplayed it is perceived as negative. However if subtly executed as informing and educating it can be impactful and motivational as a call to action.

Who are you talking to?

As you market and promote your concrete lifting and leveling business care must be taken to think through and understand the motivations of your prospects and level of knowledge of the liability of the ADA. Legal exposure for trip hazards is normally well understood by: property managers, large consumer retail entities, homeowners associations, government and large educational facilities. These targets are bombarded by their professional associations and insurance carriers to take proactive steps to eliminate risk. Consider helping these potential referral sources by telling them you are available to solve the problems cost effectively.

However – the average residential prospect is not pulling into their driveway and inspecting the sidewalks in front of their home with the understanding that they may have significant liability for a trip hazard. Often decisions of buyers of concrete lifting and leveling services are based on:

Cosmetic Concerns – it just looks ugly.

Preventative Maintenance – water is running into basements or garages due to the evolving pitch of concrete walks, patios or garage approaches. In the case of warehouses, slab curl may have fork lift operators concerned with loosing loads. Industrial sites may be concerned with equipment damage from vibration due to concrete slabs shifting.

Elimination of Risk – here is where the legal liability of trip hazards is considered.

The Why and How!

Successful businesses market a product or service which meets the need of the buyer. As you craft your marketing messages take care to consider the buying motives. Many potential buyers do not yet know they have a need. The cosmetic and preventative maintenance concerns of potential buyers are most obvious. But many of your potential prospects do not understand the risks and implications of the American Disabilities Act or it is not top of mind until something bad happens.

Good marketers inform and educate! Often the best marketers lever the informing and educational efforts of intermediaries. An ideal example of how you can do this is to make every lawyer, property and casualty insurance agent, local public works department and real estate broker in your market aware of your service and your ability to solve the risk issues of their clients/constituents. Let them communicate the fear – you can than communicate the solution!


– Selling fear is tricky and can backfire by leaving potential prospects with a negative impression.

– The risk management implications of noncompliance with the American Disabilities Act are financially significant for any property owner.

– There are a number of intermediaries in your market who can help your potential prospects identify they have a need for your service. Do not forget to communicate with these groups regularly and to offer them free demonstrations on how you can help their client/constituents.

Paul DelFino is a principal of the consulting firm Opportunity Inc. For nearly two decades he has assisted entrepreneurs in growing their businesses, responding to economic downturns and merger and acquisition activity. He has consulted with HMI and RaiseRite for over a decade. His publications include “Avoiding Skewed Entrepreneurial Strategies” available from all on line booksellers.

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