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Hitting ‘Em Where It Hurts: The Power Of Pain Point Marketing

By November 6, 2013June 29th, 2015Marketing Insights & Strategy
Hitting 'Em Where It Hurts: The Power Of Pain Point Marketing

Pain sucks. Yes, pain can make us stronger, it’s a necessary part of life, yada yada yada. But let’s be honest. Nobody likes pain, whether it’s emotional, physical or mental.

It’s in our nature as human beings to avoid pain and seek pleasure whenever possible.

Not every instance of pain revolves around a life and death situation. One person who’s headed for a messy divorce could be stressed about finding an attorney. Another person could just be annoyed about not being able to find good sushi.

Regardless of where our pain of the moment falls on the seriousness scale, we want it to go away. And we’ll be grateful to whoever makes it go away.

Marketing To Pain Points

That’s why marketing to customer pain points is such an effective strategy. Alleviate that pain and we become more than the seller of a product.

We become the solver of a problem. A friend that helps someone out of a jam. A helper. The go-to guy. And if that customer or one of their friends or family members ever experiences a similar pain, guess who they’ll contact?

People make purchases based on emotion, using logic or fact to justify these emotional decisions, and just about every kind of pain has an emotional component to it. The first step to marketing to customer pain points, like any approach to marketing, is understanding your target audience.

Go beyond basic demographics and dig deeper to uncover the cause of their pain.

What makes them frustrated? What makes them feel stressed? What makes them worry?

What makes them mad? What makes them sad?

What makes them afraid? What makes them cringe? What makes them squirm?

What makes them struggle? What makes them feel insecure? What makes them lose sleep?

Every business owner should be able to answer at least a handful of these questions, identify pain points that their product can relieve, and develop a marketing message that connects with one of those painful emotions.

Is Pain Point Marketing Deceptive Or Manipulative?

I’ve had clients who avoided this strategy like the plague for two reasons.

First, they feel like they’re taking advantage of someone’s desperation. There can be a fine line to walk, but what you’re really doing is showing how you can make the pain go away. You’re only exploiting the situation if you have an inferior product that doesn’t deliver on your brand promise.

Second, they feel marketing to pain points conveys negativity. The flaw in that logic is that your solution becomes less relevant and less valuable if you dance around the problem or pretend it doesn’t exist.

Marketing to customer pain points isn’t a matter of exploiting a difficult situation or being positive or negative. It’s a matter of being honest about the reality of a situation, and explaining how you can create a better reality because you understand your customers’ problems.

When you sugarcoat a pain point, or even soften the language used to drive that pain point home, you give your message less impact.

Tap Into Emotions Honestly

I recommend going in the opposite direction.

Agitate your audience a bit. Push their buttons. Make them realize that they’re missing out by not using your product. Just don’t be callous or disrespectful.

If you help people plan for retirement, show the consequences of not planning properly.

If you design responsive or mobile websites, convey the frustration someone endures when trying to navigate a desktop site on a mobile device.

If you sell breakfast sandwiches, remind people about how much it sucks to skip breakfast or eat Pop Tarts from the candy machine every day.

Address pain points directly in the headlines of your blog posts and the subject lines of your emails. Show images and videos that make them feel the pain. Create a FAQ page that deals with each pain point.

Tap into their emotions. Be clear and candid. When appropriate, be blunt.

This helps to create a stark contrast between the pain someone feels now and the pleasure they’ll feel after using your product.

When you’ve conveyed how you’ll make someone’s life better by relieving the pain, they won’t just want your product. They’ll need your product. Depending on the level of pain, they may just feel like they can’t live without your product.

People deal with pain on some level every day. Find out what pain your audience experiences, and make sure they know your product is the pain reliever.

Do you know what your customers’ pain points are? Share some common ones in the comments.

Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • AlisaMeredith says:

    Great article, Scott! I haven’t (yet) heard the argument that writing for people’s pain points is negative or exploitative. You could cover the same subject in so many different ways. “How to stop your clients from leaving” or “How to delight clients and keep them coming back for more” speaks to the same pain points. I imagine, however, more people are going to search for the former – so I wouldn’t be afraid to give them exactly what they want!

    For our target audience, I’d say finding the ROI of online marketing is a big one. For that I say – HubSpot! 🙂

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Alisa – Sure, pain points can be addressed in a lot of different ways. I think your first example is more effective because it speaks to someone’s fear of losing clients, which can dramatically impact a company’s bottom line. If someone thinks they’re already doing a wonderful job keeping customers happy, your second example might bounce right off of them 🙂

      • AlisaMeredith says:

        Exactly! Not to mention the fact that people are much more likely to find the article if you use pain point keywords. No one searches for “how to delight clients” – unfortunately :).

  • Sally Rich says:

    If you are a charity or social enterprise, then the pain you can ease is the guilt that people feel when they realize how much better off they are than the recipients of the charity. So it would make sense to rachet up the pity factor. At first I felt OK doing this, and got good results. But I have been feeling less comfortable with this as time goes on, because of the lack of dignity it affords the charity recipients. But I do feel as if I’ve lost my selling point…any thoughts, anyone?

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Wow, Sally. That’s a tough one. I think there’s a big difference between pity and sympathy, which has a much more positive connotation. Ultimately, it depends on the charity, the platform and the target audience. Certain approaches may seem appropriate in one case and inappropriate in another. Sounds a little risky, but if you’re getting good results without alienating people, that should tell you something!

  • Hey Scott,

    Yes, we are taking advantage of a customer’s situation – but in the end, we are helping to relieve their pain, right? (as long as we offering a good right).

    We are living in a cruel and selfish world. Sure, we write about honesty and altruism and all sorts of good things. But, for every action we take, there is a motive – selfishness is relative. If I help someone to feel that warm, fuzzy feeling inside me, am I selfish?

    It would be foolish not to use emotions in business – as long as we are providing a useful and relevant product, it is okay 😀

    I haven’t thought much about the pain points of my prospective customers (they would help to create great CTAs).

    Anyways, thanks for the tips, Scott 🙂

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks, Jeevan – If we’re helping alleviate pain, I don’t see how we could possibly be taking advantage of them. We’re pointing out a problem and trying to solve it. Yes, pain points can be used in CTAs, especially if they remind people of the pain points covered in the headline!

  • Sean Grace says:

    This is a truly brilliant post, Scott. So, much so that I’m commenting here instead of just sharing it with my networks. It’s absolutely true that appealing to people’s emotions can be a very effective marketing tactic. Possibly THE marketing tactic. Sure sure, we should not take advantage. I absolutely believe that. I also believe that we should have a valuable product that we believe in that does what it says it will do. No question. At the same time, we should not feel ashamed of telling customers that we understand and solve their problem – no matter if it’s physical pain, or just general frustration of another product not getting the job done. Solving a problem is why products exist. And, marketing around that premise is absolutely the way to go. Don’t live up to your promise, and you lose. Live up to it as promised, and you win for years to come. Well done, sir!

    • Scott_McKelvey says:

      Thanks so much for the kind words, Sean. More than appealing to emotions, pain point marketing touches the specific feelings that trigger our strongest emotions. That makes our solutions that much more valuable.