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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina

How to use pain points in marketing – without being manipulative

In marketing and sales, you’ve probably heard of “pain points”, but maybe you're not sure how best to use them? Pain points are generally those things that keep your customers up at night and the reason they might need whatever you’re selling.

However, you might not feel great about prodding those pain points in your marketing. Sometimes it can hit a little too close to the bone and feel like you're trying to hurt someone for the sake of selling something. Fear can be an effective motivator, but it can also be overused and manipulative. This is something I’ve been mulling over and here are my thoughts on how you can use pain points in your marketing, without being Machiavellian. Of course, you might not care, but I generally try not to be a sociopath as much as possible, so this is my take on empathetic marketing.

  1. Understand the actual pain points. The first step is to understand your audience’s pain, not just what you think it is. Often, businesses get this radically wrong. Don’t just guess or make assumptions. If possible, conduct research, engage in conversation with your target audience, and most importantly, listen to what they have to say. Talk to customers directly, or whoever it is who talks to them on a daily basis - such as employees, sales teams, customer support etc. This is the first step toward genuine empathy and helpfulness.

  2. Flip the pain points on their head. Paint a picture of what will happen when the pain is resolved and how much better the world will be. Don’t focus on the negative and the pain point itself, but rather a world without that pain. This is a more aspirational take on pain points and sometimes salespeople use this tactic at the end of an interaction (sometimes once they've thoroughly scared you into wanting their product).

  3. Create trust through empathy. We can acknowledge and recognize the pain point, in context, without dwelling on it. Use it as a point of connection – you’re in pain, I see you, I understand you, and I want to help you. NOT – I see you’re in pain, here’s a painkiller I’d like to sell you. This is a tricky one because trust takes time to build and you have to be genuine in your efforts – otherwise, people will smell a rat a mile off. Empathy is also different from sympathy - we're not saying "Poor you, your life is terrible, but mine is better and I have all the answers", we're saying "I see you're in pain and I can relate to that pain, let's explore some ways to deal with that pain together". Feel free to google Brené Brown's take on this if you're not familiar with it.

  4. Use social proof to emphasize the benefits of dealing with the pain point. The purpose here is to show how good it is to successfully deal with the pain point and move on from it. You can use things like testimonials, reviews, or case studies. Focus on both the pain point AND the solution, not just the pain point.

  5. Add value. If you do want to focus on their pain points, tell them something they didn’t know. Just repeating that they’re in pain will only take you so far. They know they’re in pain and they want to stop! Is it helpful for them to know that they’re not alone and that other people have the same pain? Is there a hidden upside to their pain? We know about growing pains from our teenage years, and growing a business but the upside to that is that you’re growing! Is there a way of using that pain in a constructive way? I am (due to genetics) an anxious person, but that means that not once have I ever left the stove on when I leave the house.

Using pain points ethically in marketing is a delicate balance of empathy, authenticity, and value creation. By understanding our audience, focusing on positive outcomes, building trust, using social proof, and adding value, we can use the potential of pain points – for good. In the end, our goal should be to uplift and empower our audience, not use their emotions for our own ends. Thoughts?

How to use pain points - without being manipulative
How to use pain points - without being manipulative

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