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What type of pain are you solving?

Written by Justin on August 30, 2014

Extreme pain: is your product morphine, aspirin, or a vitamin?

Your marketing approach will depend on the pain you’re targeting.

“One thing that people don’t appreciate enough is that there’s different types of pain.” – Patrick McKenzie

Before you start building your product, ask yourself: how intense is the pain I am targeting? This is important, because the level of pain a customer is experiencing will determine:

To explain, I’m going to ask you to think about your dentist (stay with me).

Your dentist deals with different thresholds of pain:

(I also like the way Michael Buckbee categorizes pain intensity. He asks: “Does this pain need morphine, aspirin, or a vitamin?”)

Notice how the type of marketing your dentist employs corresponds with the intensity of the pain:

Extreme pain (morphine)

The customer is highly motivated to find a solution. They google “dentists nearby” and book an appointment with the first office that has availability.

In a situation like this, search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) would be the primary focus. This is “pull marketing”: the customer is desperate and in motion. They’re under pressure to find a solution quickly, which is why having good page rank (or an ad at the top of the screen) makes sense.

Businesses targeting extreme pain also have a pricing advantage. Often, the greater the pain, the more people are willing to pay (this is why Uber is able to use surge pricing).

What are some examples of products that solve extreme pain points?

Moderate pain (aspirin)

Marketing moderate pain points employs both “push” and “pull” techniques.

For example, the dentist might place an ad in the paper that says:

“Experiencing gum discomfort? We can fix that”

This is push marketing: it proactively reminds the customer that there is a solution for their problem.

But some customers might be personally motivated to google “how to get rid of gum pain”, so the dentist could also write a series of blog posts on different treatment options (pull marketing).

how-to-get-rid-of-gum-pain.png

There is a lot of opportunity to solve moderate pain points, but it’s also where many entrepreneurs fail. Finding a pain that people will pay to get rid of isn’t easy.

“You want people who know they have the problem and who are actively looking for solutions, rather than a pain that’s bearable.” – Patrick McKenzie

What are some use-cases where products solve moderate pain points?

Low pain (vitamin)

What do I mean by “low pain”? These are problems that require more of a vitamin, than an aspirin.

These solutions require a lot of push marketing. The company needs to both show the consumer that they have a problem, and then convince them to purchase their solution.

Your dentist’s office spends a considerable amount of its budget reminding you to come in for regular checkups. They’ll send you a postcard every 6 months, and follow-up with phone calls, just to get you to book that appointment.

Amount of push marketing required

Most people don’t wake up in the morning and think: “I should call my dentist today”. Getting you to book that appointment requires an outside push.

Here are some examples of web products that solve low pain points:

If you listen to podcasts, you know that Stamps.com and Squarespace spend a considerable amount of money trying to convince you to visit their websites. This is push marketing at play. If you’re selling a vitamin, you’re likely going to need a lot of marketing dollars to make sales.


I have a theory: there’s an inverse relationship between the level of pain and the number of exposures a customer needs before he buys.

As an example, the distribution could look something like this:

In advertising, they call this effective frequency. There’s a number of models and theories around optimal frequency (some say 3, others say 7 is the magic number).

However, there is some evidence that supports my theory:


It’s not enough to find a pain point and build a solution. You have to remember that different types of pain will require different marketing approaches.

If you’re marketing an extreme pain solution, focus on SEO and SEM.

Moderate pain products generally require a full-spectrum of tactics. You’ll use push marketing (ads, retargeting, content marketing, PR), as well as pull marketing (SEO, email courses).

If you’re planning on building a low pain product, remember that you’ll likely need a big marketing budget. The only low-cost acquisition strategy here is “viral”, and it’s extremely difficult to get right. Historically, there have been opportunities in SEO to secure low competition, high traffic keywords; but those are increasingly hard to find.

“I’ve got a product that’s In the low pain category and you nailed the drawbacks.” – Dennis Field

A few notes:

I hope this was helpful!

That's me!Cheers,
Justin Jackson
@mijustin

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