What type of pain are you solving?

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 the following:

  • How much they are willing to pay for the solution

  • How desperate they are to find a solution

To explain, think about your dentist.

Your dentist deals with different thresholds of pain:

  • Extreme pain: "ARGH! This toothache is killing me! I need a dentist right now!!!"

  • Moderate pain: "My gums have been bugging me lately. I should book an appointment sometime soon."

  • Low pain: "I haven't gone in for a checkup yet this year."

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

Notice how the 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 available office.

In this situation, 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, so having a high page rank (or an ad at the top of the screen) makes sense.

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

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

  • Zapier: "If we don't figure out this integration this week, we will lose this deal."

  • JSON-CSV: "My developer went home for the day, and I need to convert this JSON data to a CSV right now."

  • Churnbuster: "How will I deal with all the customers with expiring credit cards?"

Moderate pain (aspirin)

Marketing moderate pain points employ 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 to their problem.

However, 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).

There is a lot of opportunity to solve moderate pain points, but it's also where many entrepreneurs fail. Finding a pain people will pay to remove 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?

  • Baremetrics: "I wish I didn't have to update this Excel sheet manually with our SaaS numbers every month."

  • Sprintly: "I wish I didn't have to interrupt my developers every time I needed a status update on this project."

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 extensive push marketing. The company needs to show the consumer that it has a problem and then convince them to purchase their solution.

Your dentist's office spends considerable money reminding you to come in for regular checkups. They'll send you a postcard every six months and follow up with phone calls to get you to book that appointment.

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:

  • Stamps.com: "Going to the post office is annoying."

  • Squarespace: "My brother-in-law keeps bugging me to build him a website."

If you listen to podcasts, you know that Stamps.com and Squarespace run many ads trying to convince you to visit their websites. This is push marketing at play. If you're selling a vitamin, you'll likely 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:

  • Extreme pain: 1-2 exposures

  • Moderate pain: 3-7 exposures

  • Low pain: 8-100+ exposures (much harder to forecast)

In advertising, this is called effective frequency. There are several models and theories about optimal frequency (some say 3, others say 7 is the magic number).

However, there is some evidence that supports my theory:

  • Indochino (low pain) bumped its retargeting frequency from 3 impressions per user per day to 15-20. "Every time we’ve increased it, we’ve seen greater revenue and ROI."

  • When ReTargeter did a study on conversions per impression, they found that B2B (high pain) ads outperformed B2C (low pain) ads by 402%. "There tends to be a higher sense of purchase urgency with business solutions than with consumer goods."

Finding a pain point and building a solution is not enough. 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 build a low-pain product, you may 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:

  • Jeremy Hageman makes a good point about pain frequency: some pains reoccur daily (commuter traffic), while others may only be experienced yearly (income taxes).

  • Pain points move up and down the continuum: What requires morphine today might only require aspirin tomorrow. All sorts of factors can affect this, such as improving technology, increased competition, and changing customer behaviors and values.

  • Many successful B2B products have use cases that cover low, medium, and high pain scenarios.

I hope this was helpful!

Justin Jackson

Published on August 30th, 2014
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