Are You Marketing to Gain or Pain?

Marketing Gain vs PainAs a marketing or sales professional, you have a choice in how you message your company and its offerings, with the goal of driving favorable responses (e.g. opt-ins) and purchases. And while many permutations are possible, there are two primary motivators of human behavior: gain and pain.

Gain.  People take action because they want a gain of some sort. In the B2B world, such gains can include:

  • Generate more revenue
  • Increase profits
  • Achieve department or company goals
  • Get promoted
  • Gain salary increase
  • Obtain Job security
  • Find fulfillment/job satisfaction
  • Happiness
  • Personal knowledge
  • Gain recognition/status

Note that some of these “gain” terms are business-oriented and others appeal to the personal motivations of your prospects. While good employees want to do the right thing for their organization, they are also always asking the question: “What’s in it for me?” While you may think they are buying to improve productivity metrics, the unspoken motivator may be that the buyer wants to learn your software system to become proficient and enhance his or her resume.

Pain. On the other side of the same coin, pain is a huge motivator. It is the “what they are running away from” stimulus. Pain avoidance drives people to purchase products and services as varied as aspirin and enterprise software. Here are some examples:

  • Lower costs
  • Improve efficiencies
  • Reduce waste
  • Work fewer hours
  • Decrease turnover
  • Get your boss off your back
  • Avoid termination
  • Achieve fewer cancellations
  • Avoid harm

Both the pain and gain motivators can lead to the same place (e.g. your CX solution) but where is the traffic coming from and which type of search converts in greater numbers? When you combine this data with relevant gain and pain messaging, you can really target your message effectively.

I read a fascinating paper about this subject recently called The Psychology of Action produced by Ceros and MarketingProfs. One of the paper’s most startling and interesting points is this:

“The psychological fear of losing something or experiencing pain is twice

as strong as the potential to gain or improve something.”

One example of this can be found if you search on the term “messaging pain avoidance.” When I did this, the fourth search result was an ad for “amputation avoidance.” I would submit that for most of us, the urge to avoid having a leg amputated (if you are in that unfortunate situation) is a stronger motivation than to have your legs work better.

As to what drives your particular prospects, there are two great ways to find out. The first is to ask them what motivated them to talk to you in the first place and/or to make a purchase (or not purchase!). The second way is to conduct online research to determine what search terms people are using to find you and your competitors. For example, these two vastly different search terms can lead to the same type of product in the customer experience (CX) industry:

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“Stop customer churn” (pain)

“Boost client retention” (gain)

The smart money says to go with what gives your future customer night terrors. But as always, it’s up to you to learn about your prospect’s world – and test, inquire and improve until you find the unique triggers — positive or negative — that produce the desired result.

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Christopher Ryan

Christopher Ryan has 25 years of marketing, technology, and senior management experience. As both a marketing executive and services provider, Chris has created and executed numerous programs that build market awareness, drive lead generation and increase revenue.
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  • Corinne Morris July 26, 2016   Reply →

    This was great Chris–and I can pull it through on subject lines for drip campaigns and even in my pitches to prospects. I have always asked the “what keeps you up at night?” question. Now I know why I got such good results.

  • Christopher Ryan July 26, 2016   Reply →

    Thanks Corinne. “What keeps you up at night” is a great question to ask about your prospects and customers. Amazing how many marketers and sales people can’t answer that question.

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