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EPISODE 64: Writing Empathy Points Instead of Pain Points

by Dec 14, 2021Podcast

In this episode we will cover:

  • Moving away from the Pain Agitate Solve model
  • Why empathy is so powerful in copywriting
  • How to acknowledge the pain without creating judgement or fear

Have you ever come across a social media post, product page, or other piece of copy that literally shifted your mood—for the worst? It’s likely they were intentionally twisting the knife using the Pain Agitate Solve model.

Traditional marketing aims to poke the pain. It intends to make the target audience acutely aware of what they don’t have. Although effective, at North Star we believe it’s an awful approach to marketing, because it encourages people to buy from a place of lack, fear, or upset. 

You can acknowledge your audience’s struggles without belittling, demeaning, or painting a picture of “gloom and doom” if they don’t move forward with the product or service you’re offering.

Empathy makes all the difference.

It’s about acknowledging the pain and frustration, validating it, and walking them through the path to a solution. When you take this approach, people are more likely to feel understood, purchase from a place of hope and empowerment, and build long-term trust and loyalty in the brand.

 

Here are a few of Jessi + Marie’s tips for writing from a perspective of empathy:

  • Research the pain points so you can understand, acknowledge, and validate their frustration. 
  • Identify the root. What’s really behind the pain? Instead of placing blame on the individual themselves, could it be society? Expectations? Assumptions? Systems?
  • Shift the tone from accusatory and placing blame, to acknowledgement and validation. For example, instead of “You’re struggling because you’re bad/wrong”, you can say, “You’re struggling, and that’s normal. I want to walk you through the path to another option.”

 

Homework: 

TRANSCRIPT

Jessi:
Welcome to the Brand Your Voice Podcast, where we’re digging into how you can create personality-driven content that connects and converts. I’m Jessi…

Marie:
…and I’m Marie. We’re the co-founders of North Star Messaging + Strategy, where we support business owners in outsourcing content without sacrificing authenticity.

Jessi:
Every brand has a unique voice that sets it apart. We're digging into how to capture the way your brand communicates from the words you use to the stories you tell. So you can create more compelling content that strategically helps you meet your business goals.

Marie:
And if you choose to outsource that content, you'll be able to do so with confidence, knowing your brand voice is in good hands and you can reclaim your time. We're so glad you're here and hope you enjoy this episode.

Marie:
Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast. And I'm really excited about this topic today because it's something that whenever we talk about it with our clients, they're like I love that! And so we want to give you the gift of, I love that too. This topic today is talking about the difference between pain points and empathy points within copywriting. And I think it's one of the most important distinctions that we make in the writing that we do.

Jessi:
Absolutely. We've mentioned this in past episodes. I can't think of exactly which ones off the top of my head in a few, I think because it is something that really has worked its way into all of our copywriting and into our processes. And it is something that we teach our own writers on staff. So just to sort of lay the groundwork because we really did feel this was an important enough concept that it was worth its own episode. So as a content creator, as a copywriter, as a reader of other people's copy, have you ever had the experience of reading something or writing something where it felt like at the end of the, especially the first chunk of it before you start offering the solution, the product or service, it just kind of felt down and depressing and like painful, which is, you know, where the idea of pain points come from.
You kind of know what we're talking about when we say pain points. It's this whole idea of like twisting the knife, there's this old kind of standard in copywriting of pain, agitate solve that model of identify the reader's pain, agitate that pain, and then introduce the solution. And that's sort of been the standard for years in copywriting. And it's not because it doesn't work because it does work. However, we feel like it works for the wrong reasons. And there's a better way to go about this than just pain agitate solve, which traditional marketing tells you to do. Yeah, we're not, we're not big fans of that model.

Marie:
Yeah, I mean it's like, you know, and you get a paper cut throw lemon juice on it. Right. It's I think the reason that it frustrates us in addition to, you know, Jessi, you were chatting about this before, it's the school yard bully approach. You know, you're like, look at how terrible things are and then I'm going to push you down in the mud again and laugh at you, right? Like not only are you poking the pain, and just reminding your audience or your reader, exactly how far they are from the thing that they're wanting, if honestly, manipulative. I have, I think most of us, all of us probably have experienced a manipulative relationship of some type. And this is the kind of thing that they do, right. They try to keep you down. And so maybe we're just being a little over-sensitive here, but I think for businesses that are really genuinely empathetic run by empathetic people, there's another way that people haven't been taught because it's not really part of the sort of standard copywriting do this instructions. It's... is incongruent with the values of many of the people who we work with, probably the people you work with or the people you may want to work with. And you yourself, if you're listening to us for any length of time, otherwise you're just, I don't know, raging out as you listen to us, like these women are wrong about everything.

Jessi:
Yeah. You know, I feel really strongly about this and about the schoolyard bully analogy. You know, when I was younger as a middle school was not fun for anyone in existence, it was particularly not fun for me. I was bullied pretty heavily. And I think back to that, very geeky, nerdy, 12 year old version of me who was, you know, constantly being tripped in the halls or having to pull spit balls out of my hair in the bathroom and being manipulated by people. And if someone had come up to me, if a teacher for example, had come up to me and started saying, oh, wow, that sucks. It must really suck to have to, you know, pick your books up off the floor. It must really suck to not feel like you can go to the bathroom because you might be targeted in there. It must really suck to have this person following you around and shouting insults at you like.

Marie:
It's like sociopathic.

Jessi:
Yeah. Like that would not have made me feel better. That would not have helped the situation at all. Even if they had followed all of that up with why don't you stay in my classroom during lunch hours? So you don't have to sit alone and be a target. I would have been like, no, I don't want to sit in your classroom.

Marie:
You don't seem kind to me.

Jessi:
You seem like you're only going to make it worse. And like that does not sound like a good viable solution. And even if I had taken that offer, I would have been taking it out of a place of, well, this is the lesser of two evils. This is fine, but it's still not okay. Whereas, and that's the whole pain agitate solve model where the solution is better than the pain, but also, still kind of feels a little not great because of how you got there. Whereas if a teacher had come to me and said, Hey, I understand that this is really hard. Maybe I was bullied too. I don't think that anything that's happening is appropriate. We're going to try and handle it. But in the meantime, do you want to come and stay in my classroom during the lunch hour so that you're not exposed to these things that would have felt a lot better than, wow, that sucks. You want to go over here instead? Like, it's just that whole schoolyard bully mentality of marketing that whole like bro marketing, we have to make sure that the reader feels exactly how painful something is just just 1000% rubs me the wrong way. And I just do not like it.

Marie:
Yeah. Because you're enticing somebody to take an action from a place of lack of fear of upset. You know, it reminds me of, this is just me personally, no offense to anybody listening. Right. But like an approach within like a faith community that is either like hellfire and brimstone, like you should believe this or else versus, you know, here's something full of hope and acceptance, right? Like it's just a different vibe. And for some people neither is going to work and that's okay. And this is actually really analogous to your sales writing because like it's not going to be right for everybody. And some people you are going to turn away, hopefully if you are leaning more into empathy than you are into pain, you're turning away the people that maybe you just don't really want to hang out with anyway. Right. Maybe they themselves are overgrown school bullies at this point.
You know, so it's, I think it's okay if you're going to turn people away, because if you're doing it out of a place of authenticity and alignment with your values or with your client's values, which hopefully are also aligned with each other, do you and your client, you're going to be attracting people who are also aligned with that. So we really do believe that you can acknowledge someone's pain truly, and their struggles without belittling them or demeaning them, or making them fear that things are going to get worse and worse and worse if you don't take this particular offer, there are ways to allow somebody to feel vulnerable because you're also being vulnerable in a way that isn't manipulative.

Jessi:
Absolutely. I like to think of it as you know, when you have a friend who's coming to you and they're struggling with something and you're not going to laugh at them, you're not going to point out all the ways that they're struggling, that they haven't verbalized themselves. You're going to take them out for coffee or dinner or sit down with them on the couch and just listen, hear them empathize with them and with what they're going through. And if they want solutions, then you're going to offer potential solutions. And when that tone is struck, the people who take you up on the solutions are not doing it from a place of fear and lack. They're doing it from a place of hope, a place of trust. Like you trust your friend when you are going through something, there's a reason you go to certain people and it's because you feel like they listen.
We believe in evoking that same sort of trust in a brand because yes, at the end of the day, brands are selling something, they're businesses, but hopefully they are selling a product or service that they believe in. Hopefully they are selling a product or a service that they truly believe can help people who are struggling with a specific thing. And if the bridge between the clients or the potential client and the service or the product is empathy, you're going to have a lot more brand loyalty over the long period and more genuinely help these people because they're going to be going in with a more open mind.

Marie:
Right. Yeah. I mean, this empathy really is the difference. It's the difference between that school year bully approach and that the sitting down for coffee with a friend approach. So when you take that approach, you know, people feel more understood. Absolutely. So how do we do it? Let's dive into that. And I also want to address something I said earlier about sociopathy. I, you're not actually believe that people who have experienced that are evil people or that they themselves are schoolyard bullies. Um, I think that, you know, with cognizance and with intention, um, anybody could apply these principles. It may mean that it's a little harder to navigate some social situations. But at the end of the day, if someone's values are being a good friend or being a good partner or in this case being a business owner or a writer who is, what's the word I'm looking for ethical, I guess, and kind, you know, it may just be a formula that you step into and that's okay. So I just want to sort of address what I'd said previously.
Okay. So first step is no different from what you would do. Typically if you're researching pain points, you're still going to be trying to figure out what the pain is. If you're going to be leaning into empathy points, instead, you have to know what's frustrating them in order to address it and to make them feel heard. If you are having that conversation over coffee with a friend, and they're like, you know, my boss just does not listen to me. It's terrible. And you're like, yeah. And this, that coffee that you're drinking is just really weak. They're going to be like, listen to me, listen to me. That's not what I'm saying. Like I'm saying this right. So part of empathy is actually being aware of the pain and acknowledging it. It's just what you do with it after that, but that is next and key.

Jessi:
Yeah. So this is, you know, instead of that agitate, instead of twisting the knife, acknowledging and validating their frustration, making sure that the you're you're hearing them and in the copy itself, the content itself, you are acknowledging, this is your pain and it is valid. Not it's your fault, not it's going to get worse. It is valid. And in your research, as you're researching the pain points, as you're doing whatever market research you need to do in order to create this copy, it's really important that you go a little deeper than just the surface level pain itself and figure out what is behind that pain, because it's not nine times out of 10, 9.9 times out of 10. It's not them specifically. It's, there's something else at the root of that struggle. It could be some sort of expectation has been placed on them. Some sort of assumption that's been made systems that could be in place that aren't in place. It could be society itself completely depends on the industry. Completely depends on the audience. There's thousands upon thousands of different possibilities here, but the key here in your research is, okay, this is the struggle. And then asking yourself, why is the struggle happening? Can we go a layer deeper and figure out why the struggle is happening. Because then it becomes easier to validate the struggle and say, Hey, we understand you're feeling this way and experiencing these things. And we understand that this is the root cause of it. And this is tied fundamentally to that experience. That rather than twisting the knife allows them to feel heard.

Marie:
Right. For sure. You know, for instance, going back to that my boss is terrible example. Um, you know, you could sort of sit down on copy and be like, yeah, you're right. He's a terrible guy. He's just a terrible, terrible man. And you're just pointing fingers at this person. And now everybody kind of feels heard, but still like not great. Right. And so going a layer, deeper asking maybe why is this guy a terrible guy, maybe, you know, I had a school teacher for instance, one year, who seemed to delight in making us squirm. Like, you know, if we, we would, frequent punishment. I was in his class, the last period of the day, a frequent punishment would be being held a few minutes late. And so you had to literally sprint for the bus to make sure you got on the bus on time.
I am not excusing those behaviors. And also what is interesting is the next year we found out that from the precinct for the next class, it was like, I don't want you talking about he's super nice. He's great. They had no idea what we were talking about that we literally thought this man was like the devil. We found out that he was going through an extremely contentious, difficult divorce that year, again, not going to excuse it. And also it helped me see him as a little bit of a human. And also it allowed me to say, instead of that guy is evil. Like maybe there was some root thing going on. Maybe there's something wrong with society, with expectations, with something a little deeper that just allows me to be like, okay, let's take a breath here. What can we do about this? As opposed to just like, I hate that guy! And so without excusing the harm without making the harm, okay, we can dig a little deeper and it allows people to be like, ah, okay, all right. There's something deeper going on here.

Jessi:
Yeah. I want to use an example from sort of the entrepreneurship world, specifically entrepreneurs who are female identifying, who also happened to be moms. You see a lot of verbiage around how overwhelmed they are and how overwhelming that can be, which is 1000% a valid pain point. Like you, you're juggling kids, you're juggling your business. You're juggling, especially in a post COVID world, potentially if you had a day job to support you as well, maybe you lost it.

Marie:
A home, like your mood, maybe cooking every meal, you maybe person doing the laundry, cleaning, whatever.

Jessi:
Yeah, absolutely. And so in the old sort of the knife model, there's this idea of like, well, you just, aren't keeping up with the things that you need to keep up with, and it's not even just your wrong, because I think a lot of marketers, even the kind of schoolyard bully bro marketers are out there are savvy enough to know, not to directly point the finger at the reader, but kind of to your point earlier, Murray, they point the finger at everything else. Like they're like, oh, well-

Marie:
It's your lazy husband, it's your messy kids. You're never going to get better until you're an empty nester. And then you're going to feel bad because you're an empty nester.

Jessi:
Yeah. Yeah. And it just kind of turns into this vent session and that, that can feel good on the surface. It can feel good to be like, yeah, it is my lazy husband's fault or it is, you know, society's fault or it is this and that, but it doesn't actually like have that longterm release and that long-term support as if you're just validating it, not venting about it, not pointing fingers about it. Just validating it saying, yeah, you have a lot on your plate. You have probably more on your plate than you should. And there are things at play here that are making that true. There are society's expectations. There are maybe communication that need to happen between you and your husband or your significant other. There are assumptions that maybe have been taken on around what it means to be an entrepreneur. Who's also a mother who's also in charge of the whole, like all of these things are conversations that may need to happen, but in the copy where you're first introducing the struggle coming to it from that perspective of, yeah, it's hard. It's really hard. And there are a lot of things at play here, and it's not about pointing the finger at who's to blame. It's about working together to find a way so that you can feel less overwhelmed and whatever with whatever solution that particular business has come up with for that.

Marie:
Right. This changes the tone when you go from pain points to empathy points from your struggling, because still at the end of the day, even if they're not outright saying you're bad and you're wrong, it's kind of like nothing you do matters. You're insignificant. That's kind of the feeling you get, it's this hopeless, frustrated, fearful feeling.

Jessi:
Unless you use my magical product or service, which is going to make it all better.

Marie:
Yeah. Right. Which is, again, manipulative, it changes the tone from that to, Hey, you're struggling and not as understandable and normal, especially given what I know about you. And so I want to walk with you. I want to hold your hand and hang out with you and go through the path to another option that you may not have even realized was there by no fault of your own, you know, and just saying like, Hey, I hear you. And I feel that, and that sucks. And there's another way to approach this. So would you be interested in walking with me that direction?

Jessi:
Yeah. And I think like Marie mentioned at the beginning state, this approach may not work for everyone. It may not work for all readers. It will draw in a certain type of audience member who is looking for a certain type of relationship with a brand. And it probably will not draw in the people who respond strongly to pain points, being agitated, who tend to buy from a place of agitation, which on the surface can lead to more sales more quickly. But what we're interested in as content creators are not quick sales from a place of pain. We're interested in brand loyalty over a period of time where we are selling to people, knowing that we are offering a valid, heartfelt solution, potential solution to their current struggles and that lens, that tone changes things. And for us as content creators, and as business owners, that makes all the difference in the clients we work with, it makes all the difference in the products we sell and the way we sell them. And yeah, it may mean that we draw different people in, but they're are people that we absolutely would not trade for the world.

Marie:
Right. Absolutely. So what do you do from here? So my first piece of homework for you is take a piece of copy. It could be something that you've written, something that you just find out in the wild, whatever, anything that has sort of traditional pain points, and then just explore, rewriting it with empathy points instead. A little hack you can take as sometimes the pain point is still okay, it's really the agitate stage that you can actually replace with the empathy stage. So you can still say like, Hey, this is a legitimate frustration. And instead of saying, all right, now, I'm going to throw some lemon juice on the paper. Cut. You know, I'm going to say like, man, it, it just, it's, it stings a lot and that's frustrating and that's valid and, you know, totally makes sense in the situation you're in, right? Like just switch out that part for starters. And that can make all the difference right there.

Jessi:
Absolutely. And we will be digging into this topic even deeper over in the Polaris Writer Lounge the week that this episode drops. So make sure that you head on over there to join the conversation. Even if you're listening to this after the week that it drops, we can always circle back to these conversations. Like we mentioned at the beginning, this is a topic that we feel really passionately about because we know that a lot of people make buying decisions based on the copy that they read. And we feel that as content creators and copywriters, we have a responsibility to make sure that that content is ethical is valid and really resonates with people and acknowledges what they have been going through and what they need.

Marie:
Yeah. So thank you for hearing us out and exploring with us an alternative way to approach that good old PAS formula, the pain agitate solve formula with a new perspective. And, I hope that, and when you share this with your clients, that they have the same, I love that! reaction as ours do.

Marie:
Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Brand Your Voice Podcast Make sure to visit our website, northstarmessaging.com, where you can subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify, and more.

Jessi:
If you found value in this episode, we'd love for you to leave us a review on iTunes and share it with your friends. Thank you, and happy content creating.

For additional content strategy and branding tips, check out northstarmessaging.com/blog. Also, please tag us on Instagram and let us know you’re out there! @northstarmessaging 


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