In the world of marketing and copywriting, pain points pop up everywhere. Like a middle school bully, pain points lurk around every corner, ready to remind leads exactly what they stand to lose if they don’t invest in that specific product or service.
Writing about and emphasizing pain points have long been considered necessary when copywriting. Which feels… more than a little gross. You started your business to help other people, not make them feel bad.
What if there was a way to take the idea of pain points and shift them into something that will build connections with your audience, rather than push them away?
Fortunately, there is a way, and it’s a shift that’s not only easy to implement, but also incredibly effective at building trust with your audience—which is exactly what you need to convert them into clients.
So, let’s break down what copywriting pain points truly are, why they matter, and a different way of approaching them (one that feels less middle-school-bully and more meeting-a-friend-for-coffee).
What are pain points in copywriting?
Put simply, pain points are the areas where your target audience feels frustrated, vulnerable, or uncertain.
When copywriting, pain points come in when you’re setting the stage for the product or service you want to offer. Common marketing advice tells you to focus on the areas that are most painful for your audience. By reminding them of—and exacerbating—their pain, you’re more likely to convince them to make a purchase.
Selling a luxury vacation? Begin by reminding your audience how desperate they are to leave the house.
Offering a course on organization? Harp on how cluttered their house is now.
Rub it in, agitate it, and make sure your audience knows they’re suffering before you offer them your perfect solution. Twist that knife, baby!
Not gonna lie, we’re not huge fans of this advice.
It’s one thing to acknowledge where your audience is struggling… it’s a totally different thing to take advantage of that struggle and use it to your own benefit.
The truth is, over-agitating those pain points in your copy can actually have a negative effect on your marketing (no matter what those gurus tell you). It might earn you short-term sales, but long-term brand loyalty suffers. No one wants to follow someone who plays off their fears and struggles.
Why bother with pain points when copywriting?
So, if pain points are so slimy and ineffective long-term, why are they so prevalent?
It all comes down to how the brain works.
Let’s say it’s the middle of July, and you’re outside working on your yard. It’s hot. It’s humid. You’re sweating up a storm.
Lo’ and behold, the neighborhood kids have set up a lemonade stand. Score! One of the kids notices you working. They come up to you and ask if you would be interested in cooling off with some ice-cold lemonade for the low price of $1.
Easy sell, right?
Psychology tells us that people generally buy from emotion first, logic second. You could have gone into your house and grabbed a cold glass of water for free. But the lemonade was right there, and the kid acknowledged that you were in need of fast relief.
In essence, the entrepreneurial kid is capitalizing on your pain point (being hot and tired).
We do this in marketing all the time. Your clients might be feeling tired, overwhelmed, confused, scared, frustrated, sweaty, left out… you name it. When we acknowledge those feelings, we’re letting our audience know, “Hey, I see you’re struggling. Can I offer a solution?”
Here at North Star, for example, we know our clients come to us when they feel overwhelmed by the amount of content on their plate. They don’t want to do all of the writing themselves. Maybe they’ve tried hiring out in the past, but they’ve been burned by copywriters who didn’t understand their authentic brand voice.
These are all pain points we acknowledge, frequently, in our own content.
The problem comes when you not only acknowledge your audience’s pain points, but poke at them over and over and over again.
Hello, schoolyard bully.
Suddenly, your audience member feels less like they’re receiving the help they need and more like they’re being exploited.
Acknowledging your audience’s frustration is powerful… so long as you don’t overdo it.
Make your pain points less painful, without sacrificing results.
Consider the same kid with the lemonade stand. In fact, let’s consider two kids, both with lemonade stands.
Kid #1 comes up to you and says, “Hey, it’s really hot out here, isn’t it? You look like you could use a break to cool off. How about some ice-cold lemonade for $1?”
Kid #2 butts in and says, “Wow, you look really hot and sweaty. Honestly, you look awful. Look at all the dirt on your face. And your shirt is dripping. Gross! Don’t you feel exhausted? And sunburned? You look sunburned. Maybe you should try some of my lemonade.”
Which kid are you more likely to buy from?
I’m guessing Kid #1 will win in most cases. And Kid #2… well the next time he’s around, you may just bring your own water bottle, so you can avoid the insults.
So what did Kid #1 do right? Both kids noticed the same problem (it’s hot outside!), pointed out how it impacted you (you’re hot and sweaty!), and offered a solution (mmm…lemonade). But Kid #1 showed empathy, while Kid #2, made the problem about you… and pointed it out again and again, until you felt even worse.
When creating content, avoid making the pain points in your copy overly painful by making sure they focus on the situation itself, not the person. Don’t turn your potential client into the bad guy.
Reframe pain points in your marketing.
It’s not uncommon for us to sit down with a new client and talk about pain points only to hear them say, “I hate pain points! I don’t want to make my customers feel bad, and I don’t want my marketing to come across as sleazy!”
And we totally agree. In fact, we don’t recommend including pain points in your copy at all. At least, not in the way you’re used to thinking about them.
Think of your pain points as empathy points.
The goal of your marketing isn’t to make your audience feel bad until they buy your offer. It’s to acknowledge that the frustration they’re experiencing is a valid experience.
It might seem like we’re just swapping out the word ‘pain’ for ’empathy’, but there’s a key perspective shift here. Empathy literally means “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”
When you write copy with pain points, you’re standing on a pedestal and telling your audience what’s wrong. When you write it with empathy, you’re sitting next to them on the couch, taking their hand, and having a real, honest conversation. You’re talking with them, instead of at them.
Pain points involve talking at your audience. Empathy points allow you to talk with them.
Similar to leveraging gratitude as a way to connect with your audience, empathy can make all the difference in establishing a marketing campaign that creates long-term brand loyalty.
So how do you make the shift? We recorded an entire podcast episode about this topic, but here’s a quick primer:
Step One: Research frustrations + aspirations
It’s hard to validate something you don’t understand. Take the time to do some market research. Talk to your audience and take note of the frustrations that continue to pop up.
These points of friction form the foundation for your empathy points. Get as specific as you can. Even better if you can record or write down their exact words and look for trends.
What you document during these conversation points will become the starting point for new content, or the lens you can use while updating old content.
You’ll find that your content is far more successful when it directly connects to how your audience verbalizes their needs.
Step Two: Identify the root cause behind the pain point
What’s really behind the frustrations and aspirations? Rarely is the individual themself to blame. But it does stem from somewhere. It’s your job to put on your detective hat and figure out what the root cause of their frustrations are.
For example, an overwhelmed mom who’s frantically searching for a way to organize her life isn’t a bad mom for being overwhelmed. You don’t want to write pain points that jab at her feelings of exhaustion and make her out to be failing at her job. But it is worth looking into where this exhaustion comes from. Is it a lack of support? Societal expectations? Something else?
Step Three: Shift the tone of your content
Instead of accusatory language focused on placing blame, take time to acknowledge and validate your audience. 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.”
Just like the kids selling lemonade, you have a choice. You can show up for your audience as someone who can genuinely help, or you can show up as someone looking to insult and demean.
If you’re looking for long-term brand loyalty, genuine relationships with your audience, and clients who truly believe in you… we recommend the former.
We’d love to hear from you!
How do you use your content as a way to empathize with your audience?
Great advice. I’m also noticing a shift in attitude [both from clients and from ethical marketers], away from hardcore sales tactics, to a gentler, equitable approach to selling. I like your suggestion of using Empathy to relate to your prospects. I think that this will help to coach positive buying decisions, based on features and benefits, without the need to hammer home pain points. I agree that if you want to foster brand loyalty and build a good relationship with your prospects, it’s better to create a feel-good experience, that does not lead to pangs of regret down the line. No one likes to be duped, so we can use our sales methods for good. Let’s not try to override customers critical thinking by using heavy sales-psychology tactics. Aggressive Pain-Agitate-Solve messages can almost coerce people to buy, to ‘solve’ their ‘problem’, regardless of whether they can afford it or not.
Absolutely! People are tired of bait-and-switch tactics that make them feel taken advantage of.