The Customer Desire and Pain Principle


The Consumer Pain Points

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Potential customers often need to feel pain before they decide to purchase or 'must have' that product or service. Why is this the case?

Let us take a moment to consider the above ‘Desire and Pain’ graph and to review it from a customer acquisition perspective.

The graph illustrates clearly that the greater the combined values of desire and pain, the greater the upward pressure becomes on the offer price or sales volume.

To illustrate this point imagine that a designer handbag is in the top left section of the graph (high desire and low pain). It is very desirable with minimum pain and can choose to achieve either a high volume of sales or a high sales price.

In the opposite top right-hand corner of the graph, imagine that we have insurance. It is not so desirable but resolves a major potential future pain point or the projected fear of something happening.  

A product or service places in the middle of the graph would be a combination of both areas, we often like it and it takes away some pain points. This could easily be a sun holiday, or weekend getaway depending on your personal viewpoint.

These two areas are often complementary factors (complimentary and not competitive) that drive that all important final decision to buy (Desire and Pain). Desire is founded in what the customer believes the product or service will give them, generally understood as a positive proposition or state of mind.

The Pain of Loss


The Pain is not physical, in this context but refers to the Pain of Loss (POL). It is the pain we feel when we go without a product or service. For example, that negative feeling or sense of fear we get with most insurance products. What if something goes wrong and we are not fully insured?

As the pain or desire intensifies, we move from ‘like to have ’ to ‘want to have’ to ‘need to have’ and finally to ‘must have’. The elements of pain and desire can certainly change our behaviour from shopping in a frenzied manner or to shopping in a herd like a mentality! Remember the last time you ‘must have’ those shoes or that concert ticket? If the desire index is high then sometimes so is the pain score (POL) of not going to that gig, or getting those shoes. This is often why desire and pain are complimentary indices.

This is especially true of habit forming purchases. In his best-selling book ‘Hooked’ by Nir Eyal, he comments: ‘Habit-forming products often start as nice-to haves (vitamins) but once the habit is formed, they become must-haves (pain-killers)’. What would you feel most if someone took away your Spotify, Audible or Netflix account? A POL right? This is because you have got the habit and your ‘like’ has moved to a ‘must have’.  The nirvana of the consumer SAAS model.

Influencing factors

Every company should want to influence their offering to move to the right (from a like to a must). In order to achieve this, I believe there are a number of critical influencing factors to be taken into further consideration.

The first factor is timing. The new Christmas tree lights are a ‘must have’ on or before December 24th, but they don’t even register on the 26th.

The second area is around availability. The ease of purchase is important, the harder it is to buy, the more that this dramatically increases the pain or POL I need to be personally feeling to pursue the purchase. Making it 'hard to buy'  is such a self inflected wound.

Lastly consider the importance of frequency. Do I already use it? Has a habit been already been formed?

In fact, add in all the typical customer influence indices and you will alter your products pin position on the graph based on: Frequency, loyalty, duration, timing, familiarly, availability. (e.g. the $5 chocolate bar in the hotel minibar – is probably only highly desirable only because of timing and availability).

Increasing Sales

To increase sales we have to increase either the desire or pain our customer feel. My vote is to sometimes turn up the pain.  It is often the easier dial to move – to message about the pain of loss.

Now, there is nothing scary here!  What I am simply suggesting is that to move your product positioning to the right-hand side of the graph and higher up, you need to challenge every sales and marketing campaign concept, both online and offline. Ask yourself what percentage (if any!) of activity is actually telling the story of what happens ‘if you don’t buy’, is emphasizing the POL?

A Global Members Club

At Sanctifly we are delighted that we are expanding rapidly. Our customers love the idea of a global members club that grants access to airport hotels' gym, pool and spa facilities without having to book a room.

We are passionate about changing the way business travellers use their airport downtime. Instead of hanging around the airport waiting or between flights we encourage people to do a workout, or treat your body to a swim, stretch. Sounds really good right?

Changing Habits

Changing habits, even ones we know are bad for us is an often a hard marketing challenge. Do we use our social media messaging to focus on the desire to feel good, in our case ‘a healthy alternative for your airport downtime’ or the pain approach to messaging ‘how bad commercial flying is for your overall health.’?

Whilst we are focused on providing an excellent service and we are delighted with our growth,  we do find ourselves often discussing the finer points of generating or creating the pain of loss with potential new customer campaigns.

One thing I do know, is that we should be asking ourselves with each marketing initiative; “how does this influence our potential customer's POL?”


If you have views on the elements raised in this article we would love to hear from you. Please feel free to comment below or get in touch with us here directly here at Sanctifly.