Possibilities vs. Pain Points: Which Message is Better?


Posted on September 25, 2017 by Aaron Johnson


When you’re developing a message for inbound marketing, is it better to address pain points or suggest possibilities? We explore different marketing message approaches to test conversions. Consider two different approaches to the same product.

Keep Watch On Your Pets 24/7 With PetLook

Does your dog bark as much as the neighbors say? Are your kitties tearing up the sofa? Stop worrying and get PetLook—the pet monitor that lets you give commands, hand out treats, and keep the peace.

Stay Close To Your Pets With PetLook

Life isn’t the same when you’re away from your pets… and you know the feeling’s mutual. More than a monitor, PetLook is just like being home. Let them hear your voice. Send treats. Share the love.

The first version speaks to an established need, the kind that’s likely to come up in a Google search. Yet by isolating a problem, it also highlights a negative: it reminds us that animals are basically a pain in the butt. This amplifies the utility of the product but diminishes its aspirational value (you don’t get a pet just so you can have something to keep off the couch).

Rather than solving problems, the second version suggests possibilities, offering the product as a medium for closeness between pet and owner. It’s better for brand value but limited by a lack of precision. Search “keep watch on your pets” and you’ll get listings for pet monitors. Search “stay close to your pets” and you’ll get a whole bunch of options, ranging from monitors and boarding to pet-friendly restaurants.

Faster Horses (In Different Colors)

“If I’d asked my customers what they wanted, they’d have said faster horses.”  Henry Ford didn’t really say this, but he was still right on the money. Customers are generally good at articulating their needs and will respond well to anything that promises to do it better. What they usually can’t describe are all the possible ways the product could affect their lives… because they generally don’t know what those possibilities are until the marketing tells them (or “inspires,” to use a friendlier term).

Such was the case with the iPhone. To paraphrase the quote above, if you’d asked consumers in 2006 what they wanted in their cellphones, they’d have described ways to make a better phone: “I need an external antenna that won’t break off,” “The buttons are too small.” Smartphones existed, but their appeal was limited. Why pay more for a tiny computer that you have to type on with your thumbs? What do you really need it for?

Then Steve Jobs showed us why. He did succeed in making a better smartphone—but that, as the ad campaign told us, was only the beginning. Sleek and fluid, the iPhone was an expression of style. It was linked to an online store that always had new and exciting apps to try on an impulse. The marketing didn’t tell us, “we just made smartphones less annoying and pretentious.” As Jobs explained, the iPhone was “like having your life in your pocket.”

This is epic brand storytelling—but then again, nobody’s going to type “I need my life in my pocket” into a search window. Inbound marketing works by responding to a need; the job of brand storytelling is to uplift that need into something higher. Clearly, there’s something to be gained by making both approaches work together.

Better Get Better

The key word here is “better.” Consumers don’t always know what they want in life, but they know what will make their lives better. This provides a great opportunity to pivot. They come to you thinking that “better” means a quieter pet. You answer that “better” also means remembering why they got a pet in the first place.

Let’s say that your search campaign targets specific queries (“How do I keep my dog from barking while I’m at work?”) while your social content is aimed at emotional uplift (a video of a pet owner singing a long-distance duet with her parakeet). Although these seem like different approaches, they actually have something important in common: they’re both about about better communication with your pets.

This refines the positioning. Suddenly the PetLook is no longer a “monitor,” it’s a private social network with your pet. You could drive this home with a display ad that shows a quiet, obedient dog looking into the PetLook, hearing only Her Master’s Voice while the copy reads: “SIT. STAY. SPEAK. You talk, they listen.” Both the need for better discipline and the desire for close contact are addressed.

A product isn’t just about fulfilling a need. As with Ford, Apple, and the not-available-in-stores PetLook, it’s also about helping customers discover new needs to fulfill. By taking a closer look at where all those needs intersect, it’s possible to have the best of both worlds.


Whether you’re trying to solve problems or pursue possibilities, Social Link has the in-house expertise to support your marketing needs. Get in touch and let’s get started!

You might also enjoy...