I watched a couple seasons of Mad Men, and here is, by far, my favorite scene:
There’s a marketing lesson in it, too. It strikes at the most important marketing question of all…
Why do people buy stuff?
What simple statement explains why things are valuable enough for us to trade our precious money?
We’ve probably all heard the saying that people buy based on emotion, not logic. There’s much truth in this. No matter how coldly logical and practical a purchase may seem, there’s always a subtle, emotional aspect (why did you choose that loaf of bread or brand of light bulb over another?). But there’s more.
I could go into Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, William James’ explanation of basic human desires, Elmer Wheeler’s five motivators, or some other psychological dissertation…but let’s keep this simple: people buy things to help them along in the journey of life.
And what are the two basic motivators in this journey? I think the answer boils down to this: avoid pain, experience pleasure. Pain repels us from death, and pleasure attracts us toward the enhancement of life.
The dictionary defines pleasure as “enjoyment or satisfaction derived from what is to one’s liking; gratification; delight.” Pleasure can be found in many types of activities, and is the reward for pursuing goals that improve our survival in some way, to some degree.
Pain is defined as “physical suffering or distress, as due to injury, illness, etc.” and “mental or emotional suffering or torment.” It’s the result of the pursuit of goals that impair our survival.
The urges to experience pleasure and avoid pain lie at the heart of all of our activities in life, buying included. This isn’t abstract philosophy; this is empirical fact. Just think about it for a moment: review any activity you’re engaged in and ask yourself what pleasure you’re seeking or what pain you’re trying to avoid. Nothing in life falls outside of this simple framework.
Now, those two categories subdivide into a near-endless list of specific varieties. Pain can take many forms: the aches of arthritis, being ridiculed for poor work, hearing words of rejection from a girl, fiery, persistent heartburn, cringing when you step on the scale, failing to grasp the piano, and so on.
Pleasure has many forms too: enjoying your work, thinking of accomplishments, reading a good book, talking with a good work, climbing a mountain, having a first kiss, planning for the future, and even dreaming of things you’ll probably never do.
What this boils down to is if you want to make your products or services irresistible to your prospects, you must be able to persuasively show that you can help them avoid pain or experience pleasure. And not just any old pains or pleasures, either—the exact pains they are suffering from and the exact pleasures they salivate over.
Every great marketing campaign in history did this; some focused only on avoiding pain, others only on experiencing pleasure, and others combined both.
Two of the primary things you must uncover are, in the realm of your product or service, what pains your prospects are currently experiencing or will agree are on the horizon and what pleasures are real, valuable and worth striving for.
The only way to grab someone’s attention as they flit past your advertising is to hit them where they’re at. Talking about pains they have no experience with or foresight of, or about pleasures they may not even realize are possible or desirable is a sure road to failure.
To put this in perspective, in the late 1800s, few American homes had a bathtub or even running water. Several manufacturers started advertising bathtubs, but people weren’t sold on the idea and thus didn’t want them. Some states placed special taxes on them and one even made it illegal to have a bathtub. Many years of persistent advertising, done at great expense, eventually changed this, but it was a lesson in the massive costs and headaches connected with swaying mass opinion and fabricating trends.
So the point is this: When you try to market anything to anyone, you must address him at his current reality or he won’t accept your message. And one of the first aspects of his reality you want to address is that of pains and pleasures because these are what motivate people to take action.
It has been said that when you can describe a prospect’s problem better than he can—when you can show you really understand him, his frustrations, his dreams—he automatically assumes you have the answer.
When you know the real answers to these questions, you’ll have an incredibly persuasive insight into your prospects’ minds. You will be able to see the world through their eyes and exploit the deep-seated emotional motivators that dictate their actions.
Many marketing gurus teach that you must uncover your prospect’s fears and frustrations and wants and aspirations. As marketers, they jump all over people’s pains, make them yearn for the exact pleasures they dream about, and often make a point to show them how painful things will continue to be if immediate action isn’t taken. And they sell billions of dollars of products every year.