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Using Pain and Pleasure to Increase Marketing ROI

There are only two drivers of human behavior, pain avoidance and pleasure seeking, and marketers should keep this fact in mind when crafting their strategies.

Here are some examples of marketing messages taking advantage of these dual drivers of human behavior.  Note how much more often pleasure seeking is used than pain avoidance, simply because it’s more effective.

Pain:

Pain or Pleasure:

  • Trying to get you to accept their opinion as a belief.

Pleasure:

  • Making you laugh, thus trying to transfer that emotion that theirs is a ‘fun’ brand/product.
  • Trying to ‘wow’ you with cool imagery, thus trying to link the ‘cool’ factor to their brand/product promise.
  • Trying to inspire you, thus trying to link the ‘awesome’ factor to their brand/product promise.
  • Using the awww factor—animals and babies (often combined with humor)—thus trying to create the ‘halo’ effect toward their brand/product.
  • Then, of course, the always-popular sex sells technique.

The problem is that most of us base our decisions about what to do on what’s going to create pain or pleasure in the short term instead of the long term.  Yet, in order to succeed, most of the things that we value require us to be able to break through the wall of short term pain in order to have long term pleasure.  Remember it’s not actual pain that drives us, but our fear that something will lead to pain.  And it’s not actual pleasure that drives us, but our belief—our sense of certainty—that somehow taking a certain action will lead to pleasure.  We’re not driven by the reality, but by our perception of reality. ~Tony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within

Although pleasure seeking is the stronger driver of human behavior, pain is our most effective creator of behavioral change when going down the wrong path. I learned recently from Tony Robbins that the best way to create change in yourself when doing something that you know is bad for you in the long term, but pleasurable in the short term, is to create so much pain in your mind around that thing that you have no choice but to make a decision to change.  The only way to do this is to “scratch the record” that goes round and round in your brain by feeding it lots of new, negative information about the long term effects of the pleasurable thing.  The down side, when a marketer tries to use pain to change a pleasurable behavior instead of the individual seeking this out for themselves, is that it’s far too easy to ignore if the person isn’t open to hearing it.

Marketers must know if they are trying to create a short term or long term consumer behavior change.  If trying to create a short term affect—e.g. buy our artery-clogging hamburger today—then marketers shy consumers away from the long term affect of their choice and focus on the pleasure (for those who eat meat) of today.  If creating a long term behavior change—e.g. buy our low-fat sandwiches today—then marketers pin their message on the long term affects of healthy eating habits.  This is why Subway recently surpassed McDonald’s in worldwide store units.  Focusing on long term positive (rather than negative) affects is more effective in capturing long term consumer loyalty; however, there are also plenty of folks who focus on today’s pleasures and don’t want to think about the negative affects of their choices in the future.

On another side of this issue, marketers who claim to focus on positive long term behavior changes—e.g. join our fitness gym today—often woefully focus on their short term goals instead.  As example, I called my local Bally Total Fitness to see how much they charge to join ($66 for 2 months upfront), their monthly fee ($30), for classes ($3 each or included in the monthly fee, depending on the class) and for personal training, which was like pulling teeth to get a straight answer.  The first guy I spoke with about personal training said “about $60 an hour” but he really didn’t know(!) and when I asked to be put through to someone in the personal training area, he hung up on me(!).  I called back, undeterred, and was put through to one of the trainers.  Rob also wouldn’t give me a straight answer. Finally, after much annoying back-and-forth about my fitness goals and experience, he said that when you join you can buy a package of 12 classes for $33 an hour but it goes up after that to “$49 to $99 an hour.”  I asked what criteria made the price $49 or more, and he said it “had to do with your fitness goals” and felt that mine, to tone up, would “put me at the lower end of the scale.” So the message Bally is sending to consumers is if you don’t want to spend a ton of money at their gym than don’t have high fitness goals to achieve.  I would like to see gyms include personal fitness training in their price, realizing that helping people achieve their long term goals and not creating a confusing, sliding scale—that even employees don’t know how to communicate—is not good for business.  It seems to me that Bally is focused on their short term goals of getting a minimum of two months out of people, figuring they’ll quit after that, instead of helping their customers achieve their long term fitness goals and making this financially feasible.

Compare Bally to a gym an acquaintance made me aware of recently, which I’m considering joining…Pop Physique is a dance-oriented woman’s gym, which appeals to me as I’ve always hated the gym but love to dance, and their small class sizes offers what is in essence a personal trainer.  Their pricing structure is straight-forward and on their website: $100 for the first month of unlimited classes and $150 after.  They also offer a single class for $20, and packages of classes that don’t provide much of a price break ($1 to $2 each).  If I want to go at least a couple of times a week the unlimited classes are the cheaper option, which is obviously intended.  Overall, it seems to me they are focused on my goals, to break through the short term pain of exercise for the long term benefits, to have fun and obtain the benefits of personal attention.

In summary, be aware of the power of pain and pleasure principals in your marketing efforts.  If your objectives are to help people achieve long term pleasure, you can address the needs of your customers in overcoming any short term pains.  If your objectives are to give consumers short term pleasures that can lead to long term pains, then you can give them other options also, e.g. smaller portions, healthier alternatives and clearly communicate the unhealthiness of the choice so that it is used infrequently.

Happy ROI hunting!

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