The point of pain in behavioural influence

How do you get people to consider a product they haven’t recognised a need for? In other words, how do you get your customer to be bothered to think about you? One option is to create a pain point.

Take this example of an advertisement for eye drops, for instance.

bri williams

The ad asks us to “take the 10 second dry eye test” before providing;

  • a faux diagnosis (“you may have…”) and
  • solution (their range of eye drops).

Now as you’ve probably realised, staring at any image for 10 seconds will more than likely cause them to sting, burn or water. That is, after all, what we try to avoid by blinking every every two-10 seconds.

But setting aside the ethics of their approach, I do have to commend them on how behaviourally effective the ad is. You see, the ad creates a pain point, and once that is established, we’re motivated to find a solution. If we view it through the lens of my ‘behaviour change model’, to bump people out of their existing status quo (not buying eye drops), this business needed to overcome system one: “Apathy.”

In simple terms, they needed to get the elephant to be bothered. To do this, they have created a pain point about dry eyes and provided a path to the new status quo (buying eye drops). The elephant has a reason to be bothered and a straightforward solution to resolve the issue.



And it doesn’t just work for eye drops.

Upgrading from free to paid software

My computer was running more slowly than I wanted it to. In my research I came across Clean My Mac 3, a free download that diagnoses the reasons for poor speed. Free indeed. So why do I now happily pay?

This business has successfully moved me no software to paid software by influencing me to take action across two steps.

Step 1. Move me from no software to free trial.

Step 2. Move me from free trial to paid.

How did they do it? In short, they first ran a diagnostic, then it showed me very clearly where the problems lay, then it cleaned 500MB of redundant data for free. Finally, I got a screen that showed me what other data I needed to clean beyond my free allocation.

In terms of the Behaviour Change Model, Clean My Mac3 tackled two key behavioural barriers, anxiety and apathy.


To overcome anxiety about the purchase they gave me;

  1. Nothing to lose by trying their solution (500MB free), and
  2. Something to lose if I didn’t purchase (the remaining redundant data)

And to address apathy they engaged my system one ‘path of least resistance’ brain by making the process extremely easy; easy to understand and easy to take action, which meant reward was greater than effort.


Lessons for your business

  •  To make people care about taking action, consider identifying a pain point.
  • Pain points are most effective if they are delivered without judgment (don’t personalise the issue or your customer will get too defensive).
  • Ensure the pain point is significant from the customer’s perspective, not only yours.
  • Don’t confuse a pain point with something you are doing that frustrates them!
  • The solution must seem easy – don’t overwhelm them with options or caveats.

P.S. I mentioned creating a pain point is one strategy to address customer apathy. There are at least seven others that you can use from behavioral economics, including framing, short-term bias and social norms. Email me if you want to know more.

Bri Williams runs People Patterns, a consultancy specialising in the application of behavioural economics to everyday business issues.





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