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Show Me Where it Hurts: Using Big Data to Address Consumer Pain Points and Put the Hurt on Your Competition

Nowhere outside quantum physics will you find more hypothesis, theories, and “principles” than in marketing. One theory, which has proven surprisingly powerful in advertising, is the theory of pain points. The theory holds that customers buy the products they buy in order to relieve themselves of a particular issue (point) causing them pain. How can you use big data to identify those pain points and improve your sales?

What is a Pain Point?

Where do your customers “hurt”? How can your products relieve the “pain”?

A pain point is essentially a point of pain that drives customers to make buying decisions. Obviously, pain points vary radically from one product to another. Paris Hilton’s pain point might be an intense desire to wear something amazing to tonight’s hottest club — driving her to ease that pain with a $100,000 diamond necklace. Middle-class-Mom’s pain point is a serious need to get out the grass stains from her son’s only good pair of jeans without spending $18 on brand name detergent and stain remover. Executive Joe’s pain point could be finding a payroll system that his HR staff with limited technical skills can learn to use without spending a month in Chicago for training.

How to Use Big Data to Find Your Customers’ Pain Points

Finding the pain points for customers buying dandruff shampoo and child safety seats is easy. Determining the pain points driving the sales of games, fashion accessories, kitchen gadgets, and high-end software can be more difficult. Often, what your intuition tells you and what the data tells you don’t match up. Surveys can be misleading — sometimes because the customer doesn’t actually realize what’s driving their buying behavior and often because they aren’t completely honest on surveys.

Most businesses already have a baseline set of data to begin analysis to determine pain points. Surveys are a good start, supplemented by transactional data, data on the success of past marketing campaigns, and website analytics. But to get a truly accurate picture, other data sets are needed.

This data can come from a variety of sources, and the more layers you can add the better your identification of pain points will be. Most businesses are already using social media and extracting data from their direct interactions with customers. But the gold mine lies in the interactions your customer base engages in off of your own account — what they complain about, get excited about, or question in their own posts and interactions.

Pain point data can also be extracted from customers’ shopping habits outside your website. Other data lies in video cameras in your stores, customer emails to your company, and customer reviews on Amazon, TripAdvisor, Yelp,, Angie’s List, the Better Business Bureau, etc.

When big data identifies your customers’ pain points, you no longer have to come at them from every direction — you can hone your ads to position your product as the unique solution.

With all of these resources at hand, you can derive a deep understanding of your customers, what pain points drive their buying decisions, and what your company needs to do to establish your products as relief for that “pain.” There are numerous affordable and powerful solutions for conducting this analysis, including R, Hadoop, YARN, Spark, HBase, and more.

How to Position Your Product as Relief for the Customer’s Pain Points

Establishing your product as a reliever for a specific pain point requires a little different positioning. Once your marketing department has the data to identify what solutions your customers need out of your products, it can be a matter of repositioning the existing product or tweaking the product to better meet the needs of your target customer base.

For example, if the data indicates that your customers are willing to pay whatever it takes to solve a given “problem” in their life, you can use an entirely different pricing structure than if your data indicates that solving the problem affordably is the main issue customers face.

This knowledge also helps you position your product uniquely in the marketplace, which is extraordinarily valuable. For instance, if customers are looking for the biggest versus the smallest, the highest-quality versus the most affordable, or the prettiest versus the most utilitarian products, your company can establish your products as a solution to these particular quandaries.

Pain points definitely aren’t the only use for big data in marketing, but can be a valuable extra tool in the old marketing toolbox.

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