Pain and Pleasure Principle in Marketing

Pain and Pleasure in making choicesOne of the most revolutionary theories of Sigmund Freud is the Pleasure Principle. While it encompasses both pain and pleasure, it is most typically referred to as the Pleasure Principle.

Read further to discover why it should be called the Pain Principle.

Decisions based on Pain

Every decision you make is guided by, if not determined by, the principle of pain and pleasure. The actions you take, the course of direction each day, habits you have developed are all derived from the principle of pain and pleasure.

Even the simplest, everyday tasks are directed by your need to avoid pain and to gain pleasure. You don’t want cavities and have your teeth rot and fall out do you? So you brush your teeth everyday and probably get your teeth cleaned once or twice a year. It’s your fear of far in the future pain that makes you brush everyday – some, twice a day.

Maybe you don’t want to be overweight, then you’ll workout and eat right. Your fear of near future pain makes you decide to take these actions.

You probably don’t want to walk a long distance with a gas can in your hand, so you put gas in your vehicle before it’s too late. Is that pleasurable? Most likely – no. But your fear of near term pain, running out of gas, makes you decide to pull into the nearest gas station and fill-up.

Do any of those scenarios “fit” you?

Did you see how those sentences where constructed? They were started with a pain avoidance. “You don’t want cavities…”, “You don’t want to be overweight…”, “You don’t want to walk a long distance…”

Everyday tasks are controlled by your rules for avoiding pain and gaining pleasure. Everyone has their own personal “formula”. You past life experiences create your formula.

Pain in making choices

If those sentences didn’t resonate with you, maybe if they were rewritten as gaining pleasure instead of avoiding pain, you could relate better.

Maybe, “Brush your teeth twice a day and everyone will notice your smile!” Or, “Workout 5 times a week to look and feel great and you’ll live longer too!”

See which one of those “feels” better to you and you’ll get an indication of whether you’re more prone to avoid pain or to gain pleasure.

Immediate Pain vs. Immediate Pleasure

Timing makes an incredible difference in how these two emotions direct us. The majority of people will do much more to avoid immediate pain than they will to gain immediate pleasure. It’s part of our survival instinct. The greater we realize the potential for pain in any given situation, the more motivation there is to avoid the pain.

Potential pain in the future is less motivating. Our brains will evaluate the likelihood of actually experiencing pain and decide, based on our life’s experiences, whether we should take action to avoid that pain or just simply see what happens.

The volume of pain or pleasure coincides with the timing. If the potential for a large amount of future pain, like all your teeth decaying so bad they fall out, the more likely you’ll take action to prevent it. If the only potential pain was your teeth turning one shade darker over 20 years, you’d be less likely to take action.

Perception is your reality

Actually it’s the perception of pain and pleasure and their immediacy that motivates us into action.Your perception determines your realitySince we don’t know for sure what the future holds, our brain’s prefrontal cortex is constantly making assumptions and judgments about the future. In reality, it’s the perception or anticipation of pain or pleasure that motivates us.

As toddlers we begin to interpret life’s experiences to determine what will equal pain and what will mean pleasure. A toddler walks across the room to a waiting parent’s arms because they know the experience will bring a large amount of pleasure – immediately, parents cheering, clapping and smiling.

Emotions of anger, hurt, stress, anxiety, overwhelm, frustration, depression, loss, etc. will lead to building your perception of pain. Each of these experiences train our minds to interpret painful situations.

Laughter, happiness, enthusiasm, curiosity, love, joy, gratitude, excitement, etc. help our minds define future meanings of pleasure.

Pain and Pleasure in Goal Setting

You just set a goal. In order to achieve that goal you must do something that makes you feel uncomfortable – the experience of pain. You go through the process of weighing the consequences of either taking action or not taking action. You know that achieving this goal will bring a lot of pleasure – in the future. However in order to achieve this goal will require an action that will bring you a large amount of near term pain (the feeling of uncomfortable).

Let’s say your goal is to create a new website for your business. What will people think? Will it rank highly in the search engines? Will you be able to monetize your new site? Will it load fast? Can you generate more traffic through social media? What if you don’t get your site ranked? Should you use funnels? Who will create them? Should you run Facebook ads? Who’s your target audience? Will Google ads be better for your target audience?

What will you do?

Is this a goal you should pursue right now? You really want to avoid the pain you’ll experience in order to achieve this goal, but having a nice new website would be great. You’ll have to commit the time to create a new design, write new content, do competitor analysis, select proper keywords and all the other time consuming tasks that go along with creating a new website.

This could result in vicious circle of procrastination. The short-term pain you would experience in order to achieve this longer-term goal could stop you from just “going for it”.

Conversely, you could look at this goal as a series of instant gratification steps. You know you’ll love the new look. That means pleasure. You’ll enjoy analyzing your competitors sites and finding “holes” in their content. You decide to go for it and you salivate over the various steps. Each step is an instant gratification (gaining immediate pleasure).

The potential problem here is that you get addicted to these instant gratification steps. When you’re “finished” with your website, you may want to do it all over again. You’ve become an instant gratification junkie.

What Can You Do?

There is a strategy you can adopt that will help prevent you from becoming stuck in a circle of procrastination and also prevent you from becoming an instant gratification junkie.

  1. Prepare: Write your goal down. Verbalize it. Then think. Think a lot. Think about what can prevent you from achieving this goal. Investigate your self-sabotaging behaviors. Make a list. You want identify and quantify your limiting behaviors and beliefs. See if you can identify why you developed these limiting behaviors. What life experiences formed these behaviors? Then ask yourself if these behaviors still serve you. Is each behavior serving you or is it holding you back. Pain and pleasure work for you here.
  2. Ignite the flame of pain: Associate enough pain to the limiting behaviors and you’ll want to change. Feel the pain of allowing your limiting behaviors to continue controlling you. Ask yourself what this limiting behavior is costing you financially. Spiritually. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally. What are you missing out on because of these limiting behaviors? How are these limiting behaviors affecting those around you? What have these limiting behaviors cost you in the past? How often have they denied you the potential for pleasure? If you keep these limiting behaviors, what will it cost you in the future? What will you miss?
  3. Break the pattern: After you identify these limiting behaviors and associate so much pain with them, you’ll find it easier to break your pattern. You be able to identify each one as your mind want to use them in making decisions. At that moment, tell yourself, “No longer! No more!” Awareness becomes easier.
  4. Create stronger behaviors: Now you want to replace the limiting behavior with a much more powerful behavior. You can accomplish that by seeing yourself already behaving the way you want. See yourself with more confidence. See yourself more comfortable doing things that previously were outside your comfort zone. Bring all of your senses into the “new” you. Smell the scent of empowerment. Hear what this new you would hear. Would you listen to different music? Imagine everything your senses would detect with these new empowering behaviors.

Decisions are made with emotions and validated with logic

As founder of a website security company, I’ve seen this all the time. Since 2007 my company has removed malware from over 3.9 million websites. 97.7% of our customers have come to us after their websites were infected with malware.

I’ve spoken at conferences, technical and non-technical. I’ve shown people of all backgrounds why hackers want to infect their website and how easy it is. But they just don’t believe it will happen to them.

Until it does!

Then we hear, “how fast can you get this done?” “How did the hackers get in?” “What can you do to make sure they don’t get in again?”

But until the pain is immediate, they’re not motivated to take action. Nobody knows when it will happen, but the odds are – it will indeed happen. Most people think hackers only want the larger sites. They don’t realize hackers want websites of all sizes. The hackers can make money off of even the smallest website. Not by stealing credit card information but so many other ways.

Often times people don’t realize that getting ranked higher in the search engines actually makes that website a better target for hackers.

People will decide that:

  • Hackers only want the larger sites
  • Hackers only want sites that process credit cards
  • Their hosting provider is protecting them
  • It will never happen to their website

They decide that spending $39.95 a year to protect their website is more painful than the potentially long-term and “remotely” possible pain of actually having their website infected by hackers. They don’t believe the old saying, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!”

Maybe our marketing message should focus more on the pain. That’s what all the copywriters tell me and while that does make sense, I fear being labeled a “fear monger”.

To Use This In Your Marketing

When creating content, you could address some very likely, near-term pain points for those readers who are more motivated by pain. Then also create content that addresses the pleasure of your product or service offerings.

For our service, website security, about the only pleasure point we could address would be peace of mind. Website security will not increase your sales. It will help you preserve your sales, but not increase them.

What about in your marketing?

What about you personally?

Are you motivated to take action if you read content that tries to scare you with how painful a certain situation was for someone else? Do you have to know the person in the content? Or does it really have to resonate with your current situation?

Or are you more motivated to take action if content makes you laugh, or if it impresses you with images?

The pleasure principle is in full effect with all the viral cat videos. There are so many cat lovers and very few cat haters. If you see a video clip that just makes you say, “awwww!” you’re likely to share it. That’s the pleasure principle.

Please let me know if you’re more likely to respond to content that makes you fearful of not taking action, or content that makes you feel awesome if you were to take action.

Which is it?

I hope you found this information at least enlightening. If so, please share it in your Facebook groups, friends and family.

Thank you!


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