Focus on the pain, not your features


I love meeting founders. Fueled with purpose and optimism they go against all odds to create a product that should exist in the world. But they all make the same mistake.

"We’re building an AI-driven, machine learning, chat bot, with big data and a conversational interface."

Zzzz. Boring.

The problem isn’t their product, it’s the way they talk about their product. They talk about its features.

Features may be interesting to investors and engineers but not to prospective buyers. Buyers care about the pain. Here’s an illustrative example:

My wife became ghastly sick shortly after the birth of our first daughter. She visited dozens of doctors, nurses, and specialists but her condition befuddled all of them. “Interesting” was their only response. That’s physician speak for “holy s%#! I’ve never seen this before.” Meanwhile, my wife was in horrific pain.

Then we met Dr. H. 

Dr. H. examined my wife, reviewed her labs and said: “I know exactly what you have.” He went on to explain the rare condition, the researcher who initially discovered it, and the other patients he had seen with the condition. 

He named the problem.

At that moment we were willing to let Dr. H. operate on my wife simply because he articulated the problem better than anyone else. We had no clue if he was a skilled surgeon (we later discovered that he was an exceptional surgeon) but we assumed that because he understood the pain he also knew the solution. This led me to a realization:

Whoever best articulates the problem also earns the right to solve it.

The mistake most founders make is they start with their features when they should start with the customer's pain.

Marketers know that articulating (and then solving pain) creates emotional resonance. The greater the pain, the greater the impact. 

Marketers should climb the Pain Ladder in their messaging and positioning.


Let’s look at the example of a hypothetical AI, chatbot, customer concierge technology for customer service.

Features: “AI-driven, chatbot, with a conversational interface.”

Needs: “Agents need a way quickly respond to customer issues.”

Pain: “Customer satisfaction will drop if customers don’t receive quick, attentive, service.”

Job disruption: “The contact center is now the new customer experience center. Your job isn’t to handle cases, it’s to deliver a great customer experience.”

Industry disruption: Occasionally the pain is so great that companies disrupt the entire industry e.g. Apple, Amazon, SpaceX and Tesla

Remember, it’s never about your features.