Behind the Buzzwords

Show Me Where it Hurts - The Future of Pain Points


I’m old enough to remember when meeting customer needs profitably was the core principle of marketing-led business. We articulated needs and identified opportunities. But these terms were not sufficient, and particularly urgent and difficult to solve needs became “pain points.”

At the start of its semiotic life, a pain point was a thing – a point at which some problem or inefficiency caused a business to feel the pain. Then it was a moment – when the customer became so exasperated with a situation that they actually acted in response. Most recently, pain point has been used to describe a constraint – a key limiting factor. In some cases, solving a pain point doesn’t fix a problem, but creates a new market entirely.

Pain points used to be identified in order to solve a problem so that a business could take a specific action. Now they are what makes a business take action – faster and faster. We’ve moved to a world of no friction, in which everything is streamlined. It began with simplification of software and web interfaces, hiding less-used functions deep in menus. Now, as a result of the propensity to reduce all processes to two clicks or less, we’re left wondering: “How exactly do I control my privacy settings?”

However, in the developing world, old-fashioned pain points are still the driving force behind disruptive innovations: For example, 50 percent of Kenya’s entire GDP is expected to pass through mobile phone payment platforms over the next twelve months because Kenya lacks the number of banks, landlines, and ATMs necessary to support the current volume of trade using traditional means of commerce. Farmers turn on their water pumps using missed calls and crowdsourced crisis information is collected and sent to thousands with handsets costing 20 dollars or less.

Working with technology in Africa gives new perspective to the concept of pain points. This is a continent where millions are accessing the Internet for the first time - on a small cellphone screen, in 256 colors or in black and white. Pain is relative.

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About the Author

Kevan Christmas

Kevan has built and run Marketing and Communications companies on three
continents marked by innovation and a digital focus. He has spent the last 5 years on the client side working in R&D and mobile - most recently as COO of Africa’s largest mobile social network.