Anxiety-driven value propositions:

What product-centered anxiety means for your business

and what to do about it

ag analytics


The path towards switching to a new product or service is a bumpy ride. Photo by The Lazy Artist Gallery

Getting potential customers to buy your product or service can sometimes be an enduring battle. It’s common to look at motivations, goals, needs, expectations and desired outcomes in design, sales and marketing. In other words, the forces creating demand for products and services.

It is indeed important to take these factors into account, but there is so much more going on in our heads when considering changing to a new solution. In fact, the real potential for increasing acquisition, adoption and retention lies within the forces reducing demand for products and services.

At the center of this thought is the psychological forces compelling and opposing change. The new, flashy features of a product is only a tiny part of the descision-making process a customer goes through when switching to new solution.

Habits of the existing solution and anxiety of adopting a new one is often overlooked.

Anxiety is in particular a roadblock on the path progressing towards a new solution. And it is often silent.

Understanding anxiety

Before we jump into what you can do about it, let’s examine what forces are at play when customers consider new solutions, and thus how anxiety affects customer choice.

In the moment of choice, there are always two opposing forces battling for dominance; the forces compelling change to a new solution and those that oppose change.

Illustration credit: Bob Moesta

The forces promoting change to a new solution

There are two forces pushing and pulling customers to change solutions. These are also called the demand-generating forces.

It all starts with a push, a frustration with the current solution. Something that makes the customer think “this isn’t working for me.” It might not be enough that the struggle is simply nagging or annoying the customer — it has to be substantial enough before the customer starts looking elsewhere for a new solution.

The second force, the pull of an enticing new product or service, must be present for a change to happen. The important aspect of this force is the attracting idea of a new way. It is the customers imagining life with the given product or service in their life and the benefits it brings. It often comes in an aspirational form, like “My life is not bad right now, but I imagine being happier in this house,” or, “This new laptop would increase my productivity and help me become more succesful.”

The forces blocking change

As the illustration shows, the forces holding customers back from adopting a new solution is divided into two; inertia and anxiety. Another word for the opposing forces are demand-reducing forces.

Inertia covers customers’ familiarities and comforts with the current product or service that prevents them from switching. Even though the current solution is solving their job poorly, they’re comfortable with the solution and therefore stick with it. Or they may simply be used to solving the job in a certain way.

When considering switching to a new solution, customers very often have anxiety about adopting the new solution — and that’s a big one. Will it be a difficult service or product to adopt? Will it really work as promised? Is it reliable? Will I spend a lot of time becoming familiar with the solution? These types of questions can make a person anxious and block the ability to adopt a new product.

The anxiety of the unknown is a powerful barrier though often silent.

For example, a customer might be willing to purchase your product but fear that it’s too difficult to use. Instead, she sticks with the old way of doing things, even though she’s unhappy with it.

Searching for anxiety

The pull of a new solution is often where companies direct their efforts. They seek to make the pull so strong that customers can’t resist changing to the new solution. It is indeed important that the pull is present, but it’s an inadequate mindset to follow.

Customers adopt new products and solutions when the push and the pull outweigh inertia and anxiety.

It is often a question of overcoming the often-neglected opposing forces. We might do a great job at designing an onboarding journey or offering the sought-after functionality, which might seem as a great product or service. But if we don’t address customer inertia and especially customer anxieties, they may never adopt, or even consider adopting, a new solution.

The idea is not to avoid potential anxieties. That’s impossible. Big or small, there will always be inertia and anxiety. You need to embrace and accept inertia and anxiety and design your value proposition with them in mind, and the Forces Diagram offers a great, structured way of honing in on the forces blocking the customers from switching.

Start off with a curious mind. In general, you should always understand the problem before jumping into the solution. Investigating and mapping the forces that compel customers towards the new solution will help you narrow down your search for inertia and anxiety.

What made you realize that the current solution is not working for you anymore?
How did you imagine your life being better/easier with the new solution?
What made you choose product A over product B? What does product A have that product B hasn’t?

After mapping the demand-generating forces, start investigating inertia and anxiety. Customers can’t always consciously express the anxiety they experience when considering a solution. It is therefore essential to approach customers’ descision process with the right questions to get the right answers. Bear in mind you are often looking for social and emotional struggles, not functional.

From your first thought to actually choosing and consuming, tell me about the path.
Did something get in your way of purchasing this product? What? Why?
What else did you consider purchasing along this path?
If you knew you wanted this product at this point in time — why did you wait with buying it?
What was the tipping point? At what point did you think ‘I am going to purchase this’?

Keep in mind that these are product specific, meaning when a customer consider product A he might experience different anxieties compared to when considering product B.

Designing for anxiety

Once the search is over and you know your customers better, you can start integrating your insights into your business model.

When customers buy your product, they don’t just buy your product. They buy into the value proposition you offer, which also includes every value-creating element surrounding your product.

It is therefore very important also to consider these surrounding elements of your value proposition when looking to solve customer anxieties.

On that note, there is no 3-step process to design your value proposition around anxiety. It’s more complicated than that. There are, however, a few very useful tools to make use of once you have discovered your customers’ anxieties for switching.

One of those is guarantees. “Get your money back if you are not satisfied!” “We guarantee 100% uptime.” “Our support team will help you within 30 seconds!” It assures your customers that you are dedicated to the things they find important.

Another one is onboarding journeys. It works well with products or services where the transition can cause anxiety and the learning curve is steep. Onboarding journeys can span across the whole customer lifecycle and is not just about creating a walkthrough. Successful onboarding journeys acknowledge and target every step of the lifecycle that cause anxiety and help the customer progress towards being a more successful user.

A few other tools like refunds, trials, discounts and utilization of brand equity can reduce anxiety and help customers overcome their obstacles.

Get to work

Although many don’t realize, anxiety is a major thing.

It affects adoption, penetration, customer experience, retention and eventually commercial success and profit.

And that is just to name a few. Consequently, researching and integrating anxiety in and around your value proposition and acquisition strategy hold a huge potential for improving you business’ performance. So what are you waiting for? Dig into your customers’ anxiety and make their lives better.

Still interested? Listen to this podcast or read this article.



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