Aspirin or Vitamins?

Posted on March 25, 2012 by Josh Linkner

If you have a burning headache, you’ll do whatever it takes to subdue it.  If it’s 3:00 am on a cold, snowy night and you are out of pain killers, you’ll bundle up, drive to a 24-hour pharmacy, and desperately pay nearly any cost to alleviate your pain.

Vitamins are a different story.  They are a nice-to-have, not a gotta-have-right-now.  You certainly won’t race out in the middle of the night for them.  You’ll think twice about the cost, get to them when convenient, and likely forget them altogether on a semi-regular basis.

As a marketer, entrepreneur, or business leader, ask yourself… are you selling aspirin or vitamins?

It turns out that selling vitamins is roughly ten times more difficult since you are marketing an “optional” product.  Vitamin purchases lack urgency, are frequently price-sensitive, and offer the customer the viable alternative to doing absolutely nothing.

It’s obvious that fixing a broken furnace, diabetes meds, and basic food are in the “aspirin” category.  It’s also obvious that glamor magazines, luxury vacations, and diamond bracelets are “vitamins.”  But it’s likely the product you or your company sells is somewhere in the middle.

The difference is often how the product is positioned and marketed.  Savvy brands fork over millions to their agencies to advertise their latest gear as “must haves.”  You can skip the agencies by tapping into your own creativity and making sure you are standing out from the pack with a truly compelling offering.

As a venture capitalist, one of the first questions I ask myself when evaluating a startup for possible investment: Are they selling aspirin or vitamins?  Businesses that service burning demand and visceral human needs tend to accelerate faster and require far less marketing push than those that offer stuff customers can easily live without.

Whether you’re launching a new product line, starting a business, or expanding into a new geographic territory, give a deep look in the mirror to figure out which you are selling.  If it turns out you’re selling vitamins, it may be time to go back to the drawing board to sell something different or at a minimum to position your product/service/solution with more urgency.

The more you can solve a real consumer pain, the more success you’ll enjoy.  Just what the doctor ordered.

5 Responses to “Aspirin or Vitamins?

  1. Hey Josh:  I love your weekly advice e mail but this week, I was surprised to see that you suggest sellers of products would be better off without agencies and using their own creativity to position their products.  Hmm. My experience has shown me that manufacturers, financial experts and business managers/owners, for the most part, are good at what they do but lack real and deep expertise in marketing. The most successful of these know they lack this specific and necessary expertise..they know that they don’t know.

    All too often, advisors like you and less successful businesses fail to look at “agencies”  as experts in their own right with a critical role in the growth (or failure) of businesses, brands and products.

    I might suggest you’d have been more accurate suggesting rather than “skipping” the agencies, businesses should find an experienced agency with expertise in helping good clients move to and live successfully in the aspirin strategy.

    Keep your valuable dialog coming. Thanks Josh

    Scott Thornton
    Managing Partner
    TMV Group, Birmingham

  2. Correction / follow-up comment: My thoughts here were not meant to suggest that agencies don’t add value and that every company should do all marketing/positioning/product development in-house. There are incredible agencies that add untold value and I highly recommend exploring the help of others. My point was simply that if you dont have the cash, tapping into your own creativity can help pivot your ho-hum ideas into something that is compelling to customers.

  3. Hey Josh, thanks for your weekly blog and the metaphor. I’m pretty sure I’m selling vitamins considering I’m a personal apartment locator, but with you putting things into perspective for me, I now know that I just need to work harder at finding the body builders/health conscience people to sell them to. I think that finding your market is also the key to success, which is what my challenges have been. I too don’t have the cash to hire someone to do the marketing for me, so yes I’m one of those business owners that have to brainstorm with friends and family, as well as, tap into my own creative juices. Thanks again for the great blogs you deliver weekly, and much continued success to you!

    Karyn McCray
    Owner/Founder of
    Cool Places to Live

  4. hey Josh

    Loved the way you’ve written this… just a thought.. what if you make the vitamin an integral part of your life,modify it in such a way that pretty much solves or reduces any pain … something that addresses dual issues..and try and reduce the need for aspirin…may be I would sell Vitamins with a twist.. do you think thats possible??