Aspirin or Vitamins?

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.