I don’t know who came up with this analogy but I’d love to thank them, because it’s a great way to think about your offering and its value proposition. Is it a vitamin? In other words, something that causes improvement. Or is it an aspirin? In other words, something that solves a problem.
Both might sound like beneficial offerings, and they are. But there’s a big difference when it comes to buyer behaviors. Imagine you have $1 to spend and, for purposes of this exercise, you must spend it today. Someone presents you with a vitamin in one hand and an aspirin in the other. They each cost, you guessed it, $1. Which will you choose?
If you don’t have a headache or other body pain, then you’ll probably go for the vitamin, because of its preventative health benefits. But if you have even a slight headache, you’ll choose the aspirin without any delay.
A serial entrepreneur named Andrew Busey commented that many consumer-focused companies aspire for their solution to be crack cocaine. I love the analogy, because it brings the addictive “can’t live without it” factor into the equation.
Return on Investment
What if we push up the cost to $5, $20, $100, or more? Cost introduces the concept of needed return on investment (ROI). A vitamin that offers a small, short-term benefit is not worth near as much as a pill that prevents multiple, deadly diseases for the rest of your life. Similarly, an aspirin is not worth near as much as a pill that cures Alzheimer’s disease after it has started to have an effect on the brain.
Because of this, it is possible that you would choose to buy a $20 vitamin that gives 10x ROI versus a $20 aspirin that only gives a 2x ROI.
Even if you are offering something in the pain-relieving category, do your prospects know they are experiencing the pain? Realize that someone with a mild discomfort all the time tends to ignore it or mentally block it out because it is their “normal”.
If you’re offering aspirin to prospects that don’t recognize their pain, you might need to enlighten them. You’ll most likely do this in your messaging by using statements like “Don’t you hate it when ____?” And the more your enlightenment obligation trends towards full-blown evangelism (ie – the world doesn’t really know the problem exists), the more of an uphill climb you’ll have and the less attractive you’ll be to prospective investors.
In summary, although most startup entrepreneurs would prefer to offer an aspirin (or crack cocaine), there’s nothing wrong with offering a vitamin, if it promises significant value. It’s just that most of your target prospects have plenty of things that are causing them pain, and that’s likely where they’re going to first spend their money.