For the many years I’ve been in product marketing, I’ve kept in mind the concept of “painkillers vs vitamins” when writing messaging to convey value. But the other day I heard someone add “candy” to the mix, which prompted me to write this post.
There are generally three high-level categories of products and product marketing messaging:
I call it the “PVC Scaffolding of Product Marketing” – a kind of reliable structure used to support product development and value communication.
These three metaphors describe the perceived value to customers and potential market demand. Each approach targets a specific customer benefit but at varying levels of demand and urgency.
Here are descriptions and examples of each:
1. Painkiller-style Product Marketing
Painkillers are essential in addressing a problem or need. They provide immediate relief from pain points. Painkiller marketing highlights the problem-solving aspect of the product.
Examples of painkillers include:
- Pain relief medication (literal example)
- Bug spray
- Automotive repair services
- Data recovery and backups
- Air conditioners
- E-signature software
Marketing in the realm of painkillers can be most effective because the benefits are immediate, tangible, and valuable.
2. Vitamin-style Product Marketing
Vitamins are similarly perceived as beneficial, however, they are not necessarily essential. They improve life in some ways, such as performance and convenience enhancements, but the problems they solve are not as urgent. A painkiller would be a solution to a leaking pipe, while a vitamin is a solution to prevent a leak.
Examples of vitamins include:
- Calendar scheduling app
- Standing desk
- Cloud storage
- Noise-cancelling headphones
- Fitness tracker
A vitamin approach to marketing can tap into customer needs, similar to painkillers, but there is usually less demand.
3. Candy-style Product Marketing
Candy products are also perceived as valuable, but the need for candy is less than a vitamin. Candy is more about entertainment, desire, pleasure, and novelty. The overall demand for candy is lower, however, there may be higher profit margins due to perceived luxury and social status.
Examples of candy include:
- Tesla cars
- Apple watch
- Designer clothing
- High-end jewelry
- Fine art pieces
A candy approach to marketing often requires establishing an emotional connection to make products stand out and create a sense of social status.
In summary, the difference between painkillers, vitamins, and candy marketing approaches lies in the perceived value and need of the product or service to the customers. There are of course overlaps, but generally speaking, painkillers address urgent problems, vitamins offer improvement or enhancement, and candy provides pleasure or indulgence. Each approach has its unique advantages and challenges, and effects may vary among demographics and different market conditions. Candy for one person may be a vitamin for someone else. Lastly, it is much easier to sell painkillers during economic downturns than it is to sell candy, so marketing strategies may need to adjust accordingly.