Rethinking the Painkiller vs. Vitamin Metaphor: A Better Way to Play the B2B Game

I’ve never really liked the old ‘Painkiller vs. Vitamin’ selling metaphor. And I’ve been repeatly drawn to this topic, maybe because I hear this old meme so often. It’s too simplistic and often becomes an excuse for sales teams when they miss their numbers, with the claim that ‘Customers only buy painkillers, not vitamins.’

Well, this morning, I had an aha moment—that this metaphor is all about Pain and neglects the aspect of Benefit. We need a second dimension. We need to diagnose the market’s pain points more precisely and prescribe a course of action that delivers more substantial, varied benefits.

So I grabbed the nearest napkin, sketched this out, like what I saw, and jammed it into a readable sketch in Google Slide. Here’s what I came with, call it the Pain-Benefit Matrix.

This matrix is a more nuanced approach, recognizing the varying intensities of pain but, crucially, also considering the types of benefits that solutions can provide. It’s not just about whether a solution acts as a painkiller or a vitamin; it’s about understanding the tactical to strategic benefits these solutions bring to the table. After all, painkillers and vitamins/preventative cures are huge industries, so in some ways, the metaphor is broke from the start.

Each quadrant of this matrix offers a distinct value proposition, reflecting both the nature of the customer’s pain and the strategic benefit of the solution. Let’s debunk the myth that customers are only interested in painkillers and explore how each type of solution can be compelling, and the implications of each type on B2B Sales and Marketing approaches.

The Tactical “Painkiller” for Acute/Isolated Pain: Immediate Relief Sure, painkillers are vital for addressing immediate, acute pains, akin to a headache. They are tactical, offering quick and direct relief. But the benefit here isn’t just relief; it’s the ability to quickly overcome an obstacle and maintain operational flow. It’s like taking Tylenol to get rid of that headache.

Sales Implications:

  • Emphasize rapid problem resolution.
  • Utilize a consultative sales approach to understand and address the specific pain point.

Marketing Implications:

  • Craft targeted campaigns that highlight the immediate benefits and quick action.
  • Use case studies and testimonials to demonstrate quick wins.

The “Vitamin” for Chronic/Systemic Pain: Preventative or Systemic Care The value of “vitamins” or other treatments for chronic, systemic issues, is often overlooked or negated when thinking about B2B sales. Like statins to treat high cholesterol or Vitamin C to prevent scurvy, these solutions offer strategic, long-term benefits, contributing to the sustained health and resilience of a business. Far from being unnecessary, they are crucial in preventing larger problems down the line.

Sales Implications:

  • Engage in longer sales cycles with a focus on strategic change and gains
  • Educate customers on the long-term benefits and ROI of a proactive solution.

Marketing Implications:

  • Develop content that speaks to long-term benefits and overall business health.
  • Use educational materials to raise awareness of the systemic issues and the curative power of the product.

The Strategic “Cure” for Acute/Isolated Pain: Comprehensive Solution Cures go beyond the immediate relief provided by painkillers by offering a strategic, long-term solution to acute problems, addressing the root cause and preventing recurrence. This quadrant highlights the need for solutions that not only solve the problem but also integrate into the client’s broader strategic goals.

Sales Implications:

  • Position the solution as a strategic investment that addresses the root cause.
  • Tailor presentations to show the comprehensive and lasting benefits of the solution.

Marketing Implications:

  • Develop more content that simplifies and explains the strategic advantages of the product in customer terms.
  • Highlight long-term success stories and post-solution transformation.

The Transformative “Superpower” for Chronic/Systemic Pain Superpowers are transformative solutions for chronic, systemic issues. They offer a strategic advantage that transcends mere problem-solving, enabling new capabilities or significant improvements in performance. They are strategic, not just in resolving current issues but in setting a new direction for the company’s future. Think of this like the transformative power of a new diet, exercise and sleep routine!

Sales Implications:

  • Employ a challenger sales strategy driven by a leading story of change and strategic advantage
  • Focus on the transformative impact of the solution on the customer’s business operations and results

Marketing Implications:

  • Craft a visionary narrative that aligns with the customer’s aspirations.
  • Leverage thought leadership and industry influencers to drive the message of transformation.

This expanded view challenges the notion that customers are only interested in immediate solutions to acute problems. It emphasizes the importance of understanding the customer’s pain in its entirety and aligning solutions with both their immediate needs and their long-term strategic goals.

The Pain-Benefit Matrix not only broadens our perspective beyond the limited view of ‘painkillers’ but also highlights the diverse range of benefits that we can offer to customers. It’s time to move past the outdated metaphor and embrace a more nuanced and comprehensive approach.

Category Lessons from Club Volleyball???

My son Owen is a high school club volleyball player. While he isn’t near the tallest, at almost 5 ft 10in and still growing, he definitely is the giant of our house. And his height DEFINITELY comes from Mom’s size. Owen plays setter. Setter is, as I have learned, the quarterback of the team. The setter gets more “touches” than any other player, and while the hitters get most of the glory, without a good set, there is no ball to kill.

What in the heck does this have to do with Category strategy? Well, let me explain a bit more about Volleyball teams. The typical squad has about 12 or so players. Of those, two are typically setters, maybe three. This depends on whether the team is playing a 5-1 or a 6-2 rotation. Without getting into the gory details, the first number is the number of hitters that rotate around, the second number, the number of setters. So if the coach plays a 5-1, only one setter plays, and usually they will roster just 2. In a 6-2, two setters play and you might have 3 on the roster. You see, in competitive volleyball, you play a position, players are categorized and put into a roster slot based on the position they play.

This brings me to a conversation I recently had with Owen after this seasons tryout process, where Owen ended in a great spot on a good team, but not quite on his first choice roster.

Owen: “Why would Coach X pick Player Y over me, I’m better than him”

Dad: “Well are you like a ton better”

Owen: “Well Y is good, I’m just better”

Dad: “Here’s what I think Owen, Y has been playing on Coach X’s team for like 3 seasons. His parent is team parent, and he knows the other players, and there’s trust and a two way commitment. He’s part of the system! Coach X would have to think you are like 100X better than Y to give you that spot…”

So, here you go. You are a startup. You say – “I am such a better Category X than established player(s) Y. Those buyers would be crazy not to pick me over them…”

But I say, “the buyer has a relationship with Y. Y is part of their “team” already. Y is embedded in their business or life. Are you really 100x better?”

Now the good news is you have another choice. Don’t be a better X than Y. Be a “NewCat”. Unlike the volleyball roster, we can buy other new things that don’t fit into a “position” we already have filled. This happens ALL THE TIME! That’s why Category creation is SUCH A COMPELLING STRATEGY for a start-up. In fact, I’d go as far as saying it’s really the best one- full stop – drop the proverbial mic!

As I write this, I am sitting watching Owen’s practice with his new team. In sports, the best generational talents are often said to “Redefine their position” or “change the way that the game is played”. Wilt changed the center position, and paved the way for Akeem, Shaq and others, as did Michael and Lebron as well as Pele and Messi. They still are in the same category, the same position, but actually are 100x better. In business, the winners don’t change the way the position is played, they create a new position and change the game, not the way it’s played. In sport, that would be unfair, but in business it is actually #CategoryMagic.

The (Secret?) Power and Beauty of the #CategoryMeme

A client of mine recently launched their new Category initiative. They are both a technical and customer innovator in a hot, but crowded market, like pretty much all B2B technology innovators are. Their CEO views their #CategoryMeme as one of of their “Secret weapons” to winning in their market. The reception from customers, analysts and investors has surprised them, but honestly, not so much me.

Defining a defensible, meaningful and narrative driven category, creates a #CategoryMeme, an idea that sticks, replicates and spreads in the marketplace of ideas and products. This client has just started on their journey, but already is seeing the power of the #CategoryMeme.

Ideas are more powerful than technology, and #CategoryMemes are ideas that are built to Penetrate the market and create lasting market leadership. Ideas are best communicated through story, and the KJR #ViewpointStory, modeled after Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey, is the perfect story framework to carry your #CategoryMeme into the hearts and minds of buyers, investors and influencers.

In my blog series that starts here, I explore the Penetrate, Replicate, Spread Framework for #CategoryMeme success. But the (not so secret) power and beauty of the right #CategoryMeme is perfectly summed up by my client like this…

“It’s going great, people hear us say ‘_______’ {Their #CategoryMeme} and they say yes, tell me more, how can I get one…”

And isn’t that a thing of #CategoryMeme beauty!

Spreading the #CategoryMeme – Enabling, Embedding and Incentivizing

Spreading your #categoryMeme is the third step in our Penetrate, Replicate, Spread framework, and takes off right where Replicate ends, with Enablement, then goes to Embedding and Incentivizing #CategoryMeme spread. We discussed enablement of #CategoryMeme replication in this previous post, and the great news, is the same principles apply when discussing Spreading. Here’s what we said;

Enablement – Once you’ve simplified it, create very sharable, very replicable assets and distribute them out broadly into the marketplace. Create a #CategoryMeme hashtag for your #CategoryMeme. Create a set of backlinks to a more detailed description. Create JPEG, AudioClips, Clipart, all showing and communicating the #CategoryMeme. AND VERY IMPORTANTLY, don’t just create them and share them, but let them fly into the world. Don’t trademark the #CategoryMeme or the artifacts, let the world own them!!! Share with customers, prospects, analysts, and YES EVEN COMPETITORS!!!

So we’ve done most of the work on Enablement, let’s move to Embedding and Incentivizing #CategoryMeme spread. On the topic of Embedding, we turn to our old friend Brodie writing on Meme spreading:

Some of the ways Mind Viruses encourage spreading are (by):

*Programming you with (another) meme like “get the word out before it’s too late” , pushing your “crises” and “window of opportunity” buttons

*Programming you a meme to the effect “teaching this to our children will help them”

* Programming you to evangelize the virus. Some synonyms for evangelize are …passing the favor on and enrollment

….Evangelism is the intentional spreading of memes.

Brodie, Virus of the Mind, Pages 145-146

If we want to create the conditions to encourage the spread of our #CategoryMeme, we need to embed urgency, cross adoption benefit, and membership memes into our #CategoryMeme. “Do it before it’s too late”, “The more who do it, the better it gets for all of us”, “Join the amazing club”, “A call to arms” are all examples of the types of Evangelizing Memes you can embed within your #CategoryMeme to encourage those already “infected with it” to Evangelize and spread it.

Lastly, we may want to Incentivize and catalyze spread through creating both intrinsic and extrinsic rewards for spreading the #CategoryMeme. Intrinsic incentives such as the well known (but not very Google discoverable) #culturalMeme in the Jewish Community that if you make 3 “shidduchim”, introductions that lead to marriages, you’ll go straight to olam habah (heaven) . A clear incentive for spreading the religious continuity meme of marriage and procreation. In a business context recognition within the community of practice can be a powerful intrinsic reward. This can be facilitated and encouraged by #CategoryMeme designers through referencing (willing) adopters, and by creating venues and opportunities for them to promote themselves in the context of #CategoryMeme adoption. Extrinsic rewards can include affiliate and referral fees, badges and club identifiers and other tangible assets. (NFTs anyone:)).

So to encourage the spread of our #CategoryMeme, Enable, Embed and Incentivize its spread through the tools of marketing; asset creation and sharing, media and publicity, psychology and incentives, and good old #cash.

In my upcoming final post of this series, I will summarize our Penetrate, Replicate, Spread #CategoryMeme success formula.

Reproducing the #CategoryMeme – Simplify, Enable and Reward Your Marketplace

In order for a #CategoryMeme to spread, the third step of our Penetrate, Replicate, Spread framework, first, it must replicate itself, and do so as Brodie says, “faithfully”. What does this mean? Our prospects and other market participants must be able to easily describe our category, in other words, to parrot our definition. There are three key steps to creating the market environment for #CategoryMeme replication. These are:

  • Simplification – Make it super easy to explain
  • Enablement – Providing the “pre-packaged” artifacts for market adoption
  • Reward – Create rewards for replicating the #CategoryMeme

Let’s take a quick look at each of these.

KISS – Keep It Simple Stupid! – Can you write a 1 sentence definition of the category? Can you provide a simple and clear metaphor for it? Can you sketch it clearing on the back of a napkin? Can you explain it to someone who is not part of your market?

Southwest – A New #CategoryMeme: the First Regional Discount Airline!

Enablement – Once you’ve simplified it, create very sharable, very replicable assets and distribute them out broadly into the marketplace. Create a #CategoryMeme hashtag for your #CategoryMeme. Create a set of backlinks to a more detailed description. Create JPEG, AudioClips, Clipart, all showing and communicating the #CategoryMeme. AND VERY IMPORTANTLY, don’t just create them and share them, but let them fly into the world. Don’t trademark the #CategoryMeme or the artifacts, let the world own them!!! Share with customers, prospects, analysts, and YES EVEN COMPETITORS!!!

Reward – Provide feedback to those who replicate (and spread) the #CategoryMeme. Connect with them, make them part of a club, a community of #CategoryMeme lovers.

As Reward bleeds into more structured programmatic work, we then enter the third phase of #CategoryMeme success, Spread, which I will explore in the next blog of this series.

I’ve Been Infected, Not with Covid, But with A Mind Virus- #CategoriesAreMemes #PassItOn ;)!

Before DancingCats, TidePods, BucketChallenges and other “memes” took over the internet, a branch of social science called Memetics was actually built around the idea of Memes. The term Meme was coined more than 40 years ago in the landmark book by Richard Dawkins “The Selfish Gene“. Dawkins defined a meme as “a unit of human cultural transmission analogous to the gene”, and sees the meme as information that replicates and is passed on. Further developed by others including Dennett in “From Bacteria to Bach and Back: The Evolution of Minds”, memetics, the study of cultural evolution via the passing of memes from host to host in a society has been bouncing around academic and pop culture circles for decades.

After reading Dennett, I started thinking about how the ideas of memetics applies to Product Category Design and Strategy for my clients. Some quick Google searching convinced me that this is unchartered territory and to a book called “Virus of the Mind – The New Science of the Meme” by Richard Brodie. In this often quirky and new agey book, Brodie offers some basic frameworks on how Memes, what he very pejoratively labels Mind Viruses, spread.

Judgement aside, Brodie’s work is quite interesting when you think of Category Design and Marketing strategies. Brodie says that Mind Viruses work in three phases – Penetration, Faithful Replication and Spreading. What a great roadmap this is to category success.

  1. Penetration – The Category must enter the mind of market participants
  2. Faithful Replication – The participants must be able to mirror and replicate the Category idea
  3. Spreading – The Category needs to spread efficiently and quickly from participant to participant

So, how do we design a Category Meme that can do all of these, in other words, how does the category enter, replicate and spread across the marketplace. That is the $64,000 dollar question, or in many B2B categories, more like the $6.4B dollar one.

I must admit, I am interested and very infected by this idea, but as Mind Viruses go, this is a pretty rich and exciting one to study! In the next series of posts, I will try to unravel the mysteries of Category Design and Success, and how Category Memetics can help us to succeed.

PS – How many Memes can you count in this short post? Let me know your count in the comments – hint, you definitely need at least 2 hands to count them!