If you're ever diagnosed with iron deficiency anemia, you'll learn that you have an inadequate volume of healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen, because iron, that thing you're missing, is critical to manufacturing hemoglobin, the protein on your red blood cells which does the carrying.

This adds up to your fatigue, shortness of breath, and potential heart problems. At a baseline level, low oxygenation means less energy, and less energy means less ability to get the things done you want to get done. Potentially a lot less.

If this is you, then it's also true that iron supplements, commonly found in the section of your pharmacy labeled "Vitamins & Supplements", will reduce the pain of these symptoms.

(Vitamins as pain killers. Who knew?)

Mixed Medicine

What the "don't be a vitamin, be a painkiller!" aphorism exposes is marketers weak ability to draw connections from the things they're trying to sell to the pains they address. Rather than admit they don't understand why anyone would buy something that doesn't solve an immediate, visceral, even physical pain, they choose to believe it has something to do with categories. As they vroom off in their obviously-painkilling (?!) BMW.

Engineers, meanwhile, prefer to solve problems. "Put me in coach. I've trained for this my entire life!" They tinkered with their radio when it stopped working (problem), their algebra assignments were called problem sets, and they were continuously praised for being "such a good problem-solver!"

Both of these lies are tempting. If it's true that product sales we can't explain are categorically stupid, we can feel really good about counter-positioning ourselves against those moronic products.

Meanwhile, if all problems are worth solving, wow — the world truly is our playground. Where isn't there an opportunity?!

So, so, so many. 🎶

Pain Has a Face

The better way is, of course, to reject these fallacies. People buy products for reasons, and if we want to sell products, we should develop our understanding of why they do. And not every problem needs to be solved. I'm living with a host of them, and the vast majority are just never going to make it up my priorities list.

To find fit with our messaging, we need to address pain.

Bob Moesta breaks these down as forces. Tony Fadell (essentially the inventor of the iPod) gives us another lens: habituation, the pains people have pushed down and accepted as unavoidable.

What these pains have in common is real, felt cost.

Yes, the problem may be my lack of a portable music device capable of holding 1,000 songs. But the pain is felt as symptoms: carrying 1,000 CD's in a black book or having to choose which 24 songs you're going to have on your mp3 player today and syncing those while you get ready for work. Or in the case of iron deficiency: fatigue.

This is when we have to step in and lead the buyer through context: drawing arrows from these symptoms: here, oh and then, yes over there, and there too, back to the root cause (problem) we're solving. "Ohhh, so if we solve that, all these pains will go away!"

Prospects get lost when we obsess over the problem. They freeze when we jump to the solution.

For a progress-making sale to occur, we have to awaken and steep in their symptomatic pain.

Are you just solving problems?