Prescribing the right experience

Michelle Bower, our Associate Strategy & Transformation Director, believes that knowing if your brand is a painkiller, vitamin or candy is the key to deciding the most effective antidote to meet your customers' needs and ensure the longevity of your business.

By Michelle Bower
Posted 04. 05. 2023
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‘Painkillers’ solve problems, disrupt sectors and innovate, ‘Vitamins’ strive to make things better and act on their values, and ‘Candy’ distracts us with light relief.

The theory goes that there are three kinds of businesses:

• those which solve problems, disrupt sectors, or innovate on purpose: Painkillers

• those which strive to make things better, holistically, acting on their values: Vitamins

• those which make us smile with distraction and light relief: Candy

It is possible that some brands can be all three at different times for their customers and colleagues.

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Pain relief

In service design, we map out the customer journey to see what’s working, or not, for both customers and colleagues. Something not working is known as a pain point. And where there’s pain, there’s opportunity. Opportunity for innovation, kindness, and positive change lies where there is a gap between need and expectation; where customers are either underserved or being oversold. Where is the pain for your customers and colleagues? Pinpoint it and prioritise it.

Start with why

The ‘painkiller, vitamin, candy’ analogy is believed to have been coined by Kevin Fong, a venture capitalist in the Bay area of San Francisco, after seeing endless business plans which praised innovation and features - the how and the what - but seldom stated the problem it was solving - the why.

Simon Sinek’s global best-selling ‘Start With Why’ and much-loved TED talk would agree.

At D&P, we believe that brands need a clear purpose and to express it with their personality, people, process, products, and places. The most engaging brands in the world do these ‘6Ps’ in a unique way that’s impossible to copy because it’s built into their being, it’s founded on their values, their business DNA, and is evidenced in all it says and does consistently, yet creatively.

Do you know why your business, service, or brand exists? Does your audience know?

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Prescribing the right experience

It’s a deceptively simple question with an answer that can change depending on where the customer is and at what time.

Think of Instagram – is it a painkiller, a vitamin or a candy to the follower? For the small business owner, it’s a marketing painkiller, an empowering and effective communication tool. For the globally-connected family, it’s a nice-to-have vitamin that brings them closer together and fills in the gaps between lengthy video calls or infrequent visits. Finally, for the meme-aware, dog-obsessed, working-from-home multitasker, it’s pure candy joy and entertainment.

Do you know your target audience well enough to know who is underserved and in most need of your innovation and experience?

Change the dose, based on your purpose

A brand or service can prescribe a mix of remedies, depending on what your measures of success are.

You could argue from the business’s perspective that Instagram was pure candy on launch, with addictive looks and behaviours (metric: users/followers) that became vitamin-useful (metric: depth of engagement), later acquired by Meta who sought the painkilling abilities for businesses to advertise and reach targeted audiences (metric: return on investment, advertising revenue, click-through conversion).

Indispensable advice

At D&P we work across a broad range of sectors, brands, and cultural regions. We define and design experiences based on the brand’s purpose and the customers’ implicit and explicit needs.

There has never been a more vital time to cut through the noise, legacy behaviour, or ‘business as usual’. By simply, humbly knowing yourself (or your business’s core purpose), we can all strive to work towards being the answer to your future customers’ needs. (Note that when we say ‘customer’ this is not always a financial transaction, it could be loyalty, goodwill, future consideration, or subscribing to your way of thinking).

We ask ourselves - What’s the problem we’re trying to solve and what’s the most relevant or engaging prescription to remedy it?

What next

If you have a pressing challenge, would like a fresh perspective, and help to address your brand and customer pain points, we’d be happy to talk further.


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