It was Elmer Wheeler who famously said “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.”
Elmer Wheeler is the author of the fascinating book “Tested Sentences That Sell” which shows how fragile the buyer’s mind is and how one way of something encourages a buying decision and a slight variation is rejected.
Although I respect what Elmer Wheeler has to say, I want you to sell the sizzle and the steak.
Unfortunately the meaning of the original “sell the sizzle not the steak” phrase has been corrupted in a way that is damaging both to businesses and to the discipline of marketing.
What Elmer Wheeler meant by the phrase is that you should emphasise the biggest selling point in your proposition – the main reason why customers will want to buy.
In some ways he was encouraging people to move from promoting features to selling benefits. I have no problem with the idea that customers buy for the positive experiences and consequences they expect from owning or using the product. (Just don’t forget the features because they add credibility to the benefit and can become a buying attribute in themselves – ever bought a PC mainly because it has the latest chip from Intel?)
Unfortunately, the idea behind “sell the sizzle, not the steak” has been corrupted.
Too often it is taken to mean hyping up an ordinary product so that it sounds exciting.
That approach creates a brief illusion which may tempt a prospect to buy but it leads to disappointment in the ownership and use stages.
The exciting sounding product turns out to be ordinary and no better than the competitive product that was ignored at half the price.
It’s no surprise that the buyer gets angry.
Angry with the company that tricked him into wasting money.
And agree with himself for allowing himself to be conned.
The company suffers because there’s not going to be any repeat business and with the high costs of winning a customer, that’s where the big money is made.
And the buyer suffers because he gets cynical about marketing and the claims made by other businesses.
But there’s a better way.
Instead of trying to make the ordinary sound exciting, you could make the ordinary become extraordinary.
This is a much better way of doing business and it’s something I’ve written about before as deep differentiation (making the steak special) and shallow differentiation (making the steak sound special) – see Deep Differentiation.
Too often I believe that business owners and managers are wrongly encouraged to spend their time and attention trying to make their marketing message sound good and communicating it in 101 different ways.
Instead the focus should be on the underlying offer.
You can put lipstick on a pig but underneath it is still a pig.
But it’s much better to stop selling pigs.
So focus on the steak – and make sure it’s good, juicy, tender and tasty.
It would be nice to think that you don’t have to worry about the sizzle.
Sometimes you don’t.
Word of mouth recommendations from one enthusiastic buyer to another can be enough.
But often it isn’t.
So you still need a clear marketing message but this time it’s delivering promises that you can keep because you have made the ordinary extraordinary.