There's an old advertising adage that says "Sell the sizzle not the steak". In recent years, it's been distorted and misapplied by less scrupulous ad-men, to become "sell the sizzle, and forget the steak". marketers have taken products with little or no real value to the consumer and hyped them up just to increase the price. It's the basic premise behind the book "Never Mind the Sizzle…Where's the Sausage?" which I reviewed last year.
Of course, one of the common misconceptions people have about personal branding – and branding in general – is that it's ALL about the sizzle, so I thought this afternoon I'd look at the world of sizzle and steaks.
The idea was first set out by Elmer Wheeler, a 1930's American advertiser and motivational speaker, when he said "It is the sizzle that sells the steak, and not the cow. Though the cow is mightily important." It's that last bit that I think marketers often forget: the basic product has to be good in the first place. But 'cow meat' is a commodity, and we need to differentiate it. The cow is all the basic features, all the stuff that the consumer takes for granted. The consumer starts with a basic assumption that the steaks they're comparing all come from cows, that were raised in similar conditions, ate similar diets, etc. So along comes a half-smart marketer and starts talking about the green pastures and veggie diet their cows enjoyed. And the consumer goes 'so what?' It's that "so what" that Wheeler wanted to avoid.
People don't buy features. Even the extended ones like the pastures and diet. I'll even stick my neck out and say that benefits (the next recourse of a smarter marketer) aren't enough these days. Benefits can be copied by competitors. They can even be provided by products you wouldn't even think of as your competitors (ask the airlines that were edged out of commercial freight by railways). What sells is when you engage the sense and emotions.
Think about it. Make a simple, still image in your mind's eye of a steak on a griddle. Not particularly appealing or unappealing, is it? now add a few wisps of smoke and steam rising off it and animate it. Getting more appealing? Now add in the sound of the sizzle. How big was the change in appeal? How about if you add in the smell of frying steak – and maybe some onions too (those burger guys know what they're playing at!) Ready for a steak yet? Now think about your fondest childhood memories of steak – maybe a particular person cooking it, or a special place or occasion. We're beyond sizzle now, and into the realm of connection.
Even as I wrote it, though, I was aware that the more detail I put in the easier it would be to disconnect: if I wrote about specific situations, some of my readers might not share those experiences, or might have negative associations. I'll look at how to get round that in my next post.
For now let's think about the sizzle. Why stop there? Simple, because it's a common enough experience that 99% of readers (consumers, prospects, etc.) can connect with it. So there's the first rule of thumb: go for the richest experience you can that still engages greatest proportion possible of your target audience. I'll borrow an NLP term for them and call them "universals".
So now think about your own service or product. What universal expperiences are there around that you do/make that you could tap into in your promotional activity?
I'll use my business as an example. Do you know that feeling you get when you're about to walk into a sales meeting, or a pitch or an interview, even just meeting someone new? Wondering what kind of first impression you'll make? Wondering what they already know and think about you? Wondering whether your presentation will be convincing enough? Well, what I do is I make sure you know with absolute certainty going in what they know about you, what impression you'll make, and what you need to say to close the deal. Imagine how different you would feel as you open the door for THAT meeting.
Now, are there people who won't relate fully to that experience? People who have already taken care of the things I mentioned? Absolutely. Are they in my target audience? Maybe, but not as strongly as the people who DO relate to it, because THEY hear the sizzle.
So, what can you do to make your targets hear the sizzle?