What do you sell?

Dated: December 01, 2014

Do we sell products or aspirations, things or dreams, objects or desires?

What is the Customer buying? And what are we Selling?

Circa 1990, a warm day in September.

100 CEOs of various conglomerates in India receive a packet that says, “FOR YOUR EYES ONLY”.

Inside the packet is an audio cassette (remember, this is 1990) and a single A4 sheet of paper with a simple message on it:

Dear Sir,

We know your time is precious. We also know you have important papers to deal with on your way to work. On your way back, kindly ask the chauffeur to insert this audio cassette in your car stereo.

Thank you for your time.

One wonders how many bosses have the time or the anxiety or the interest to ask for the cassette to be played in the morning on their way to work. But some do.

The audio cassette lets out an almost inaudible hiss and there is nothing else that one can hear. No music, no songs, no talk, no advertisement, no jingle. Nothing.

Just as the CEO, almost impatiently, thinks of asking for the cassette to be rewound, or replayed or removed (yes, why not?!), a smooth, silky voice whispers:

“Yes sir. This is what you hear when you switch on the amtrex shizuka split air condititioner. Total silence. Now conduct your board meetings in peace, not pieces.”

If you were a CEO, what would you think?

When a month later, you receive another mailer from the same company that says:

Introducing an air conditioner that will make an engineer, an accountant, and an architect happy with their choice”, how would you react?

Around the same time, a large number of interior designers in BOMBAY receive a mailer that says:

Buy an Amtrex Shizuka split air conditioner and get a window free!!!

Let us just ponder a while over these 3 pieces of communication.

The first one – maybe tongue-in-cheek. Maybe dramatic. But “telling” all the same, never mind the pun!

It says that Shizuka in Japanese means ‘whisper quiet’ and that’s what you want when you conduct a board meeting. And that you don’t want to switch off your rattling, noisy window AC every time your phone rings.

The second one – a clear message that this product delivers on many counts- energy efficiency, savings, styling and aesthetics. What the corporate chief always wanted.

The third one – surely misleading at the first attempt. But oh so realistic when it comes to conveying that in a crowded city like Bombay you are lucky if you get a room with a view, so you are in luck now! You don’t need to block your window or your view. Get a split air conditioner.

Going back to that era, and going back to the introduction of a new idea in a product category that had hitherto been considered a luxury product, albeit a heavy piece of industrial machinery if anything, these three pieces of communication clearly highlighted one thing, which most advertisers, marketers, sellers and traders too, tend to completely miss out on - WHAT IS THE CUSTOMER BUYING?


Let us move to another era. Maybe ten years back.

We are all seated at a multi-cuisine restaurant as a group and each one of us has ordered his or her own favourite. Someone has ordered a Pav Bhaaji, while someone is content with grilled sandwiches. Yet another friend of ours, hungry as always, calls for a Pulao with a curry! Our orders are served and we begin tucking in.

Suddenly, our thoughts, our talk, our attention are turned to a different direction.

The waiter moves dexterously between the tables to reach a young man who has ordered something that catches us immediately. Our olfactory senses, our auditory senses and our sight- everything gets riveted in his direction.

The waiter has just moved past our table and we are compelled to look at “who in the name of heaven” has ordered this hissing, foul smelling and rather too big dish. A couple of us cough because the odour and the smoke grab us.

Just a minute ago, we were all engrossed with our Pav Bhaajis and Pulaos. And now? We just want to know who the guy is!

And what is this GUY doing? He isn’t exactly tucking into his dish that has just been delivered at his table with a lot of elan. He is looking around. Yes, he is. And he is keen to know how many people are looking at HIM!

What did this guy order? Well, no marks for guessing, he ordered a Sizzler. And no marks for guessing whether he is sitting alone at his table. He is not, for sure. He has someone Special with him. And that is why he ordered that Sizzler.

People don’t buy products. Worse, they never buy features.

Because if they were buying features, a sizzler would come a cropper even if one tried describing the dish. Let me try:

A large wooden tray with a wet metallic tray on top, two burnt cabbage leaves, two sad looking cutlets, fourteen droopy French fries, some pepper sauce, some spaghetti, a handful of leaves, edible hopefully, grated cheese, and a grizzled old tomato with some bland mashed potato stuffed into it.

Try telling this to your waiter and he will disappear into the kitchen to fortify himself with a drink.

The young man just bought himself a whole lot of attention. No, actually he bought himself a great DATE.

Marketers, advertisers and sellers. Are you obsessed with your products and their features?

Don’t !

Don’t sell the steak. Sell the sizzle. Because had that hiss not been heard, had that smoke screen not turned your attention away, had the smell not got you turning your neck, the young man’s evening would have fizzled out.

People don’t buy products. Worse, they never buy features. Because if they were buying features, a sizzler would come a cropper even if one tried describing the dish…

Think, ask, ponder, research, do whatever. But just remember – What your customer is buying is what you have got to be selling.

Now don’t kill me for simplifying it.

I just sold you PEACE. And a lot of BUSINESS.




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