Why “Sell the hole, not the drill” is bogus

via teh Googlez

If you’ve ever worked in marketing (and possibly if you haven’t), you’ve heard the phrase “sell the hole, not the drill”.

That’s a ludicrous example, because it’s patently wrong.

I was brainstorming logo ideas this evening: one was an arrow having hit the target, and the other was a first-person view, looking down the shaft of the arrow, with a target downfield.

Which one has emotional resonance? The arrow in the target, no matter how perfectly placed, is still and lifeless (not to mention a bit cliché).

However, with a different point of view, you can convey anticipation. A drawn and held breath. A steady hand. The tension in the bow. A moment of truth.

It’s my assumption that people don’t practice archery to see an arrow placed in the center of a target, but to experience the emotional swing that occurs between that point of extreme tension and the thrill of accomplishment afterward.

However, someone selling a bow to someone would most assuredly sell on its specifications and its championship pedigree.

Likewise, people buy drills to build their dreams. But they know that their dreams deserve the best tools. It’s why the cordless drill tantalizes with “18 Volt”, “450 in.-lbs. of max torque” and comes in construction-site colors like yellow or red. It doesn’t say “3.6 holes per minute”.

Because someone buying a drill understands its basic function, they can project all their anticipation, hopes, and desires on a simple inanimate object. They draw the line from the drill to finally getting that deck built. And because they did the dot-connecting, their emotions are fully engaged. You just stand back and collect your drill dollars.

The counterpoint is with newer, harder-to-understand technology. Apple’s done a masterful job of connecting the dots between a box full of circuit boards and a finished home movie, and turned what is basically mobile videoconferencing into a heartwarming way for far-away soldiers to see their newborn babies.

But as a product matures, people start resenting being told how to feel about the tools they already understand, and can create their own emotional reasons for buying. They just want the best solution or tool out there.

As long as your customers understand what they want, go ahead and sell the drill. And if people don’t yet understand your product, service, or market, you’re not exactly selling drills, are you?

  • http://about.me/jelpern Jordan Elpern-Waxman

    I think you get it intuitively but you’re being too literal with the phrase itself.

  • George Baily

    Great write-up. This phrase needs an update for a less Freudian-masculinist consumer era anyway.

  • Joe Smith

    ” It’s why the cordless drill tantalizes with “18 Volt”, “450 in.-lbs. of max torque” and comes in construction-site colors like yellow or red. It doesn’t say ‘3.6 holes per minute’. ”

    You’ve completely missed the benefit, which is probably why you’re (incorrectly) against the phrase. The benefit isn’t “drill 3.6 holes per minute”, it’s “With this drill, you’ll get your deck done next Tuesday instead of next month.” That creates a much, much closer connection to the emotion than “this drill has 450 lbs of max torque.” Your average consumer doesn’t have any clue what that means, so you have to put it in language that connects them to their goal.

    It’s the same with your archery example. The goal isn’t to get the arrow in the center of the target – it’s to win the archery competition. The emotion you’re referring to at the point of releasing the arrow only exists because of the pressure of winning.