Off the Shelf: The Benefit of the Benefit

In a yesterday’s post, I cited research that experiences give us more satisfaction than things, so it’s more effective as a communicator to sell experiences than products.

But what if what you’re trying to sell is a product? Is your pitch simply doomed to be less effective?

Fortunately, no. In fact, in the example I cited, Sam Mendes’ FaceTime commercial, the thing being sold actually was a product, the iPhone 4. The ad simply focused on the experiences that this product enabled.

You can (and should) use the same approach for every product you sell. As Chip and Dan Heath note in Made to Stick, you should focus on “the benefit of the benefit.” The first benefit in that phrase is an experience, while the second is the product that enables it. For example, the Heaths write, “people don’t buy quarter inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children’s pictures.” (This example is a concrete, emotional adaptation of classic piece of marketing advice from Theodore Levitt.)

As the Heaths note, citing copywriter John Caples, “companies often emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits.” In the words of Caples, “The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!).”

This focus on your own product is understandable—you’ve spent a lot of time perfecting “the world’s best seed.” But as we’ve seen many times before, effective communication involves shifting the spotlight off of yourself and onto your audience, crafting your pitch to appeal to their interests, even if those interests happen to be different from yours.

From the Lab: Sell Experiences, Not Things

In The Science of Speaking, I advise you to consider all of the things that might motivate people when pitching, not just the obvious ones like money. Today’s post is a subtle addition to this advice.

It’s based on the fact that experiences make people happier than material possessions. Across a variety of demographics, researchers have found that “experiential purchases—those made with the primary intention of acquiring a life experience—[make people] happier than material purchases.” This is true both in hindsight (looking back at purchases already made) and foresight (looking forward to purchases that might be made in the future).

This means that when making your pitch, it’s often better to focus on the experience(s) the audiences will gain if they accept your ask (or the experiences they’ll miss out on if they don’t), rather than the material possessions they will gain. As an example I’ve used before (to illustrate the power of emotional appeals), take Sam Mendes’ FaceTime commercial: rather than focusing on the product itself—an iPhone 4—it focuses on the amazing experiences it enables. When you focus on selling experiences, not things, you’ll likely sell a whole lot more.