Of Sizzle and Steak

By Dawn Lospaluto
In January 27, 2015

“Don’t sell the steak…sell the sizzle” is a marketing maxim that goes back decades (actually to the 1930s when, ironically, few people could afford either steak or sizzle).

The idea behind the phrase is to sell the excitement, not the product itself. Car commercials, for example, show a vehicle flying down a country road or through an empty tunnel, usually filled with young and very attractive passengers. The idea is to give the impression of speed and freedom and power the car can deliver. Beer commercials invariably show people at a large party or sporting event, selling the good times they want the viewer to associate with the beverage, not the beverage itself.

It’s not about what you’ll actually get in the product if you make the purchase, but about how you will feel if you have it, what it can mean to you―and, often, what you will miss out on if you don’t have it.

Today seems to be the ultimate age of selling the sizzle. Don’t dwell on the details, say the millennial marketers and social media savants (isn’t that what fine-print disclaimers are for?). Social media marketing is all about the sizzle, substituting paragraphs of explanatory copy with pictures (whole walls of them), videos, and all manner of bells, whistles, and bright shiny things to grab the prospect’s all-too-short attention span.

And it seems to work. Well, at least it works the first time.

Yes, the sizzle can gain the customer’s interest, but if the steak is tough and tasteless, or seems more like last week’s leftover brisket, his first order is likely to be his last. In other words, you can attract with sizzle, but you can only retain with great steak.

Over the course of my career, I have worked with hundreds of printers to produce magazines, newsletters, marketeering collateral, and other materials. The overwhelming majority have supplied beautifully printed, well finished pieces on time and at the price quoted. They produced high quality materials and offered an excellent customer experience.

Once or twice, however, I’ve received materials that did not meet an acceptable quality standard. I never contacted those printers again, and no matter how sizzling their marketing efforts, it’s unlikely I ever will. There are just too many other good alternatives to risk being disappointed one more time.

clara pellerToday’s industry marketplace is a tough and highly competitive one, and, yes, you should use every available marketing channel in the best way possible so your business stands out from the crowd and attracts customers. But if you don’t want those customers to be one-time buyers, but, rather, to begin a long, mutually beneficial relationship with your company, you have to back up your marketing with the kind of quality and customer service that meets their standards.

Be sure that the product or service you deliver doesn’t lead the customer to use a very different meat-based marketing catchphrase―and, interestingly, one that actually ignores the sizzle to sell the “steak” itself: “Where’s the beef?”

Dawn Lospaluto

Epicomm Senior Director of Communications, Dawn has been the editor of Epicomm 's "Bottom Line" magazine and its predecessor publications, "NAPL Business Review," Printing Manager," and "The Journal of Graphic Communications Management," for 20 years. She also writes and edits several Epicomm member print and electronic newsletters, including [Re]View, Management Bulletin, Highlights, and Discover; press releases; and various marketing materials; and oversees Epicomm 's book publishing program. Dawn previously served as corporate managing editor for Allied (now Honeywell) Corporation and as a reporter and editor for New Jersey's largest evening newspaper. She is a graduate of Douglass College (Rutgers University) and holds an M.A. degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University, where she has served on the adjunct faculty.

Leave A Comment