I work in marketing and sales. One of the first questions I ask new clients is, “What are you selling?”
As to be expected, they name whatever product or service they list on their website.
And while this answer is technically correct, it doesn’t go deep enough. It doesn’t consider the emotional benefit the product is providing to the customer.
But that emotional benefit is exactly where the money is at.
So let’s figure out what you are really selling, so you can sell more of it.
Features vs. Emotional Benefits
Let’s say you are selling photography gear for hobbyists, like cameras, tripods, cases, etc. There are a million technical features you could talk about:
- Sensor size
- Inbuilt monitor
- Maximum continuous shooting rate
But are these features the reason why your customer is buying your gear?
Your customer is buying your cameras because he wants to capture a precious moment at a wedding. He wants to be able to revisit that perfect family holiday. He wants to immortalize his beautiful girlfriend when she wore that special dress.
So what are you selling?
That is the emotional benefit your customer hopes to get from you. And that is what you should be selling him on, not technical features.
Because technical features only appeal to our rational mind. But emotions bypass the mind and make us feel alive. We crave them.
When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but creatures of emotion.Dale Carnegie
Here are some great examples of companies who really understood, “What are you selling?”
I am not an Apple fanboy, but even I have to admit that they build some of the best computers out there.
Despite that, Apple hardly talks about the technical features of their amazing machines.
Instead, they focus on the slick, minimalist design of their products. They are presented as high-class fashion accessories.
Because what you are buying as an Apple customer is not a computer — it’s a cooler, more sophisticated self-image. You are now part of a hip in-crowd.
It is this emotion-driven marketing strategy that makes Apple stand out in a sea of bland competitors like Lenovo, Dell, Asus, Acer, etc. It’s their key differentiator.
Disney World in Florida could easily boast about its impressive list of features. “World’s biggest theme park.” “52 rides.” “Two water parks.” “189 feet Cinderella castle.”
But what does their slogan state? “The Most Magical Place on Earth.”
Disney understands that they are not selling rollercoaster rides and water slides.
What they are really selling is a break from your monotonous 9-to-5 life. When you visit Disney World, for a day, the world becomes a magical place again, like it used to be when you were a child.
This is the emotional benefit you get — an escape.
Another great example of pushing the emotional benefit is Evernote.
As a software product, it would have been tempting to lead with the features: mobile offline notes. Business card scanning. PDF annotation.
Instead, the popular note-taking app focuses on the tagline, “Remember Everything.”
That’s smart. In just two words, the company elicits our fear of missing out — amplified by the information age — and promises a solution. Whatever data you might need again, it’s right there at your fingertips.
Evernote is not selling you software — it is selling you peace of mind.
Harley-Davidson sells incredibly well-made motorbikes. But when you go shopping for a bike on their website, the first thing you encounter is not engine specs.
You get dark imagery. You get auto-playing videos of buff, rugged guys riding heavy motorbikes into the sunset. You get words like “street-eater,” “appetite for power,” and “instrument of expression.”
It is obvious that Harley-Davidson has come up with an answer to, “What are you selling?”
They understand they don’t sell motorbikes. They sell the ability for an IT executive in his forties to ride around on a big motorbike through small towns and have people be afraid of him.
In short, they sell masculine power.
Selling your customer on the emotional benefit comes with several advantages:
- It sells better. When you create positive feelings for your customer, he will always buy from you. Emotions trump reason.
- It provides guidance. When your emotional benefit is clear, every team member knows what to do. They understand the mission.
- It creates coherence. When you build a business around a well-defined emotional benefit, it will underpin your culture.
Why We Struggle With This
Despite these distinct advantages, the vast majority of businesses focus on technical features, not emotional benefits.
Why is that?
The answer is investment.
As business owners, product developers, software specialists, or sales experts, we are highly invested in our output.
We spend all day thinking about our product, talking about our product, optimizing our product, and selling our product.
Our products become an extension of ourselves. They are like children to us.
And just like with children, it’s hard to let go. We are so invested in them, we completely ignore our customer’s point of view.
That’s why so many businesses cannot answer, “What are you selling?”
A Story From the Trenches
I remember a meeting with two experts from an IT consultancy. We were discussing an SEO article I had written for them, which I knew would rank well and bring them lots of traffic — and eventually leads.
But they wanted to change everything around. They wanted me to focus on their very specific expertise. I explained to them that the article would not rank well then, and wouldn’t bring them any new business.
To no avail. Their egos were stronger than even their desire for financial gain. Eventually, I quit the project.
Just like these two consultants, you have a choice to make: Do you want to harp on your expertise? Or will you overcome this fixation and start looking through your customer’s eyes?
One means stagnation. The other means growth.
What About B2B?
Marketers in B2B industries often think, “What are you selling?” doesn’t apply to them.
Their products are not like powerful motorbikes or slick designer computers. They sell chemical products, machine parts, IT infrastructure, or business software.
How could any of these products elicit an emotional response?
Therefore, these decision-makers feel right to focus on the specs, since they don’t have much else to talk about — or so they think.
But the truth is, B2B is just as much about the emotional benefit as B2C. It just works a bit differently.
Let’s say you are selling customer relationship software to the sales department of a chemical company. It doesn’t get much more dry than that.
But what if I am the head of the sales department, and you explain to me, that by automating all these sales-related processes, there won’t be any need to remind specific sales reps to call this or that company. All the micromanaging — gone. You can finally get to these important items on your to-do list that you have been putting off for months.
Will I be excited? For sure.
What if you go on explaining to me that by automating all these sales-related processes, you will be done 2 hours earlier each day? For the first time in eight years, I will go home on time and be able to have dinner with my family and kiss my kids goodnight.
More excitement? You bet.
What if, on top of that, you tell me that with the help of this software, I can probably double revenue over the course of the next three quarters? This will make me look like Superman in the eyes of the CEO and result in a hefty bonus. I will finally be able to buy that Harley I always dreamed about.
At this point, I will positively be giddy.
This goes to show — if anything, B2B has more potential to profit from an emotion-driven sales approach.
Because whereas with B2C products you are providing pleasure, with B2B products, you are relieving pain. And as humans, we are hardwired to prefer the latter, as it is more relevant for our survival.
Also, consider what it would do for your market position if you are the only provider in your plain B2B space to play the emotional angle. You will stand out like an NBA player at a middle school game.
Focusing on the emotional benefit is the way to go, always.
Micro vs. Macro Perspective
There is a macro and a micro perspective to emotional selling. The macro perspective relates to your market in general. The micro perspective relates to the individual customer in front of you.
Imagine you sell luxury real estate. Your company’s macro benefit is status. By buying a loft in NoHo, NYC, your customers experience themselves as part of a small elite.
But that’s just the entry barrier, to appeal to the market of millionaire real estate buyers.
The prospect you are showing an apartment will have additional, individual emotional needs.
For example, your client might mention he is interested in this location because it is closer to his work.
This is your cue. You now need to find out why. Does he want to shorten his commute, so he can spend more time with his family? Does he want to spend more time at work, because he is a workaholic? Is work just an excuse, so he can be closer to his mistress around the corner?
Whatever it is, identify the individual emotional benefit and now sell him on that.
As a rule of thumb, B2C industries need to be more concerned with the macro perspective, while with B2B, the micro perspective matters more.
How To Apply This to Your Business
Here is a step-by-step approach to finding your emotional benefit and implementing it into your marketing strategy.
1. Use the “So What?” Method
To identify the emotional benefit you are selling, you can use the “So what?” method.
“I am selling the best e-book reader out there.”
“It has a super sharp display, long battery life, fits in one hand, and comes with an inbuilt web browser.”
“You can read all the books you want on one single device.”
“You don’t have to buy any physical books anymore.”
“Because you don’t need bookshelves anymore, you will have more uncluttered space in your home.”
Now we are getting somewhere! Instead of talking about the technical features of your product, you are offering me a cleaner, more minimalist lifestyle. I like to have more clarity in my physical environment. Sign me up.
2. Ask Your Customers
One of the best ways to find out about your emotional benefit is to ask your customers.
You don’t have to hire an expensive market research company for that. Simply ask some of your key customers the following question:
“What is it that you get out of our product?“
If they respond in features, dig deeper, using the “So what?” method we just talked about.
Above all, listen.
Switch your attitude from, “We know everything about our business” to, “The customer knows things about our business we don’t know.”
3. Check Your Competitors
You should also check your competitors to see what answers they have come up with to, “What are you selling?”
If they identified an emotional benefit that applies to your business too, try to improve upon it.
If they are not using emotional selling, obviously, you can’t steal their groundwork. But that’s even better because you will be the first in your market to appeal to your customer’s feelings.
4. Get an Outsider’s Perspective
One of the best things you can do is to get a fresh pair of eyes to look at your business.
This could be a consultant or a coach you bring on. Or it could be a fellow marketer you know through your network.
Even more than asking your customers, a true outsider’s opinion can be a game changer. They will see things at a glance that you have been unaware of for years.
Oh, that God the gift would give usRobert Burns
To see ourselves as others see us.
5. Craft Your Value Proposition
Now that we identified the emotional benefit for your customer, we have to gift-wrap it.
For example, you are selling perfume to women in their twenties. But what you are really selling is the feeling of being sexually desirable.
We cannot communicate that to our customers directly. We need to come up with a form that is less pragmatic and more poetic.
Like “Become Irresistible,” “Spark His Desire,” “Feel like a Goddess,” or something along these lines.
That would be our value proposition, a fancy way of saying, “This is how we present our emotional benefit to our customer.”
Make sure to keep your value proposition as short as possible. One to five words are ideal.
Avoid any subtleties or ambiguities. I need to be able to understand your message even when I am heavily distracted (as most customers are).
Be careful — don’t use vague platitudes, like, “Excellence” or “Integrity.” These words stroke the ego of the company. But they don’t communicate the customer’s benefit.
6. Place Your Value Proposition
Now that you have the answer to “What are you selling?”, you need to incorporate that answer into your web presence and any offline promotional material.
You can check your existing copy to see what needs to be rewritten. But from my experience, it is best to start fresh instead of fixing what is already there.
In either case, make sure to place your value proposition prominently. It should be the first thing your customer sees. Specifically, utilize these formatting elements:
Headline: It needs to communicate your emotional benefit — what are you selling? Oftentimes, you can simply use the value proposition you came up with earlier. In any case, keep it very short, one sentence max.
Sub-headline: Here you can touch on your features a bit, i.e., what you offer. But then right away reconnect it to your customer’s emotional benefit. No more than two to three sentences.
Bullet points: Bullet points are a great way to list key benefits. Be careful not to make it about features. It’s about your customer, not you.
7. Create Your Imagery
Our value proposition doesn’t have to be a slogan. It could only be communicated visually, through videos, imagery, and a certain color scheme. Remember Harley-Davidson? That’s what they chose to do.
But even if you go with words, you still need a matching visual style, to emphasize your slogan.
So either way, you need to come up with a clear visual language:
- Images. Choose images reinforcing your main message. They shouldn’t just display the product, but your ideal customer experiencing the emotional benefit from your product. That’s a big difference.
- Models. The models you depict in your ads should be an idealized version of your customer, specifically, what they aspire to be. The rugged biker. The sensual siren. The successful businessman. The perfect parent.
- Color scheme. Choose a color scheme that supports your value proposition. Again, Harley-Davidson — they went with black to emphasize the emotional benefit of masculine power.
- Font. If you have an edgy message, go with an edgy font. Think of the font that the legendary Metal band Metallica uses. If you have a warm, family-centric message, choose something soft, soothing. The playful font Disney uses is a perfect example.
- Graphics. Your graphics too should communicate your emotional benefit. We already talked about Apple’s emotional benefit — their promise of a cooler, more sophisticated self-image. Their iconic logo, the minimalist monochrome apple, reinstates that point.
Now that you created these elements, check your existing layout. Can it be changed to accommodate your new visuals? Here, too, it is better to get a coherent re-design than trying to make the old design fit the new message.
8. Align Your Sales Team
Your sales team must reiterate the value proposition from your promotional materials. Otherwise, there will be a break in perception. Your customer will wonder if you can really deliver the emotional benefit you initially promised.
Therefore, you must align your sales team with your value proposition. Only if they understand the reasoning, why, and how you came up with it, will they be able to sell people on it.
Set some time aside for this. A workshop-style setting is best. Don’t just lecture them, but ask for their ideas, regarding website layout, marketing materials, visuals, sales scripts, etc.
Not only will you get access to great new ideas. You will also engage your people. This will embed the idea of emotional selling much deeper than just instructing them.
This type of alignment should next be applied to your support team, your fulfillment team, and eventually to your whole organization. The goal is to build a life-long relationship with your customers, during which they receive the promised emotional benefit each and every time.
9. Always Keep Testing
Incorporating an emotional sales strategy is a tricky project. Don’t expect to get it perfectly right the first time. Keep tweaking.
Specifically, look at your conversion rate, both online and in person. If the numbers are going up, great. If not, reconsider. Have we really figured out what we are selling? Are we communicating that message in a way that is appealing to our customers?
10. Be Patient
Adopting an emotional sales approach can seem like a Herculean task at first, with an uncertain outcome.
But when you get, “What are you selling” right, it will all have been worth it. Where most of your competitors didn’t bother, you kept at it. And now you are catering to customers — existing and new alike — better than anyone else.
And what will well-taken care of customers do for you?
They will boost your profit in ways you hadn’t thought possible.