Why That Whole “People Don’t Want a Drill, They Want a Hole” Thing Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Why That Whole “People Don’t Want a Drill, They Want a Hole” Thing Doesn’t Go Far Enough
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Most marketing and content writing nerds like me have memorized and shared the brilliant statement by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.”

It’s brilliant because it illustrates, in the simplest of terms, why you need to sell results, not the product or its features. I would pull that quote out of my brain like a six-shooter out of a holster when my clients wanted to talk about themselves in their marketing content instead of how they can solve a problem or fill a need for their clients.

Then I bought a drill.

I’m the furthest thing in the world from a handyman, so when I take on any kind of project around the house that requires a power tool, there damn well better be a big payoff.

A hole is not a payoff.

I have no use for a hole. My family won’t be better off because I drilled a hole. So when I plunked down my money for a drill, I didn’t pay for holes. That doesn’t go far enough.

My first major project with the drill was to hang a bunch of shelves, hooks and racks in the garage. But the ability to hang stuff in my garage doesn’t go far enough either.

I created massive amounts of storage space. Instead of having everything scattered on the floor and leaned up against the walls, I was able to put boxes and storage bins on the shelves and hang chairs, ladders, yard tools and hoses on the hooks and racks. I even cleared stuff out of the basement.

people-want-a-hole-1

Here are some of the shelves I hung in my garage. Impressive, right? Even more impressive is the extra space it created in my garage and basement.

The hole was the immediate result. The extra storage space was the end result. That’s what I had in mind when I got the drill. That’s what I really paid for.

Obviously, there are more uses for a drill. Maybe you want to build a deck. But the ability to build a deck doesn’t go far enough. You build a deck so you have a place to relax, barbecue, throw a party or just hang out with family and friends. That’s what you’re paying for.

Let me be clear about one thing. Immediate results are certainly not irrelevant and can be integrated into your message. But they’re really just a means to an end and should only be used to show how they help your target audience reach the end result.

For example, in content about a drill, you could talk about how someone could use a drill to triple their storage space by hanging shelves, hooks and racks in the garage, or they can create a backyard entertainment area by using a drill to build a new deck.

Keeping with the summer theme, I dream of owning a riding lawn mower, although my wife will probably never allow it. A riding mower would allow me to cut the grass – a long, sweaty, weekly chore – in about half the time it takes with my crappy push mower. But that doesn’t go far enough.

A riding mower would provide me with the time and energy to do other things, whether that means cooking dinner on the grill, going out for ice cream with my wife and daughter, or writing content for my clients. That’s what I would really be paying for.

I would also enjoy mowing the lawn with the steering wheel in one hand and a beer in the other like my dad did when I was a kid, but that’s more of a bonus.

Again, I’m not disagreeing one bit with the thought process behind Professor Levitt’s statement. As I said before, the message is brilliant. Sell the results, not the product or its features. I just think this particular example doesn’t go far enough.

As you develop marketing content for your business, ask yourself:

Is this the real reason why someone will be motivated to spend money for my product or service? Or do I need to take it a step or two further?

Remember, the end result is the solution to your clients’ problems. That’s what makes their lives better. That’s what they’re really paying for.

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Scott McKelvey
Scott helps business owners enhance their brand, build relationships and increase revenue by developing marketing messages that focus on the needs of their clients. Scott writes content for all things marketing, from websites and blogs to web videos and brochures. As Creative Director for New Jersey’s largest radio stations and TargetSpot, the nation’s largest internet radio advertising network, Scott has helped local, regional and national brands maximize ROI by combining powerful messaging with strategic geographic and demographic targeting. Scott's philosophy is simple: Show your target audience how your product can solve a real problem or fill a real need in their lives and you'll build a base of loyal customers. Visit Scott's site for more about his writing philosophy and experience.
Scott McKelvey
Scott McKelvey
  • clarestweets

    I think we all have an issue with digging deeper for the motivations of our customers. This post really points out why that is so important. Thanks Scott!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

      Hi Clare,

      Definitely. The first challenge is to get past our needs to focus on the needs of our clients. The second challenge is to identify what those client needs are. The third challenge is to differentiate between what we think the client needs are and what the client thinks those needs are. Finally, we have to convey the results that we can deliver to fill those needs. It’s not quite as simple as 1-2-3. More like 1-2-3-4-5-6… or more :)

      Scott

      • clarestweets

        You got that right!

  • http://www.askolivertausend.com/ Oliver Tausend

    Hi Scott,

    this adage is a typical example of over-simplification. Although it sounds enticing, it doesn’t go far enough, as you note. At the end of the day, we spend money on a better lifestyle and for more happiness, this is what it all comes down to. And it means something else for everyone. Hm, perhaps you could convince your wife to buy the riding lawn mower with the time savings you could spend with her and your kids ?

    Thanks for sharing your insights.

    Take care

    Oliver

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

      Oliver,

      Over-simplification is exactly it. That which makes our lives easier usually requires a little mining to uncover. It’s usually rooted in common sense, but you just have to do a little more digging.

      Ha, I’ve tried that argument with the riding mower. I think my wife has seen my lack of handy work with other projects and fears that a riding mower could result in shredded flowers, a cracked wall or even a four-car pile-up.

      Thanks!
      Scott

  • http://www.slymarketing.com Jens P. Berget

    Hey Scott,

    This is actually the first time I’ve seen the quote. It’s brilliant. And it’s what I’ve been trying to tell my clients as well. But, what you’re saying makes a lot of sense too. Combining the quote with your experience might be the best way to do it.

    I especially like your example with a riding mower, it’s so much more than just cutting the grass.

    Great post.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

      Jens,

      I think, as marketers, we need to consider our own life experiences when developing strategies and content for our clients, and dig a little deeper to understand how a product impacts our lives. I don’t think it’s too difficult, but you do have to think beyond the function of the product.

      I’m going to take your statement about the riding mower and use that as the introduction when I make my case to my wife for the hundredth time.

      Thanks!
      Scott

  • http://www.donaldlafferty.com/about Don Lafferty

    Excellent reminder, Scott, that one’s marketing bullseye must expand to consider all the possible upstream and downstream objectives before really being able to understand the activities required to achieve the desired customer behavior.

    I’m frequently faced with clients who think that the increasing number of connections they have in a social media context is their goal – or increasing revenue is their goal – and while both are true, there are a myriad of linchpin objectives before and in between that ensure the success of their campaigns.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

      Don,

      Great points. Success is achieved through meeting a series of objectives, and every part of that process is important. That process can only be identified after a analyzing the true wants and needs of the target audience.

      Thanks
      Scott

  • http://sylvianenuccio.com/ Sylviane Nuccio

    Hi Scott, really interesting. I certainly know about this quote and it’s so good that lots of us marketers have used it. However, I think that’s the first time I read about it the way you’re putting it… no far enough. I really like that. End results are not only instant, but long term down the road results.
    Really great post, but why on earth aren’t you allowed to own a driving lawn mower? :) ?

  • Adrienne

    I love this Scott and I also believe that we have to dig even deeper sometimes to actually give them the results they’re searching for. That whole hole experience was lost on me I might add. I guess you can imagine how well that goes over with women right! Give me an example I can bit into but the concept is the same.

    Every man’s dream alright! Riding on a riding lawnmower in the hot sun drinking a cold one. Now that’s the way to mow a yard.

    ~Adrienne

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

      Hi Adrienne,

      Well, I can only share my experiences as a man :) Ha, I didn’t realize the comment about the riding mower would get so much attention. I guess if I can turn a dreaded chore into something somewhat enjoyable, I may as well do it, right?

      Scott

  • http://twitter.com/suejprice Sue Price

    A great article Scott and oh so true. As Oliver said we use the example because it does illustrate but it is over simplified and yes of course who needs holes anyway!
    A great reminder to all of us markers thanks Scott.

    Sue

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

      Thanks, Sue!

      This goes back to the “so what” principle. When you talk about the results and benefits of using a product, if you can say “so what,” you have to take it a step further. Maybe that’s a topic for another article!

      Scott

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

    Hi Sylviane,

    Well, I don’t make it a habit of questioning marketing professors from Harvard, but unless your Bugs Bunny, how do you benefit from having a hole?

    Ha, that seems to be the million dollar question. My track record with power tools and equipment is the first obstacle to owning a riding mower, but the price tag doesn’t help either.

    Scott

  • http://twitter.com/knowhow2succeed Andrew Bycroft

    I completely understand where you are coming from. I always tell people that when you are selling, you need to sell an experience. Similar to your message… in that we need to involve the emotional aspects in what we are selling. Nobody ever got emotional about a hole but that can get emotional about having a neatly arranged storage facility. Well written, Scott.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1647270229 Scott McKelvey

      Hi Andrew,

      Yes, sell the experience – the emotions one feels when experiencing the results of a product or service. You make a great point when you say what people get emotional about. What ultimately gets people excited or happy? What moves people? That’s what we really need to sell.

      Scott

  • http://www.debtfreewealth.org/ Trudy Beerman

    Excellent piece.

  • Martin Pattera

    Dear Scott,

    really like your article! Working with Jobs-to-be-done thinking on accelerating businesses and innovating solutions and business models we usually coin the term “you have to get the whole job done”, which ultimately leads to the discussion on what that “whole job” is…you give a perfect description to that.

    Thanks for your inspiration!

    Best

    Martin

    p.s. here are some more blogs about job-to-be-done thinking: http://strategyn.com/blog/