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

By August 8, 2012April 16th, 2014Writing & Content Marketing
Why That Whole “People Don’t Want a Drill, They Want a Hole” Thing Doesn’t Go Far Enough

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.


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.