The Missing Piece in Selling your Work.

A  Conversation Not Heard

How do you describe your work? When you are talking to someone about your work, be it someone in your booth, gallery or just the person behind you in the coffee line. How do you describe the nature of your work? Many will describe their work in terms of function and features and describe themselves as the maker of the work, the one who knows how to incorporate standard features. The potter describing her pots to a potential buyer will often talk in terms of the material used and the features she included, like a drip less spout, or a nicely sculpted handle.

This is how we have been taught…describe the feature, sell the features and compete on the basis of features. You will stand out among competitors if your features are better.

Does this really help you? Does it do anything to differentiate you in the eyes of potential buyers? Where does it place you on the decision tree of the buyer?

The answer is….this type of approach really turns you and your work into a commodity and we all know ( from experience) that on the whole buyers make their decisions among commodities not on features but on price. When having to decide between almost imperceptible features buyers revert to what they know...price.

This type of thinking, or some variation, has been the basis of most marketing education (formal and informal) until another element was addedThe Sizzle, how many have heard the term sell the sizzle not the steak? That approach was based on acknowledging the emotional connection that buyers have to buying, the problem was doing so, boiled down to  lipstick on the hog. The Sizzle was based on what the seller saw as the emotional factor…the definition of Sizzle came from the seller who imagined that the buyer would be focusing on the smell of the Sizzle. And it stopped there at the smell, hence the lipstick. No matter how we framed the sizzle, ultimately we were still talking about features.

The Missing Piece

Now, for the part we have all known, but didn’t quite understand and even if we had a hint of understanding it, we didn’t know how to put it into practice. That intuitional sense we had has been the focus of research at the Harvard Business School over the past several years by Gerald Zaltman Professor of Marketing and Fellow at Harvard’s interdisciplinary Mind,Brain, Behavior initiative.

Turns out we were right to think something just wasn’t working… the feature and sizzle approach really didn’t help us and  the sizzle just felt very superficial. According to Zaltman’s, research the disconnect occurred when we based our communications on what WE thought the buyer was looking for, we were speaking features and sizzle and buyers wanted to hear something else. They wanted to hear how what we made connected to their story, not ours. They wanted us to pay attention to what they were asking for. Zaltman’s research uncovered and built on the role of deep metaphors in our lives, he learned that, worldwide, humans function with the same basic metaphors.

So to go back to the Sizzle the reason (among others) it didn’t work was that the smell of the sizzle went deeper, for some it meant connection as in family cook-out, or could evoke a story of family conflict that always surfaced at such get-togethers. In both cases  it wasn’t the sizzle that the buyer used to make a decision it was how and what the combination of features and sizzle evoked in the deep metaphors of their unconscious.

Paying Attention

The lesson here is that we need to be honest (tell the truth) about the stories our work evokes and use that information to make our work visible to those who recognize the story. In our branding process we must identify the deep metaphors and stories that drive the type of people who would buy our work.

We need to also be honest and pay attention to the ways w present and describe our work. The potter could describe and display her work as evoking warmth, and comfort, or the doll maker could feel that her dolls evoke a sense of peace, or transformation.

Think seriously and deep about your work, you know you have a story, a metaphor you are working from use it to find those who can be touched by your work and you will not only stand out you also become a leader.

What deep metaphors does your work evoke? What stories lurk in your unconscious that emerge from your work?

Note: This is the first of a periodic series on learning how your customers think and how to implement what you learn.

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