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All companies offer something to their customers - it could be a service or a product. Typically, we expect that what is being offered is what is marketed too. You make cakes, you market cakes. You own a vegetable shop, you market vegetables.

The problem in this structure is that we are almost always not the only ones making that offer to our customers. We all have competition. Of course, we have some features better than them and we communicate that in our marketing efforts. The key question to ask though is - should you be "selling" exactly what you "make"?

Why is this an important question to answer?

Customers buy your product or service based on what they want. No one wants to buy a dud - so what you make is super important. But, I have also learnt that a customer's want is layered. While on the surface it can project itself in terms of the features you offer, underneath is the true kicker that will tilt the decision in your favour.

Don't worry, I won't be vague. I will illustrate this through two examples in the next section. Before that though, I believe a good understanding of what we are selling affects:

  • the way we build our product
  • the culture we develop within our team
  • our conversations with our customers
  • our communication on social media, etc.

On that note, let me start sharing my examples.

1) Selling commercial space OR ....

I was just talking to my wife the other day about her work - she works in Real Estate Consulting in the business development vertical. Simply put, her work involves helping companies find good office spaces and she meets them regularly to understand their expansion needs. This industry has a low barrier to entry and many local individuals consistently sprout up with similar offerings.

Now, I caught her working on one of her presentations which essayed her company's many capabilities. We started discussing and had to admit that there weren't many tangible ways for a customer to differentiate between her company and a local broker. So the data and "capabilities" in the presentation were not all that useful.

So, she isn't selling her firm's Real Estate Services to them. She is selling the fact that she is trustworthy. This changes the way the entire meeting is approached. Now, her only goal is to gain the customer's trust. Instead of the presentation, which is all about what her company offers, she can simply have a conversation about the client's needs.

That's when we realised that each time she visits a client, the major "feature" they are looking for is her trustworthiness. They need to trust that she will reliably find the best property for them; trust that the deal she gets them is the best; trust that she would accurately and comprehensively update them of all possible problems in a particular space. Finally, trust that she can do all of this smoothly.

The best part is that she can evolve her narrative based on how the discussion goes. Each minute she needs to focus on making the client talk that extra minute. The more the client talks, the more she gains their trust. Accepting this simple distinction can help her company hire better, onboard their employees differently, and also align their touchpoints with their customers accordingly.

2) HEY sells an email service OR ...

I did a search on Twitter to see how often DHH spoke about privacy (here's the search). I didn't have the time to get the exact analytics, but here is what I observed. He has always been passionate about privacy in general - customer privacy, students' privacy, children's privacy, etc. But just a cursory glance tells you that the frequency of tweets, which were once in a couple of months in 2017 has spiked to several times a week in the past 6-8 months!

So, while HEY has been generating a lot of buzz, let me ask you - what does it offer? Email? That's correct. But does it also "sell" Email? Nope, it is solely been "User privacy". DHH's and Fried's tweets lead the narrative for privacy - HEY's features take a distant second position.

Could they have marketed HEY's email features? Sure, they could talk about its clean interface, the smart way it deals with spam, its ease of use and ability to block mail tracking, etc. Instead, this is what they do on their website's landing page - an email draft that sells you a future where your email privacy is respected.



You know what, I asked myself if someone else could have built a better product? I think YES! But that's the smart thing - they have taken the product out of the equation. They have sold people their passion, vision and mission around "user privacy".

Closing thoughts

So, now is a good time to ask yourself a question - what are you selling? The problem is that many times these are not tangible features but an ideal or an emotion. So, sometimes there is no point in just selling your features if that's not what your customer wants to hear.

Even at my startup, I keep telling my colleagues that while we are in the hiring space, what we are selling is the ideal of quality. Also, that goes beyond the freelance talent we onboard. It extends to the way we interact with our customers, the messages we put out on social media, the kind of blogs we write and so on.

Here's me signing off:

👟 Nike doesn't sell shoes, it sells aspirations.

💅🏽 L'Oreal doesn't sell cosmetic products, it sells self-respect.

✂️ Gillette doesn't sell razors, it sells confidence.

So, are you sure that what you are making and what you are selling is the same thing? Let me know :)