Every time I hear it, something in me reacts negatively.
What is it?
It’s whenever someone says, “The great truth in sales and marketing is that no one’s buying the drill, they’re buying the hole.”
I understand the metaphor and why people say it’s the great truth of life and of marketing and strategy. There’s undoubtedly truth to the thought – but something about it has never sat well with me. Specifically, because I’ve purchased drills and other tools at Home Depot and Lowes. I know that all drills make a hole. That’s what a drill does.
So why are there so many different kinds of drills? If any one of them make a hole, does the drill itself matter?
What’s the Differentiation Strategy?
When shopping for a drill, most homeowners assume that regardless of which drill they buy, it will 100% make a hole. So they must be looking at other specifications to decide which drill to purchase: more power, drills that are better for assembling/disassembling furniture, portability, etc.
It seems like it’s more than just the hole and that, in fact, people are buying the drill.
So… what’s my point?
Within the known category that you compete in, everyone assumes that you could deliver the “hole” or whatever service or product you promise, just like everyone else in your category (accountants know balance sheets, doctors know drugs, etc.).
So you have to look at the way you deliver your service or product; in other words, your actual differentiation strategy. Does it have a more “comfortable grip,” does it have “a longer lasting battery,” “higher level torque,” more “attachments available,” and a “longer warranty?” What sets you and your offerings apart when all players in your category deliver the core, promised value? What differentiates your “drill” from the others on the shelf?
Style Matters – Differentiation Matters
How something is done matters. If it didn’t, all the billions and billions of dollars that are spent on car advertising to persuade you that this car or that one is sexier, more prestigious, faster and all around better, is foolishly spent. All cars can take you from point A to point B.
The “hole” of the car is the transport you get from one place to another at common rates of speed and increasingly expected levels of safety. One doesn’t expect to race down the highway at 60mph and have the doors fall off.
So if all cars are the same (at least in terms of “transport”), why do things like design and brand matter? What sets cars apart is something in aesthetics, something in the feeling of it and something in distinct performance categories.
For example, I’ve had friends who own Porsche 911s and to drive in one of those is somewhat of a kick. However, for the most part, people who own 911s drive them at 30mph to pick up milk as part of their honey-do list.
That’s to say that it doesn’t do anything different, but you feel different while doing the same things with that product or service. Once you define that differentiation, then you’re well on your way to articulating your value proposition.
Beyond the Basics: Your Value Proposition
Look at your value proposition. It’s important that you go well beyond the most basic function of what you offer because, on its own, that’s not enough.
With increasing numbers, every category has become a commodity category. So only looking at the hole is a very shallow analysis of a value proposition since there are at least two reasonable alternatives that can actually provide the hole at any given time.
In fact, it would be reasonable to argue that you should talk about the drill differences (your product/service differentiation) and ignore the hole because it’s understood that that’s what the drill does in the first place. You wouldn’t tell someone looking to buy chairs that this chair allows them to sit – you’d explain why they should get this chair and not that one.
Your differentiation strategy has to be relevant to the category in which the buyer already assumes certain facts or certain realities about what they need or are getting. You need to show them why your offerings not only meet their needs but are their best option.
- Do you know what makes your product stand out from others in your competitor’s offering the same thing as you?
- When buyers choose you – what do you do better than everyone else?
- Is your value prop communications focused on the hole or the drill right now?