Bruce Bjorkman

Selling the Sizzle

October 14, 2016

sizzling steakI am an unabashed cigar smoker. I get great enjoyment sitting out on my covered patio, firing up my pellet grill and a great cigar at the same time—it’s a relaxing way to enjoy a perfect day in Oregon.

Every spring, I purchase around $200 worth of cigars from a catalog retailer based in North Carolina. I’ve been a longtime customer of this firm, and I like their wide selection of stogies.

One of the company’s marketing tools is a daily sale email sent out to customers. Every morning, a new sales pitch arrives in my inbox. And every day, I delete their message without opening it.

You see, this company thinks that by sending me countless unsolicited discount messages for their cigars, I’ll buy more of them. But that isn’t the case with me, and perhaps a good percentage of other customers. People purchase items and services because they either want or need them.

Instead of peppering me with sale come-ons, this company would be, in my opinion, far more likely to get my attention by using some sizzle. Romance me into buying—don’t try to bribe me with a sale price.

Let’s use a real-life example to prove my point. Back in the early part of the 2000s, Restoration Hardware was on the mat. The furniture and accessories retailer was close to bankrupt, bleeding $35 million in 2001 alone. That year, new CEO Gary Friedman came in and made a heck of a gamble, totally upending the retailer’s selling strategy.

Instead of lowering prices, like so many other stores were doing, he increased the quality of the goods and actually raised prices. In 2009, the company made $18.5 million. By 2013, sales had grown by almost 50%, reaching $37.7 million dollars.

Instead of cheapening the products and slashing the prices, or touting sale after sale, Restoration Hardware took the opposite tack. They raised both quality and prices. And, it worked. They focused on selling the sizzle and romancing their products, rather than shouting, “It’s on sale!” to get consumers in the store.

Back to the cigar company. I think that in many cases, retailers of all types rely far too much on a “put it on sale” mentality, rather than taking time to sell the story of a product as a means of getting people to make a purchase.

Instead of them trying to entice more dollars from my wallet with endless discounts, they’d be far more effective by explaining why a particular brand or variety of cigar is worth my hard-earned money.

What’s the back story behind the brand? Tell me about the luxurious flavor of the tobacco blend, the alluring aroma the cigar produces. Tell me about the behind-the-scenes production of the cigars. What makes this particular variety different from the thousands of other stogies already out there?

Not only would those topics be more enticing, they would also help to add a more flavorful cache to the product.

For far too long, retailers have over-used the word “sale” to the point that it has become virtually worthless. If you are trying to appeal to middle, upper-middle and upper-income levels, then wean yourself from “put it on sale” mode. Instead, become a good storyteller and appeal to consumers in a new way.

We all should do a better job of romancing the brand. Tell me what’s distinctive about this product, and explain why and how I can enjoy it at my home.

I sincerely believe that by becoming a brand romancer and a great storyteller, you’ll attract a higher-income-level consumer to your store, and make more money because you aren’t discounting the product. Remember, for every dollar you discount, that’s one less dollar of profit your business makes.

While a discount is just a flash in the pan, a good, long sizzle can lead to sales that sustain your business long after the transaction is complete.


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