don’t sell tools, don’t sell products…sell purpose

When this country was being settled those who were looking to develop an area of land realized something very important: they didn’t have to build a damn thing. Rather, all they had to do was survey the land, divide it up, and start selling it to the pioneers.

The land represented promise and possibility for these pioneers, and, in fact, many of them developed miraculous things upon this previously barren plot of possibility.

All along the way, of course, those who provided access to this possibility got rich.

We still see this. What is it, for instance, that GoDaddy is selling if not land for hopeful internet pioneers? GoDaddy provides the “surveying,” and then – via the “grant” of a URL – provides the “land” upon which entrepreneurs of all stripes attempt to develop something.

Why do music stores have mirrors? Aspiring musisicians want to see what they look like as a version of the possibility of their imagined self (holding a guitar, for instance). For many (most?) customers, music stores aren’t selling an instrument, they’re selling the possibility that the musician might arrive at their purpose and make meaning.

When we sat around a dining room table and cooked up what became TuneCore it became very clear that we weren’t really selling access to iTunes (though, in my very biased opinion TuneCore does do that better and in a more moral fashion than anyone else).

No, what we were selling was a tool to allow music pioneers to claim their plot of land on this new digital frontier (i.e. iTunes, etc.). This access did and still does represent possibility for these pioneers; TuneCore in this manner helps them achieve their purpose/meaning.

All businesses/artists/etc. must get out of the tool selling business and into the purpose/meaning selling business.

When someone views your photos at your exhibition, it won’t be the paper or the framing that makes them buy it, it will be because the image resonates on a personal level and represents meaning to the viewer.[*]

The purchaser will then explain to those who view the photo hanging in their house why this particular image “spoke” to them. (This is pretty much the definition of a social object, by the way.)

The thing is that most people keep thinking that they’re selling the tool and forget what they’re really selling is the access to meaning or purpose that the tool will help the customer attain.

Convince a customer that your tool — be it a service like TuneCore or a song or a film or a dietary supplement or a restaurant or a laundromat or a piece of code or a laptop or a Moleskine – will help them realize their internal aspirations more quickly and you’ll have unlimited customers.


[*]If they are buying the art because of the framing, it represents a decorating choice, not a decision based on meaning, and it is unlikely that this person will every buy any more of your art; rather they will buy the next piece of art that is framed in a decorative style that aligns with their decorating needs. In other words, they’re a non-value adding customer, and you’re really better off without the sale.


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