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The 3 Most Important Sentences in Marketing

Date: February 26, 2020 • Category: Marketing • By: Ben Guttmann

Every now and then, you come across an insight that is just so disruptively, spot-on accurate that it lodges itself in your skull, grabs a hold of your brain, and attaches itself so deeply that your entire worldview changes. It’s the sentence that makes the entire book, or interview, or movie, or blog, or whatever worth it. Hell, it’s the type of thought that makes the entire concept of reading worth it.

As I’ve been working on new projects and teaching a new semester the past few weeks, there are three of these golden nuggets recently banging around in my head. And the more I dwell on them, the more I start to believe that almost everything else is noise, and that understanding and internalizing these three ideas would put you ahead of 90% of other marketers and change makers in the world.

Here they are.

“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

This takeaway from Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk and ensuing book is at the core of all great branding. You start from the authentic why and everything follows thereafter – build a brand essence that resonates with the values of your audience and everything else flows from the center. Sinek best expands on this with “The goal is not to do business with everybody who needs what you have. The goal is to do business with people who believe what you believe.”

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

That’s the whole ballgame. Effective communication is not about features, but benefits. What can I accomplish with the thing you are selling me? What itch can it scratch? To take this insight from legendary Harvard professor Theodore Levitt to the next level: people don’t even want a quarter-inch hole, they want a family photo on the wall, and they want that snapshot up because they want acceptance and belonging.

“People like us do things like this.”

Blogger, author, and marketer Seth Godin made this early insight the foundation of his latest book, This is Marketing. It’s the elemental truth behind all of his best-selling books: people are moved to action because they are part of a tribe, and that they are fulfilling a narrative of themselves that fits their mental image of who they are and how they’re supposed to be eating, buying, donating, or voting. This insight ties in with the principles of commitment and consistency best explored in Robert Cialdini’s Influence.


Everything I’ve learned about marketing, in school, in a book, or in the field, comes back to these three ideas. For me, they are permanently lodged in my cerebral cortex (which I’m thankful for!), good luck on forgetting them anytime soon.


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