Are You Selling the Wrong Thing?

“NO PHOTOS.”

That’s what the sign said in front of this man’s booth at the Chelsea Market. He was selling shirts with fun quirky patterns on them. You know, the kind of locally-made-limited-run thing you’d expect to see for sale at an art market.

When I see a sign like this my reaction is always…

What are you scared of?

Are you scared that someone’s going to steal your idea? That someone is going to copy you?

If all it would take for you to lose customers is someone showing up and making what you make, but cheaper, you’re doing it wrong. You’re selling the wrong thing.

You’re selling what you make instead of why you make it.

You’re selling what you do instead of why you do it.

Doing that means you’re asking to be treated like a commodity. You’re asking to be compared on price.

If you’re doing it right, people aren’t buying shirts from you they’re buying why you make shirts. The shirt is just a souvenir. Tangible proof that they were there, a signal to others that “Hey, this is what I believe in.”

The shirt isn’t the product, the way I felt when I bought it is.

That’s what I’m buying.

If your customer would buy from someone else because it looks like the same shirt but it’s cheaper, then you’re in the business of selling shirts. You don’t want to be in that business because there’s no loyalty and because nobody needs another shirt. We’ve got to think in terms of wants. 

You’re selling an experience. A promise. 

That’s what a brand is.

What does your brand stand for? What’s the promise you’re making? What does it say about me when I wear your shirt or have your logo on my website? What do I tell myself about it? What do I tell my friends?

It doesn’t matter if you’re selling a product like shirts or a service like a website or a financial plan, you’re selling a story. That’s what I’m paying a premium for. I’m coming to you and buying your product or your service because this is the story I want to tell myself. 

No one can steal that.


Photo from my recent trip to NYC, taken at the Mociun Home store in Brooklyn. (Ceramics are my true weakness…)

You’re not spending $50 on any of these mugs because you need a mug (if you needed a mug you’d go to IKEA) you’re buying the way it makes you feel every time you take it off the shelf. You’re buying the story you get to tell your friends when they ask about it.

So, what story are you selling? 

About the author

Kate Smalley

Kate is a marketer, maker, and freelancer living in Toronto. She works with small businesses to help them narrow in on their purpose, share their ideas, and tell their story.

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