Art Marketing – Sell The Sizzle or the Steak?


There is an old sales adage that says “sell the sizzle not the steak”. For most art and creative products there should be a lot of sizzle to talk about. Have you ever noticed that in some restaurants that the kitchen is out in the open or that the waiters walk by the tables with sizzling platters? They do this because the sights, sounds and smells of a tasty dish evoke emotions and spark interest – in essence they are selling the sizzle not the steak and you can too!

Selling the Steak

Selling the steak is when you talk about the specifications, features and materials that go into your art. While it is important that a piece of art is painted in oil on a certain type or quality of canvas, this is probably not the reason people would buy the art. Look at the “steak” as the “nuts and bolts” of a product and something you would see in a manufacturer’s specification sheet. While specs are important, people are swayed by the sizzle.

Many fine art photographers seem more interested in telling their customers about what camera the image was produced on, what kind of printer and paper the image was printed on and how long it will last.  While these facts may be important they have little to do with why a particular print is bought. Don’t dwell too much on the specifications but if they are important to what makes your art “sizzle” then be sure to include them!

Selling the Sizzle

People buy products (and that includes art) because it provides a benefit, solves their problems and fulfills some need. Your selling job as an artist is to identify these benefits, solve these problems and highlight the needs that your art fulfills.

Here are some things that go into the sizzle:

  • What is different about your art?
  • What is compelling about your art?
  • Why can’t they do without your art?
  • What is the experience your art provides?
  • What is the style, genre or fashion or your work?
  • What emotions does your art invoke?
  • What problems does your art solve?
  • Does your art give your customer a feeling of being special or exclusivity?
  • Is there and investment potential in your work?
  • Does your art allow your customer to express their feelings, beliefs or way of life?

Determining your Sizzle

It may not be that easy to figure out what makes your art sizzle but you need to get to the things that make a prospect want to buy. A worn out word like “unique” probably has little meaning and after all isn’t most art unique (unless you are selling prints or limited editions)?

One way to determine your sizzle it to talk to your present customers and ask them what they think makes up your sizzle. Many times you will learn something new about the benefits that your work provides – make it a habit of getting feedback from your customers!    You should use this information in your marketing materials and in your sales presentations.

A Steak and Sizzle Exercise

Here is an exercise to help you separate the steak from the sizzle for your art. Get a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. In one column you will list what describes the “steak’ or the attributes of your art. In the other column you will list what describes the “sizzle” or the benefits your art provides. Do this exercise for each of your products (or types or genres of art). Look carefully to see if your different art works have some commonality in “sizzle” – these will become important in selling and marketing your creations.

The Sizzle Is Not Just For a Sales Presentation

Selling the sizzle is something you need to do with all of the touch points you have with your prospects and customers. Places where you should sell the sizzle include:

  • Your sales presentations
  • Your business cards
  • Your elevator speech
  • Advertising of all kinds including brochures, posters, print, and broadcast
  • Your webpage
  • Your public relations efforts
  • Your social media presence

Ok, now you should know the difference between selling the sizzle versus selling the steak. You will get customer interest by selling the “sizzle” and reinforce their willingness to buy with the attributes or the “steak” – go for it!

By Neil McKenzie

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