How To Sell The Sizzle, Not The Steak (It's Simple)

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At its core, copywriting is psychology.

It's using words to guide people to make the decisions that you want them to make. Whether it's to opt-in to your newsletter or to make a purchase, you have to convince them to take action.

And it isn't easy.

There are so many different stores and websites out there, you have to figure out how to stand out from them.

Luckily, most people don't know what we know about copywriting.

If you can learn the simple technique that we're covering here in this post today, you'll be a step ahead of everyone else who's just throwing copy together and hoping it works. 

We're talking about learning how to sell the sizzle, not the steak.

Selling The Sizzle, Not The Steak


The phrase, "sell the sizzle, not the steak," originated in the 1920s with a famous salesman named Elmer Wheeler.

Known around the world as "Mr. Sizzle," Wheeler got his start in sales shortly after losing his job at the newspaper. After his boss told him all they needed was more people in sales, Wheeler decided he was going to work in sales.

It was as a salesman that he coined his now-famous phrase "Don't sell the steak - sell the sizzle."

That simple phrase grew into Sizzle Labs, and even today, universities, business school, and organizations around the world teach Elmer Wheeler's sales techniques.

But what does it actually mean to sell the sizzle rather than the steak?

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It's Actually About Features And Benefits

Selling the sizzle rather than the steak is a reference to the old sales technique of selling the benefits of a product rather than the features. 

The benefits are the sizzle and the steak is the product or features of the product.

If there's anything you take away from this article, make it this: people buy based on emotion, and then they justify it with logic.

Here's what I mean by that.

When people go to the store, they don't buy a bag of apples because they're round and red (features of the apple.)

No, they buy the apples because apples keep people healthy (a key benefit).

Ever heard the saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away?"

If that saying had originated with an apple company, I'd say that it's a great piece of copywriting because it's catchy and hits on the key benefit to eating apples: they keep you out of the doctor's office and alive longer.

So, while people often say “features and benefits” like it’s one thing, these are two fundamentally different aspects of a product or service.

Let's dive a bit deeper into this idea with an actual product to be more clear about the differences between features and benefits.

Take the Acer Inspire C24-865-ACi5NT AIO Desktop, for example.


Image of Acer Inspire C24-865-ACi5NT AIO Desktop



Features are basically the facts and figures of a product or service. In this case, the Acer Inspire has the following features:

  • 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U Processor 1.6GHz (Up to 3.4GHz); Operating System Architecture: 64-bit
  • 23.8" Full HD (1920 x 1080) Widescreen Edge-to-Edge LED Back-lit Display
  • 12GB DDR4 2400MHz Memory & 1TB 5400RPM SATA Hard Drive
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet LAN & Bluetooth 4.2LE
  • Built-in Stereo Speakers 
  • External 1 MP Webcam
  • Wireless Keyboard and Mouse

Now, do you think these things matter to the average person? 

If you took the average person, they wouldn't even know what an Intel Core Processor or Operating System Architecture is.

Do you think knowing that information would convince them to purchase?


Benefits, on the other hand, get to the root of why a customer is purchasing something. Benefits are what the customer gets out of a product or service—which is generally what they're more interested in.

In this case, the Acer Inspire has the following benefits:

  • Computer and display are in one unit, which saves space
  • Setup takes 10 minutes or less, so there's no hassle
  • Wireless mouse and keyboard means no wires creating clutter
  • The thin unit means taking up less space on the desk
  • More than enough power to upload, download, browse the internet, take video calls, and stream shows or movies

Now, how much more compelling is that than knowing it has the 8th Generation Intel Core i5-8250U Processor 1.6GHz.

One caveat here is that if you're selling a high-end computer to people who actually do care about the features, then those features are likely going to be important to them.

So, you need to understand your audience.

If you're having trouble coming up with the benefits to the product you're selling, there's a simple tool to use. 

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The Feature/Benefit Matrix

A simple way to organize and think through the features and benefits of your product is to fill out a feature/benefit matrix like this:


The feature-benefit matrix


As you can see, all you do is list the first feature of your product in the features section on the left and then fill in the benefits of that feature under the benefits section. Using this format helps you come up with your features and benefits much quicker, and it helps you keep them organized as well.

In the far section, you can include various calls-to-action that you'll use in your marketing as well.

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Real Life Examples

To give you a better idea of what this looks like in the real world, let's do a quick teardown of some ads to show how this plays out. 

First, let's look at a Facebook ad that's coming from a feature-driven point of view. 

Example #1: Feature-Driven Facebook Ad

The ad that we're looking at is from Udacity, an education company that sells something called "Nanodegrees".


A Facebook ad from Udacity that sells the features of their product


If you look at the copy in this ad, you'll notice that's it's almost 100% feature-driven.

Let's list out those features:

  • $399/month
  • Real-world projects
  • 1-on-1 mentor
  • Career coach
  • Career services

If you put those down into the feature/benefit matrix that we just went over, it wouldn't be that difficult to come up with some benefits to these features:

  • $399/month: total cost is less than half of a college education
  • Real-world projects: build a portfolio to show employers
  • 1-on-1 mentor: get unstuck with in-depth feedback from industry professionals
  • Career coach: get individualized help finding the career path that's right for you
  • Career services: get a lifetime of job postings and career advice

Taking some time to walk through the feature/benefit matrix helps you get clear on what the benefits are of your product, and it doesn't take that much more time. 

But finding the benefits is much more powerful than listing features.

Example #2: Benefit-Driven Facebook Ad

Now, let's take a look at an ad that focuses more on the benefits of the product rather than the features. 

This ad is from the New York Business Review.


Facebook ad from the new York Business Review that sells the benefits of a product (an example of sell the sizzle, not the steak)


While there's a lot this ad could do to make it more effective, one thing that it does well is that it hits on some important benefits of the product.

Let's list some of them out:

  • Immediate access to lawyers without paying a retainer
  • No hourly fee
  • Don't have to do legal research ever again 
  • A feeling of security and confidence due to having a lawyer

Those are some powerful benefits, and the ad does a good job of highlighting them rather than focusing on the benefits.

Example #3: Trust Signals As An Implied Benefit

You don't necessarily need to use your own words to convey the benefit of working with you or your product. 

Sometimes, trust signals work just as well.

Trust signals are anything you can display in your ad or website that helps increase trust with your audience. For example, some big ones are:

  • Testimonials
  • Reviews
  • Proof of big brands you've worked with

Look at this ad from Russel Brunson, for example:


Facebook ad from Russel Brunson that uses a testimonial


Having that testimonial from a successful customer goes a long way in establishing the best benefit to working with Russel: his product works.

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Sell The Sizzle, Not The Steak

Selling benefits instead of features is just one of many powerful copywriting techniques that we dive into.

However, it's really the foundation for making a sale.

By selling the benefits, you can easily lead your customers or clients to the water. You can explain to them why they need water to survive, and then encourage them to take a sip.

Remember, selling the benefits of a product or service is a skill, and to learn this skill, you’ll need to learn how to write amazing copy. 

(NOTE: Want even MORE info about how to use copywriting to grow your business? Grab your spot in this FREE course to learn about the tools and strategies you (and your business) have been missing out on.)