People Don’t Want a Drill…Or a Hole

By Jacques Spitzer

In the realm of marketing wisdom, one quote has stood the test of time:

“People don’t want a quarter-inch drill; they want a quarter-inch hole.”

This quote, often attributed to a Harvard professor, encapsulates a fundamental concept in consumer behavior—the distinction between a product and its ultimate purpose. However, as we delve deeper into this notion, especially in the context of modern marketing, we uncover a more nuanced perspective that can revolutionize how we connect with customers and drive sales.

At first glance, the idea seems straightforward: consumers purchase a drill not for the drill itself but for the hole it creates—a means to an end. Yet, this viewpoint is just the surface of a much deeper understanding. Beyond the hole lies the outcome—a picture hanging on the wall. This shift from the tool to the tangible result is a critical step in understanding consumer motivations.

But let’s not stop there. Why hang a picture? The answer extends further into the realm of benefits and aspirations. Hanging a photo is not merely about decorating a space; it’s about transforming a house into a home—a sanctuary that reflects personal style and warmth. Herein lies the essence of consumer desire—the longing for a space that embodies their values and aesthetics.

In the realm of branding and marketing strategy, this progression is vital. It’s not about selling a product or even a desired outcome; it’s about fulfilling a deeper need—the desire for self-expression and personal growth.

Consumers don’t buy drills; they invest in their identities.

A drill purchase signifies more than a practical tool; it symbolizes a commitment to improvement, to becoming the person who can create and enhance their living environment. This concept aligns with the philosophy of understanding and tapping into the customer’s “why.” It’s not about imposing our brand’s narrative but about resonating with the customer’s journey and aspirations.

As a brand, people do not buy your why, people buy their why.

By acknowledging that every purchase is a statement of identity and aspiration, marketers can craft messages that speak directly to the customer’s evolving self-image.

The power of marketing lies not in selling products but in selling self-expression and personal growth. When customers see a drill as a tool for self-improvement and self-expression, they are not just making a transaction; they are investing in their identities and aspirations. This shift in perspective transforms marketing and communication from a transactional exchange to a powerful narrative that resonates deeply with consumers.

Sign up for The Founders’ Report today!

This article is a part of The Q2 2024 Founders’ Report. The Founders’ Report is a quarterly digest of the top conversations, insights and learnings that Jacques and Adam are having with our clients and top marketers. Sign up here.