The '1/4" Drill bit' Marketing Analogy (Video)

What you’ll learn about the 1/4″ drill bit marketing analogy: 

  • People don’t want what you make, they want what it’ll do for them.
  • There’s an opportunity to rethink how your product or services solves problems for your customers.

As marketers, entrepreneurs, and digital creators we’re always moving the goal post.  We constantly compete with each other — and ourselves — to continuously innovate products and capitalize on new platforms that could make or break our bottom line. Essentially, we tend to lose focus of our north stars and company ethos, the ones that help us to forge ahead and deliver the one thing we’ve promised to our customers: value.  

Today we want to share a marketing analogy that can act as your own north star when you feel lost or stifled creatively: The 1/4″ Drill Bit. Originally written by Harvard marketing professor Theodore Levitt, the analogy goes as follows:

The Message

“People don’t want to buy a ¼” drill bit, they want a ¼” hole. 

The lesson is that the drill bit is merely a feature — a means to an end. What people truly want is the hole it creates.

The quote alone is enough to get any creative thinking: what is it my company, product or service really providing?  The drill bit can have all the shiny new technology in the world, but what exactly is it being used for, what does it provide the user aside from a hole in the wall? 

But this doesn’t go nearly far enough. No one wants just a hole either. What they want is the shelf that will go on the wall, once they drill the hole and install the brackets.

But again, is the shelf what they really want? Or do they want the sense of satisfaction that their foyer is uncluttered and there’s a reliable place to hang your keys and jacket once you’ve gotten home from a day’s work?  

Taking it further: is it the decluttering of the space they really want? Or is it the satisfaction of knowing they did the job themselves? Or, is it the increase in status they’ll receive when their partner admires the work they’ve done and the admiration from friends who ask “what a fantastic shelf,  looks hard to install — can you come over and do mine?”

The Takeaway

People don’t want what you make, they want what it will do for them. They want how it will make them feel.  

If you can bring someone peace of mind, satisfaction, belonging, connection or status, you’re onto something. The things that we sell, inform, or write about are simply the road to achieve those emotions, and we get lost in our messaging when we focus on the tactics and not the outcomes. 

So how does this apply to your product or service?

Let’s use an email automation software as an example. It’s not the ability to enter a custom field that’s appealing. It’s the fact that the added personalization makes the recipient feel special and acknowledged, and not just a name on a spreadsheet.

These are important concepts to keep in mind as you build your marketing strategy and think about how to engage your customers and prospects with value-forward messaging.

By continuing to browse or by clicking “Accept” you agree to the storing of first- and third-party cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.
Cookie policy | Privacy Policy

Privacy Preference Center


Your Privacy

Umami Marketing Inc. appreciates your interest in its products and your visit to this website and respects the privacy and the integrity of any information that you provide us as a user of this Site. The protection of your privacy in the processing of your personal data is an important concern to which we pay special attention during our business processes.

Privacy Policy

Personal data collected during visits to our websites are processed by us according to the legal provisions valid for the countries in which the websites are maintained. Our data protection policy is also based on the data protection policy applicable to Umami Marketing Inc. Read more

Cookie Policy

Umami Marketing uses cookies and similar technologies, such as HTML5 web storage and local shared objects (all referred to as ‘cookies’ below), to record the preferences of users and optimize the design of its websites. They make navigation easier and increase the user-friendliness of a website. Read more

Essential cookies

These cookies are essential for websites and their features to work properly. Without these cookies, services such as the vehicle configurator may be disabled.

Cookies used

  • WordPress Required

Performance Cookies

These cookies collect information about how you use websites. Performance cookies help us, for example, to identify especially popular areas of our website. In this way, we can adapt the content of our websites more specifically to your needs and thereby improve what we offer you. These cookies do not collect personal data. Further details on how the information is collected and analyzed can be found in the section ‘Analysis of usage data’.

Cookies used

Third-party cookies

These cookies are installed by third parties, e.g. social networks. Their main purpose is to integrate social media content on our site, such as social plugins.

Third-party cookies