HomeBlog The Steak and the Sizzle

The Steak and the Sizzle

February 23, 2015 | By John Donlon

  • Marketers often spend too much time promoting their contribution to the business vs. marketing measurement
  • It’s important not to give short shrift to deal forensics – touch analysis, identifying what tactics do and don’t work
  • The results of measurement provide the insights that prove marketing’s real impact

“Bizarro Jerry” is a fun Seinfeld episode in which everybody’s roles get turned around: George is suddenly having fantastic luck with the ladies, Kramer is pretending to be a legitimate corporate employee (and loving it), and even Elaine has found a new group of friends who seem to be the exact opposite of (read: better version than) the usual crew. Jerry, by the way, is trying to come to grips – so to speak – with the new girl he’s dating – Man Hands.

One part of the episode that’s always stayed with me is when Kramer is yucking it up with one of his office colleagues, and he offers up the old saw, “Well, you know what they say: ‘You don't sell the steak; you sell the sizzle!’”

It turns out there are a lot of areas in life where it’s important to separate the steak from the sizzle. Choosing a college or a grad school is a good example. Excepting the benefits of personal growth and other intangibles for the moment, the steak is the education itself – what you’ll actually learn and be able to apply in your professional life so you can be successful (however you define that). The sizzle, on the other hand, is the degree – the outward-facing stamp of approval that proves you’re a college graduate, MBA, whatever. It’s a signal to the market of your value, and fair or not, your school’s name recognition probably matters, so it’s part of the sizzle, too.

Dating is another area where it’s fairly important to understand the difference. In another Seinfeld episode (“The Couch”), Elaine is sure her new boyfriend agrees with her ideology “because he, well…he's just so good-looking.” Eye candy is one thing, but being able to get along with someone is quite another. By the way, no value judgment here! By all means, date all the airheads you want. I’m just making the point that it helps to be aware of why you make certain choices.

Marketing measurement is no different. Too often, we get wrapped up in the political aspect of promoting marketing’s contribution back to the business – maybe to protect our job or our team, or, maybe at a more personal and existential level, to validate the work we do day in and day out. “Hey, we sourced $40 million in new revenue this year!” That’s the PR, the image, the sizzle.

The steak, on the other hand, is the deal forensics, the touch analysis, the investigation into what combinations of tactics are and aren’t working, which results in insight into the real impact we’re having. That, my friends, is the substance of what we’re after; it’s the steak.

Make no mistake, as superfluous as the sizzle may seem, there is still a very real need for it at many organizations, and it should not be discounted. The key, however, is to make sure it’s credibly linked back to the steak.

Despite how affable and busy he always seemed to be, in the end Kramer was fired from his job, because his boss reviewed his substandard work and concluded, “It’s almost as if you have no business training at all…” He had done a great job selling his own sizzle, but ultimately the steak just wasn’t there.

What’s the steak/sizzle balance at your organization? Is there too much emphasis on one and not enough on the other? What do you think is the relative importance of each?


John Donlon

John Donlon is a Senior Research Director for Marketing Operations at SiriusDecisions. A recognized thought leader in marketing operations, he has over 20 years of experience in information technology, process improvement, and measurement and reporting. Follow John on Twitter at @SiriusJD.

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