For a recent special occasion my family and I placed an order with a much loved local restaurant that had just reopened its kitchen, after being closed during lockdown.
In normal times we would have eaten in the restaurant itself, but due to coronavirus the only option available was to takeaway.
The food, as expected, was delicious.
And given that the restaurant had never previously offered takeaway I thought they did a great job, under the circumstances.
But as much as we enjoyed the meal, it was obvious that something was missing.
Going to a fancy restaurant is about more than the food. It is about the service and the attention to detail. It is about the recommendations.
Eating out is about the ambiance and decor. It is about the serendipitous encounters with old friends on the next table. It is about that – “go on, if you must” – second bottle of wine and cheeky dessert.
It is about getting ready for a night out, and the anticipation as you wait for the taxi to pull up outside. It is about a sense of occasion.
Most of this not spelled out on the menu or explicitly accounted for in the prices. It is mostly intangible. But it matters enormously.
The same applies to many of the products and experiences we buy.
Smart marketers know this and advertise accordingly.
Brands like Apple, BMW and Bose know that people buy their products for reasons that extend way beyond the technical specs – and they charge a premium accordingly.
Abel and Cole, Selfridges, Chanel – these brands trade not in the utility of their goods but in the overall experience.
This is not to say these purchases are irrational.
After all, what could be more rational than buying something that makes you happy?
“The sizzle has sold more steaks than the cow ever has, although the cow is, of course, mighty important,” Elmer Wheeler famously wrote in 1937.
“Hidden in everything you sell are ‘sizzles’. The ‘sizzle’ is the bestselling argument. It’s the bubble in the wine, the tang in the cheese; the whiff in the coffee.”