Art Marketing – Sell The Sizzle or the Steak?

There is an old sales adage that says “sell the sizzle not the steak”. For most art and creative products there should be a lot of sizzle to talk about. Have you ever noticed that in some restaurants that the kitchen is out in the open or that the waiters walk by the tables with sizzling platters? They do this because the sights, sounds and smells of a tasty dish evoke emotions and spark interest – in essence they are selling the sizzle not the steak and you can too!

Selling the Steak

If You Want A Great Steak Dinner You Need To Start With A Great Steak!

If You Want A Great Steak Dinner You Need To Start With A Great Steak!

Selling the steak is when you talk about the specifications, features and materials that go into your art. While it is important that a piece of art is painted in oil on a certain type or quality of canvas, this is probably not the reason people would buy the art. Look at the “steak” as the “nuts and bolts” of a product and something you would see in a manufacturer’s specification sheet. While specs are important, people are swayed by the sizzle.  Many fine art photographers seem more interested in telling their customers about what camera the image was produced on, what kind of printer and paper the image was printed on and how long it will last. While these facts may be important they have little to do with why a particular print is bought. Don’t dwell too much on the specifications, if your prospect likes the image the other facts will help reinforce the sale.

Selling the Sizzle

Selling The Sizzle Touches Your Senses And Emotions!

Selling The Sizzle Touches Your Senses And Emotions!


People buy products (and that includes art) because it provides a benefit, solves their problems and fulfills some need. Your selling job as an artist is to find these benefits, solve these problems and highlight the needs that your art fulfills.


Here are some things that go into the sizzle:

  • What is different about your art?
  • What is compelling about your art?
  • Why can’t they do without your art?
  • What is the experience your art provides?
  • What is the style, genre or fashion or your work?
  • What emotions does your art invoke?
  • What problems does your art solve?
  • Does your art give your customer a feeling of being special or exclusivity?
  • Is there and investment potential in your work?
  • Does your art allow your customer to express their feelings, beliefs or life?

Determining your Sizzle

It may not be that easy to figure out what makes your art sizzle but you need to get to the things that make a prospect want to buy. A worn out word like “unique” probably has little meaning and after all isn’t most art unique (unless you are selling prints or limited editions)?

One way to determine your sizzle it to talk to your present customers and ask them what they think makes up your sizzle. I invite your to check out the article Grow Your Art Business By Talking To Your Customers! for some ideas on how to survey your customers – make your sizzle a part of the discussion!  Many times you will learn something new about the benefits your work provides and you can use this in your next sales situation.

A Steak and Sizzle Exercise

Here is an exercise to help you separate the steak from the sizzle for your art. Get a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. In one column you will list what describes the “steak’ or the attributes of your art. In the other column you will list what describes the “sizzle” or the benefits your art provides. Do this exercise for each of your products (or types or genres of art). Look carefully to see if your different art works have some commonality in “sizzle” – these will become important in selling and marketing your creations.

The Sizzle Is Not Just For a Sales Presentation

Selling the sizzle is something you need to do with all of the touch points you have with your prospects and customers. Places where you should sell the sizzle include:

  • Your sales presentations
  • Your business cards
  • Your elevator speech
  • Advertising of all kinds including brochures, posters, print, and broadcast
  • Your webpage
  • Your public relations efforts
  • Your social media presence

Ok now you should know the difference between selling the sizzle versus selling the steak. You will get customer interest by selling the “sizzle” and reinforce their willingness to buy with the attributes or the “steak” – go for it!

Neil McKenzie is the author of The Artist’s Business and Marketing ToolBox – How to Start, Run and Market a Successful Arts or Creative Business available in softcover from Barnes & Noble and Amazon and as an eBook from iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.   He has developed and teaches the course “Artrepreneurship” at the Center for Innovation at Metropolitan State University of Denver, and is also a visiting professor at University College at the University of Denver.

Neil has over 30 years’ experience as a management consultant and marketing executive, working with some of the world’s top brands. Neil is a frequent lecturer to artists and arts organizations, a guest columnist for Colorado Biz Magazine, where he covers the creative sector of the economy, and the author of several articles for Americans for the Arts, a national arts organization. Follow Neil on Twitter: @neilmckenzphoto

2 thoughts on “Art Marketing – Sell The Sizzle or the Steak?

  1. Maria Melenchuk

    Dear Neil,

    I have been following your blog for few months now and I really appreciate all the great advice you share. Thank you so much!

    Most of us artists don`t have great marketing skills, it feels like it contradicts with our creative side and in most cases has never been something we would have wanted to do. I´ve been battling with this for some time now too, but thanks to your articles you are giving food to thought. Once I processed this – selling isn`t much different art than creating art on a canvas. it is just being more vocal about what we need.

    Best wishes,

    Maria M.

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