23/02/2024 5:54 PM


If You Really

“It’s Like Rubbing Honey Into Keira Knightley!” – How to Use Irresistible Metaphors to Sell More

Imagine if you could slip into bed with your customer, late at night when she’s in her pajamas, and whisper love-poems about your brand, without all those messy arrests and ensuing court cases… Imagine if your stories were so psychologically compelling that customers would use them to sell your proposal to themselves… And then brag about their purchase to others, using the words that you supplied.

Sometimes the tactile approach works, and getting them to hold the product can get the job done. But more often than we credit, it’s actually more persuasive to leave verbal grappling hooks in the memory. We need to speak in irresistible metaphors.

Irresistible metaphors are like little soldiers of the imagination, fighting to plant your flag in their brain-space, going to war with barriers-to-purchase by parachuting past objections and landing covertly behind enemy lines.

Chances are, at some point you’ve had a salesperson completely disarm you with nothing more than words. Be it a product pitch in a store, or a multi-million Rand bid for business that relied more upon language than PowerPoint slides; his metaphor was so juicy; her story so completely irresistible; that you simply had to make the purchase, just so that you could own that pithy little catch-phrase and repeat as your own.

How does it work?

Metaphors work their magic by:

Taking the prospect out of analytical thinking and into romance mode
Giving human meaning to a transaction, which might otherwise have been decided purely on mathematics
Causing your customers to enjoy your creativity, and hence, your company
Creating a dynamic in which your customers start replicating your words and selling you to others
Providing stories that are so entrancing that giving up the purchase would feel like missing out on something special. The alternative becomes un-storied and therefore empty of value.

Sometimes, a good metaphor can single-handedly clinch the deal. If it is compelling enough, the customer simply has to have it. So what makes this little device so persuasive?

The humble metaphor is often described as the highest form of communication. It cuts through the clutter of facts and figures and punches straight for the emotional gut by making a simple idea truly come alive. It also tends to stick in the memory because of its visual nature.

The undisputed master of the modern metaphor is Top Gear’s Jeremy Clarkson. Who else would think to describe the smooth ride of a supercar as being ‘… like rubbing honey into Kiera Knightley’? Or, in a more cynical moment, a Porsche as having ‘all the sex appeal of a camel with gingivitis’?

In a similar vein, Harley Davidson won awards for their tag line: ‘It’s like a juicy steak for your ears.’ Great metaphors can even become commercial empires. Think of the bestselling series of books, ‘Chicken Soup for the Soul.’

Do it yourself:

Let’s get down to the mechanics. How can you use metaphors in your pitches?

For starters, a metaphor is very simply the art of using one thing to symbolically represent another. That’s all. The comparison then imbues the original thing with a dramatic quality. For instance: This brand is like the Rolls Royce of pens, or The American economy is a punch-drunk boxer, willing to fight but reeling to stay on its feet.

For that reason, we need to start with the quality that you want to imbue upon your offering. What do you want your offering to be like? The stealth fighter of your industry? The James Bond of your client’s options? Thereafter, it’s a simple matter of painting the picture for your prospect, telling the story and allowing them to ‘own the dream.’

Let’s pretend we’re in real estate. An average pitch might simply list benefits:

The house gets sunshine in the morning
The kitchen tiles are imported from Italy and the oven is new
The office library has an intercom system
A spiral staircase connects the two floors

Re-stated using metaphors, these simple items become a treasure trove of compelling and picturesque language:

It’s like waking up in a beach-house every morning
It’s like having Nigella Lawson’s kitchen all to yourself
This isn’t an office. It’s the command center on the Star Ship Enterprise.
This section looks like an episode of Top Billing. You could just imagine Jeanie D swanning down the staircase as she introduces the next guest.

Well crafted metaphors are powerful sales tools. They are also tragically underutilized. We rarely think about adding them to our repertoire. And why not; they’re free after all? They require only the slightest effort of imagination. And if your competitors aren’t using them, their incorporation into your toolkit will give you a natural advantage. Why? Because all features and benefits being equal, the ‘romantic’ ‘meaningful’ option will generally win out. Metaphors give meaning to otherwise inanimate objects. They lend story to otherwise lifeless offerings.

Tell a quality story, and your customers will use it to convince themselves. They will repeat the compelling metaphors to their friends and family to justify the purchase and brag about its worth.

Become the only one in your industry using metaphors, and your pitch will be like a meteorite strike in the grey landscape of your customer’s’ imaginations. You will be like the only welcoming light in a deserted town, and hence, the only logical choice.