Sell the brownies, not the recipe.

Last week, my husband and I were introduced to messaging expert

’s metaphor “Sell the brownie, not the recipe” while watching The Last Word with Laurence O’Donnell. Quick footnote — we are hand-wringing Democrats who too-often sign off at night with some stress-inducing, sleep-reducing reportage from MSNBC. But this short-but-spot-on segment captured both of our attentions. It’s was charming. It was cheerful. It was a great big head smacking — “Oh duh.” It was so good, Laurence repeated it the very next night.

In Shenker-Osorio’s adage, the “Brownie” is the vision — the emotional description of a future desired state. The yummy we simply can’t resist. The “Recipe” is the policy — the tedious, step-by-step, back-of-the box, blur of details that provoke arguments — and elicit yawns. And I should care why? In other words, TMI for the average human who is just trying to get through the day.

Of course, Shenker-Osorio’s advice was intended for the all-too-earnest Congressional Dems who seem clearly incapable of communicating the desirable benefits of President Biden’s Infrastructure and Build Back Better Bills to the American people. And consequently, fire up their enthusiasm and support for it. Selling the price tag not the promise is a major messaging miss. And we marketers can — and should — take a page from Shenker-Osorio’s playbook.

We have to speak in the language of value,” Shenker-Osorio goes on to say. And like the Dems, we marketers all-too-often fall madly in love with our illustrious, fact-filled features and benefits, our R&D dexterity, our detailed product demos, our brilliance at blending rare ingredients or selling our sustainability chops. “BTW — Have I told lately how great I am?” We make ourselves the hero of the story. News flash: We are not the hero. Our audience is.

Every “Recipe” neglects to share the delicious, relatable story that packs the emotional punch. The yes-that’s-me-nod-in-agreement response that facilitates our audience’s understanding and buy-in for our message. Emotions deliver the WIIFM. What’s in it for me. They tell us why we should give a rat’s ass about your product? How it will make my life better. Hell, my day better. Why my next 5-minutes are worth spending with you.

Consider Shenker-Osorio’s recommended reframing: Instead of saying “We’re for Paid Family Leave”, Dems should paint the picture of being there for little Tommy’s first smile, his first step. Sign me up! And, while you’re at it, pass the Kleenex please.

So, how might you humanize the benefits of your product or service through emotional storytelling? Take Google. In every video and TV spot — from their widely tweeted and blogged-about 2010 “Parisian Love” — to 2021’s gone-viral “Get Back To What You Love” and “Sunglasses” — Google chronicles popular search terms. But instead of enumerating the number of results you can access Google showcases the pleasures of what you will find. Offering a window into real life. These videos are not about facts. They’re about feelings. And goosebumps are guaranteed. If you haven’t seen them, be sure to Google them! By the musical crescendo and final keystroke, you will be reaching for the hankies.

As Shenker-Osorio says: “Many people have remarked, Martin Luther King Jr. did not get famous for saying I have a multi-bulleted list of policy proposals.” Or, for that matter, a marketing pitch! We need to find the human touch. The tug-at-your-heartstrings visual your audience can imagine themselves in. It wins even the wonkiest of us every time. So if you’ve got something mouthwatering, chocolate-y, chewy and super delicious, woo me with it. “It’s all about the payoff not the process.”



Robin Albin, Insurgents Brand Strategist & Sherpa

Serial brand innovator & virtual Swiss Army Knife of creative. Over her career, Robin has helped invent or reinvent over 50 brands for startups & incumbents.