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The manager of a restaurant I waitered at in college taught me a great marketing lesson: “We do a lot to make sure our steaks are tender, but the most important thing we do is always give the customer a sharp knife.  The sharper the knife, the more tender the steak!”

That lesson comes back to me often as I look at a small business’s marketing.  Common sense says you’d never serve a steak with a dull knife. . .BUT, how many things impact the perception of what you sell?  Are they working for you (sharp) or against you (dull)?

Examples, Sharp & Dull

One of the most dominant features of my HTC Touch Pro cell phone is its VGA touch screen display.  Except in use, it gets smudgy.

Its sharp knife is its felt-lined case that cleans the screen when you put it in and take it out.  When I take my phone out to use it I experience that gorgeous screen.

Disney World’s sharp knife: the monorail or steam riverboat that take you from the parking lot into the park, starting the fantasy before you enter.

Why Sharp Knives Work (and Chemicals in Your Brain)

Many luxury hotels’ sharp knife: a doorman.  Of course it makes no sense to pay someone to open the door for people.  But it does make sense to invest to set the customer experience you desire.

Why: You’ll be more likely to notice little things about the hotel that fit your perception it’s a cut above if you do something that demonstrates it early (like when someone enters your hotel).

Why: We all have a part of our brain called the Reticular Activating System.  It’s located between your myelencephalon and your mesencephalon (but you knew that). It plays a part in filtering incoming signals.  It’s why you start to notice all the hybrid cars on the road right after you decide you’d like to buy a hybrid.  Because the cues we pick up early in the experience of a product or service help define what catches our attention later.

Sharp Knives 101

What defines who you are?  What primary product attributes do you want to highlight?  How are you highlighting them?

It’s important to do this as early as possible in the buying cycle.  So, start at the beginning.

Is that your home page?  How your telephone is answered?  How quickly an email inquiry is answered?  Your trade show booth?  An ad?

Is what happens highlighting the things that make you different?

So, whether it’s a doorman or a pdf leveling with people, the lesson of giving the customer a sharp knife is to make sure everything you do, especially early in the buying cycle, highlights what makes you different.