Lessons From a Toaster

(Listen to this post, here.)

When it comes to household appliances, I am not usually prone to blanket generalizations.

But, in this case, I am going to make an exception: My toaster is way smarter than my coffeemaker.

You may find this surprising, since coffeemakers, with all their bells and whistles, are the alpha males of the small appliance community: sleek, powerful, sexy.

Toasters, on the other hand, have been around forever – I guarantee you that Harry Truman owned one. And they have barely changed in decades: a couple of vertical holders for the bread and a dial for selecting your preferred degree of toasting.

But here’s why my toaster wins…

If the toaster is unplugged (something I do after each use), the bar for lowering the bread won’t stay down. This simple feature reminds you to plug it in before you walk away.

The coffeemaker? It has no such interest in your little problems.

Which means that you can measure out your coffee, pour in your water, hit the start button and run off to take a shower … only to discover upon your return an hour later (what can I tell you, the water felt nice) that the damn thing is still parked in neutral.

The coffee maker may be impressive, but the toaster, with its built-in failsafe device, is focused on making your life better.

Think Like a Toaster

The point of professional services marketing, of course, is to attract clients and grow your business.

And yet, when it comes to “marketing communications” – the words you use to get your message out in the world – way too much of it is inwardly focused; it’s all about our qualifications, our credentials, our experience, our client list.

That stuff is fine. And necessary to some degree.

But if that’s what the bulk of your communication is about, you’re like an unplugged coffee machine: nobody cares how fancy the features are if you neglect what matters most – in this case, what problem(s) do you solve?

Highlight What Matters to Them, Not to You

Every day, in lots of little ways, you have opportunities to tell your story, often in the form of a “headline.”

On LinkedIn:

Does the headline beneath your photo focus on why you are so wonderful?: “Speaker, Author, Certified Trainer, MBA”

Or, like Charlie Goodrich, does it highlight the work you do for others?: “Consultant specialized in restructuring and insolvency.”

On your web site:

Does the headline at the top of your home page say something vague like, “Strategic Imperatives Comingled with Cross-Functional Platform Excellence”?

Or, like Roger Magalhaes, is it super-clear?: “Installation Training For Window Treatment Professionals.”

In your newsletter:

Does the headline in your banner (you do have a banner, right?) consist of a perhaps catchy, but self-referencing and nebulous tagline like, “The Client Whisperer, Shifting Focus With No Hocus Pocus”?

Or, like Dianne Savastano, does it state simply how the newsletter helps readers?: “A monthly guide to navigating the complexities of healthcare.”

Here’s the bottom line.

Other people don’t give us a lot of space in their overloaded brains or busy lives. So when it comes to your marketing, you have but two options:

Option #1: Talk about yourself … and I will be impressed by you.

Option #2: Talk about me and how you solve my problems … and I will hire you.

Don’t make me send Harry Truman over there.

Discussion Questions:

  1. If the coffeemaker is the alpha male of the small appliance community, which appliance is the alpha female?
  2. Do you think Harry Truman made his own toast? Explain.
  3. What headline do you have on your LinkedIn, web site home page, and/or newsletter banner?

Share your answers below…

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23 thoughts on “Lessons From a Toaster

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I like to think of Harry as a man who made his own toast. After all, it was he who had the now famous quote: “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.” Unless you’re thinking he pushed the bar down and got out of there…

  1. Mark Walker

    1. “Alpha Female small appliance” I’d have to go with the blender… chop, puree, separate, extract, la dee da, these sexy little beasts do it all with a whisper… kinda like my EX
    2. Based on my history, I’d think old Harry was a simple kind of guy, and it would not surprise me in the least if he did make his own toast in the WH. I can’t see Bess doing it!
    3. Current Headline on LI: Copywriter| Content Marketing| Case Studies| SEO| UX Writing| B2C
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  2. Stacey Shipman

    First, website looks great! OK now on to your questions:

    1. First thing that came to me: food processor

    2. Sure, why not!

    3. Shed The Formality…feel more natural speaking, networking, facilitating | Attend an event @ Engage The Room | Tune in to the podcast: Shed The Formality

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Thanks for noticing the new web site. My old one was looking a bit too 2012. Nice specificity on your headline!

  3. Bob Katz

    Hey Michael,

    I’m surprised you still have a “toaster only”; for the last 15 years I’ve used a “toaster oven” and recently upgraded to a smart “toaster oven” which is way smarter than my Keurig coffee maker.

    For an female alpha appliance, I would say an oven, primarily because you put uncooked things in and get a whole lot of good things out, assuming to keep them at the right temperature and take them out at the right time!

    And I know for sure that Bess had Harry make his own toast.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      We actually ditched the toaster oven a while back for a plain old toaster. To me it was like a tablet – in between a phone and a computer; I just never found the gap to be worth owning the middle device.

      I like your oven idea. Assuming you were making a birthing reference, since that’s pretty much how I remember it, particularly the end result!

      1. Bob Katz

        While toast plays an important place in my life, the kids also use the T-O for pizza, burgers, bagels etc. so the limited shelf space needs to support multiple duties. I have seen a few “smart toasters” but feels oxymoronic to me. BTW – Tablets are much more capable now and I’m generally using my iPad for about 90% of my non-business, computer related activity; you should try them!

        Birthing yes, but I have heard that women are “multipliers”; you give them things and they multiply them e.g. give them a house and they give you a home, give them ingredients and they’ll make you a meal. Just don’t give them any trouble…

  4. Margaret Butler

    The Alpha Female appliances in the kitchen for me (I have 2) is the hand egg beater backed up with the juicer. I can mix chop cut slice, and everything else without having to drag out the bells and whistles blender, and then have to WASH the thing. A great appliance but the effort to use it for 2 minutes is not worth the effort.
    Mr Practical Truman, I believe, did make his own toast. Mrs Truman got hers made for her too. Smart lady.
    My Linked In profile is coming. Going through a B2B copy-writiing course and loving it.

  5. Bruce Horwitz

    HST probably did make his own toast, at least occasionally. And I’ll bet his toaster stayed down even with the power off. I’m pretty sure what you describe as a “smart” feature is really just a byproduct of switching from a mechanical release mechanism to an electrically activated mechanism. No power, no electromagnet to hold the catch closed.

    But maybe I’m just too cynical.

  6. Glenn Gutmacher

    Hate to burst your bubbles, but Harry Truman (while he certainly often ate a piece of toast as part of his breakfast, per https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2011/06/15/meatloaf-by-candlelight-not-for-this-president/ ) didn’t make his own toast. Vietta Garr was the family cook for 40 years in Independence, MO pre- and post-presidency (minus his brief tenure as VP under FDR) and they brought her to the White House, too: https://www.nps.gov/hstr/planyourvisit/upload/vietta.pdf
    Though not the official White House chef, she was asked by the Trumans to teach Missouri-style cooking to the staff. This was apparently a huge improvement over the cooking during FDR’s presidency. Great story about that at http://www.jmarkpowell.com/tyrant-of-the-white-house-kitchen/ Also see https://www.foodtimeline.org/presidents.html#truman

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hello Glenn! You seem to know way too much about this subject. Are you a long-time Truman fan, Missouri resident, or toast-lover (I’m hoping all three)?

  7. Glenn Gutmacher

    Hi Bob – LOL, we’re talking WW2 era — Independence, MO wasn’t some unincorporated territory by that point. As Michael said in the original post, toasters were common back then, even in Missouri.

    1. Bob Katz

      Hey Glenn,

      LOL – I wasn’t trying to disparage Independence, MO or the Trumans. At that moment, with seemingly a lot of time on my hands, I googled the invention of the toaster (Scotland, late 19th century) and was wondering whether toaster technology had made it to the US by the 1920s.

      As point of information, my father-in-law doctored Harry S. while he was in the White House and I know for sure that subject of toast never came up in their discussions.

  8. Barbara Johnson

    Michael, this was one of your greatest posts! Thank you.

    I will now look at my humble toaster with more respect.

    I learned a lot from this post. Thank you for your hard work and for the humor. We sure need some laughs these days!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Yes, that hardworking toaster needs more respect from all of us! (Thanks for your nice comments, too.)


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