You sell horsepower, but you drive torque

I was standing in the BMW dealership looking at a new three series. The color was orange red, and the new design looked spectacular. 

“Can I help you,” said the salesman. 

“Can I fit in that thing?” I asked.

“Oh ya, I fit in just fine. Hop in.”

Well, what do you know? He was right. 

I was only there on a whim. 

Over Christmas that year, the manager of my group lent me his 1985 325. He bought the car with the proceeds of his KTel short that year. The interior of the car had one unique feature.

Parts of it were held together with golf tees.

On Christmas Day, I drove down the QEW to Niagara, and this car felt like it was flying. I’d never felt anything like it in a car before.

And so, on a trip to Calgary, I stopped by the dealership to check out some cars. 

What I didn’t know at the time was that I was about to get a marketing lesson. 

The test drive I didn’t know I wanted

The salesman was tall and distinguished looking. Grey beard. Well dressed. Frankly, he looked more like a customer than a salesman. 

It turns out that he was Austrian and a former race car driver. And he owned an M3. 

After a brief discussion, he went out to the lot and grabbed a new E46 323. They had just been released to the market. 

He was driving to start. We headed out to Heritage Drive. We turned right onto a long, rising two-lane section of road that swooped to the left. 

As soon as he turned right, he gunned it. We were screaming up the road. 

Then about halfway up, he hits the brakes and does a hairpin turn to the right like it was nothing.


I think he said something about the superior handling of the car at that point. 

Then he guns it again down a straight section of side road. Then he mashed the brakes. 

I swear my eyeballs almost hit the windshield.

He was telling me about the amazing ABS brakes at that point.

Then we headed out into traffic on Deerfoot Trail, which is like a highway around Calgary. 

From race car to Winnie the Pooh

That was an incredible experience. 

We went back and tried a 5 series, but I was already hooked.

That test drive blew my mind. I’ve never been on one that came close since. 

When I returned to Toronto, I decided to get one. I was told to wait for the 330s to come out. They had the new three-liter engine and were almost as powerful as the old M3. 

So when they arrived, I headed down to the dealership that used to be on Adelaide for a look. 

The experience in Toronto was quite different from the one in Calgary. 

The salesman wasn’t tall, distinguished, or Austrian. He wasn’t a race car driver. 

He was short and frumpy. 

I remember distinctly that points of his shirt collars were visibly worn. 

If I had to describe him, imagine Winnie the Pooh showed up to help you buy a sports car. 

The test drive was equally uninspiring. In fact, it was boring. 

I mean, what would you expect from Winnie the Pooh?

The test drive I didn’t want

As we approached the car, Winnie took out the key to show me this cool feature. He held down the middle button, and all the windows and the sunroof opened up automatically. 

He told me this was to let the car cool off before getting in. 

Ok. Interesting. 

Then we went out on the road. 

No gunning it. 

No hairpin turns. 

No eyeballs hitting the windshield.

He wanted me to know how the car could creep along in first gear without touching the gas or clutch. 


After driving around this giant undeveloped flat industrial area (below the speed limit), we headed back to the dealership. 

Now, if this had been my first introduction to the car, I would have gone elsewhere. It was that boring. 

The Austrian told me you sell horsepower, but you drive torque. Winnie did neither. 

Creating a vision

There is a great marketing lesson to be garnered from these two interactions. 

One of them is about understanding the experience the person is looking for, not necessarily the one they will have. 

The Austrian obviously listened to the story as I told him about the old 325 on Christmas Day. 

What he gave me wasn’t the brochure version of the features. What he did instead was give me a powerful demonstration of some real-world possibilities.

In Toronto, I got the opposite. I was presented with a couple of features that someone that drove to work every day might find compelling. There was no sense of the value of the car or why it was better than anything else out there at the time. 

But I was already sold, so it didn’t matter. 

The day I picked up the car, I was shaking with excitement. Man, I remember that Friday well. 

That first weekend I drove 800 km. I barely got out of the car for the first 48 hours. 

I lit up the QEW from Toronto to Niagara and several spots in between. I took this one on-ramp at 160…wow! (Don’t tell the Po-Po)

You know what I didn’t do?

I did not hold the middle button down to open all the windows or sit in first gear as I crawled along in traffic. 

Individual messages for individual desires

In the digital world, we watch our words as they cross a computer screen while we type.  

If we’re good, we can imagine our audience as we write. 

If we’re great, we can have a conversation with one person about what matters to them. Then we can deliver a solution.  

Of course, in the digital realm, we have to do things a little bit differently than we would with a car. 

And that means figuring out what your audience wants or needs or desires. 

That requires listening to that audience and deciphering the thing that really matters. 

For one person, it might be having a trophy or symbol of success. 

For someone else, it might be relief from the summer heat before heading into bumper-to-bumper traffic. 

For me, it was a sense of freedom and awe as I ripped down the highway. 

And meeting those distinct desires with individual messages is the path to measurable results.