Selling the Sizzle, Not the Science

April, 2002

A few years ago I wrote an article under a similar title for a trade magazine in which I discussed technology licensing from a university perspective. However, I think the principle issue is applicable to all who are trying to commercialize a new technology, regardless of where the technology originates. And that issue is this — the technology ultimately has to result in a product or service that appeals to a buying audience. As elementary as that may seem, it is a point that can be overlooked by inventors and entrepreneurs in their enthusiasm for their new technology.

People buy benefits, not products. You buy a car because it takes you where you want to go, or because it is fast, or because it is safe, or because you like the way it looks. Cars are marvels of technology, from the advanced materials in them to the advanced manufacturing processes used to build them, but as consumers, we’re generally only interested in the imbedded technology because it delivers a benefit to us – it permits the car maker to make cars that are less expensive, or that are safer, or that perform better.

Thus, a key challenge to identifying promising new technologies for commercialization is to focus first on the commercial applications for a technology, not on the underlying science. For many new technologies, the commercial applications are readily apparent; for others, an initial application may be apparent, but additional uses may be identified with a little digging. In all cases, the commercial applications must be verified by answering the questions, “What are the tangible benefits this technology will deliver?” and “Who will pay money to receive those benefits?” If those questions can’t be answered, it won’t matter how sophisticated the technology is – it won’t be successful. It’s the sizzle, not the science, that attracts customers.

Richard Cox is the Associate Director of the University of Hawaii Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development (OTTED). He can be reached by phone at (808) 539-3817 or by email at The thoughts and opinions offered in this column are his own and not those of the University.

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