Analogy: emotionally powering your sales logic

by Peter Watts

Analogy is to a sales presentation what 3D surround sound is to a movie. By syphoning desired characteristics from one argument into another, you don’t just describe your case to an audience, you invite them to live in it.

The foremost tool of persuasive description, analogy can be used for logic, or for passion. At it’s simplest, it takes a known entity, the source, and transfers the characteristics of that source to a second entity, the target.

“Caffeine is to coffee as alcohol is to beer”

It follows the structure A is to B as C is to D. In a well chosen analogy, multiple descriptive goodies can be transferred all at once from source to target:

Point 1: Analogies siphon desirable characteristics from a known source to an unknown target

Example: If this laptop were a car, it would be a Cadillac

My favourite definition of analogy is “an inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects, they will probably agree in others”.

In the case of a laptop computer and a Cadillac, there could be any number of correspondences such as build-quality and performance for example. Once that connection is set-up between source and target, other attributes then continue to flow down the pipe: prestige, luxury, high-end components, smoothness.

It’s a little like siphoning water out of a barrel. Once you’ve got the flow going, it tends to keep on going, with attributes moving from source to target.

Point 2: Analogies deliver logic and emotion in the same punch

Example: Hitler’s Berlin Olympics of 1936 = Putin’s Sochi Olympics of 2014

Analogy can be as much a tool of pathos, or the appeal to emotion, as it can be a tool for logic.

In response to state approved oppression of gay Russians, a growing protest movement is calling for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be moved from Russia to either Canada or Norway. One of the foremost voices in that campaign is actor and writer Stephen Fry, and in this open letter to the British Government he uses analogy to make his case:

“I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.”

Fry’s use is emotional and multi-layered, with spin analogies between the two Olympic events, between persecuted Jews and persecuted gays, and most significantly, between an Olympic movement that turned a blind eye in 1936, and appears ready to do the same in 2014.

The piece also points out that for a analogy you don’t need to stick slavishly to the A is to B as C is to D formula. Fry gives us the “C is to D” part in his first paragraph, and then doesn’t hit us with the “A is to B” until half way through his second. Click this link to read the original letter and see how magnificently Fry uses analogy to make his case.

Point 3: Make sure your source will appeal to your audience

Example “If this service was a restaurant, it would be an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

In this final example, a Product Manager describes their new service by using the analogy of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Immediately anybody hearing the analogy will get not just the impression of a pick-and-mix array of offerings, but also a powerful impression of the type of customer that would be attracted to the service. The analogy extends outwards so that the hearer can visualise the service users, namely people who go to their local buffet, and like to load-up. It’s quite possible therefore that customers preferring to order a la carte would be put-off by the analogy.

This is the final point about analogies in sales presentations. Your source must be as suitable for the audience as it is for the target that you want to apply it to.


  1. Great post! Making your points and presentation relevant and relate-able to your audience makes a big difference. I know it does for me when I am in the audience so I try to do the same in presenting.

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