Features Versus Benefits

One area many marketers struggle with is translating features into benefits. I recently gave a talk to a group at Shawnee State University in Portsmouth, Ohio and the organizers requested I include some comments on this topic in my presentation.

“Features Tell and Benefits Sell.”

I learned this easy to remember phrase early in my career and it has served me well throughout it.

A feature is WHAT your product, service or community has or does.

The benefit is WHY the feature is important to the person you are communicating with.

It really isn’t any harder than this. So why do so many marketers fail to communicate benefits? In part, it is because they do not have an adequate understanding of the actual impact their offering has. They know what it is intended to do, but not necessarily why that really matters.

A classic example, often used to illustrate the point is that people do not need a 1-inch drill bit they need a 1-inch hole. The 1-inch diameter of the drill bit is a feature of the bit. The 1-inch hole it consistently delivers is the benefit.

Here are a few more examples to illustrate the point.

Operates on common household electricity You can save money with no batteries to replace or buy.
Within a days drive of 60% of the US population You can lower delivery costs and create higher profit margin.
In dash GPS You never have to ask for directions again.
All wheel drive You are less likely to get stuck in the snow.
Gets more miles per gallon You save money on gas.
Waterproof boots Your feet stay dry and warm.
Side impact air bags You and your family will stay safe.
Decible range on speakers You can enjoy music hall quality sound.

An easy way to determine the benefit of a feature is to ask the question – Why is this important? If you drill down, asking why each time you will find the core benefit of the feature. Note, the benefit may be different depending on who you are talking to, so it is important to do the exercise in context of a specific target audience

If benefits are so important to communicate, why is most advertising and promotion feature focused? In part it is because the copy is typically written from the wrong perspective.

Great advertising and promotion copy is authored from the target audience’s perspective, not the company or community’s viewpoint. It is important to really understand what matters to your target audience in order to articulate the meaningful benefits of your product, service or community. It is hard work to get those insights. But, without them it is impossible to know what the benefits are.

Many Agencies you contract will not invest the required time to understand your target audience and find it easier to produce feature-focused copy. In their defense, many times it is because their client (you) are either unwilling to invest the funding for market research to get the understanding or allow the time to do the research. The result is a lose:lose outcome.

It is important to appreciate features do have a role to play in great advertising. It is a supportive role. They act as proof points that the benefit you claim is authentic. Think of them as reasons to believe your stated benefit is true.

Let’s look at an example from the above table. If you claim the benefit of the boots you sell is dry feet (benefit), the fact that they are waterproof (feature) is a reason to believe the benefit is true.

Benefits get your target audience excited about your brand promise and emotionally involved. Benefits create desire. An easy way to think about how to use benefits and features is to first capture attention and engage imagination by stating the benefit and then share features to convince your target that the benefit is genuinely achievable.

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