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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17 Comments so far

  1. elaine headley

    April 26, 2012

    interesting and something i’ve not considered before, not working in a selling/commerce capacity– but from my humble inexperienced thoughts, i would think that a feature is a tangible guarantee of a particular product or design, a benefit is what you can potentially gain from the feature (s)?!?!
    But i would think the 2 can often be interchangeable and situation specific?

  2. Ron Fetch

    April 26, 2012

    a feature is an attribute of a product or service. Example, the handle on a bucket. The benefit is the value of the feature, usually to the consumer. The handle feature makes it easier to carry the bucket and can double the payload because I can now carrry two buckets, one in each hand vs using two hands to carry one bucket – Productivity is the benefit! Supply can meet demand faster, more revenue per payload can attained faster etc.

  3. Valerie Busquin

    April 27, 2012

    Here is what I usually use as example in trainings pending on the audience (BtoC or BtoB)
    Feature: it contains Bifidus actiregularis (pro-biotic)
    Rationale Benefit = it improves the transit
    Emotional benefit = makes me feel good in my body

    Feature: Low weight of slabs
    benefit = easy handling during lay-out

    Definition / question to differentiate both
    Benefit: the advantage for the consumer from using the product
    Question:what is in it for the consumer? can be very tangible/rationale or more emotional
    Feature: the attributes of your product or service. Question: what is specific about our product/service?

    Hope it helps!

  4. John Moneypenny

    April 27, 2012

    Love this quote, Ed: “People don’t buy features, they buy the benefits”. What helps me to articulate those benefits is to mentally add the phrase, “…and what that means to you, Mr. Buyer, is that you will enjoy…” after every feature I point out. So, for example, if you are selling a Kindle you might say “Mr. Buyer, the Kindle will store all of your favorite books in one place. What that means to you is that you will enjoy the convenience of being able to take them all with you wherever you go.” The feature is the ability of the Kindle to store hundreds of books, the benefit is “convenience”. Make sense?

  5. Laima Rastikis

    April 27, 2012

    Ed, this is the best explanation of features vs benefits I’ve read. As a copywriter and producer of marketing communications, I often have to explain this distinction to my clients. But you’re right about the fact that some companies aren’t willing/able to spend the money on researching audience needs and pain points. In that case, would you suggest putting myself in the position of an audience member and writing from that perspective (which is what I do now), or does another approach work better?

  6. elaine headley

    April 30, 2012

    Hi all,
    as i’m not in the league of any of you guys & lack your expertise, I am looking at your points from a consumers perspective– how would your product’s features entice me to buy , for example a Kindle, when I already have an ereader– what features would your product have that would benefit me more– ?
    how can one pro-biotic drink give me more benefit than another?– they all claim essentially the same!
    i think i agree with Laima, researching the needs of the consumer should be paramount, to ensure that they receive the necessary benefits from the features of our products!

  7. James Glover

    April 30, 2012

    I always like to think about a classic Ford Mustang convertible circa 1965. Sure it’s got a powerful engine and the top rolls back (features) but it gets you down the road quickly (benefit) and the sun on your face and racing down the road makes you feel great (emotional benefits) AND you want people to see you looking good in your classic car (self-expressive benefit).

    Be sure to follow my daily video marketing advice at http://www.facebook.com/onceadaymarketing

  8. Shikha

    May 2, 2012

    Simple, crisp and to-the-point article.

  9. Michael Swedenberg

    May 4, 2012

    I got in the habit of linking a feature with a benefit when Peter C., my first P&G sales manager, beat me over the head with “Don’t sell features, sell benefits” a hundred times. It finally sunk in. “Our widget has a blah blah blah, the benefit to you is that blah blah blah.” He said don’t assume the customer knows what a product feature does for him or her. You have to explain it. The moral of the story is if you don’t adapt this strategy and make it part of your speech pattern, you’ll forget it in time and lose a very valuable sales tool.

  10. Glenn R Harrington

    May 7, 2012

    Ed: I find your article easy to concur with. Indeed, my article – Key Message Blunders: Promoting Features That Do Not Provide Compelling Benefits – complements yours well for those interested in delving further into the features/benefits distinction as a way to keep key messages relevant.
    Regards, Glenn R Harrington

  11. […] blog post on features versus benefits received a lot of attention, so I thought I’d follow it up with a little exercise and a reprise […]

  12. […] on features versus benefits received a lot of attention, so I thought I’d follow it up with a little exercise and a reprise […]

  13. Bilal Nuseibeh

    May 8, 2012

    P&G’s all so famous sales training statement of ” Features Tell, Benefits Sell ” sums it up real well. The product Feature mostly concerns the Consumer or the Shopper , while Benefits mostly concern the Buyer. So a Sales person would need to present the product Features to the Buyer and with the use of “So What” question by the Buyer he should be able to present a Quantifiable Benefit that drives the WOW out of the Buyer! and the Deal Is Done.
    Another relevant model that came up was expanding the selling proposal to include Advantages of a product to link between Features & Benefits .
    So a Sales Presentation of a Brand would start with Features ( of significance to a Consumer ), then moves to Advantages that reflects what attracts the Shopper to the Brand and ends up with Benefits which clearly highlight the Quantifiable Benefit for the Buyer to buy the Brand. ( similar to the example of 550 miles a gallon; or $ 25 Dollars profit for a dozen…etc…etc..

    In net, Sales people need to illustrate the Features to educate a Buyer of a product usage and distinction while linking it to the Buyer’s Benefits ( Dollar profit, turnover, margins,,,,) and not the Consumer’s benefits ( such as easy digestion, loss of weight, feeling of wellness etc,,,etc..)

  14. […] have authored a couple blog posts on the subject already. The first post was an overview of the difference between features and benefits. The point I try to make in that […]

  15. […] Features Versus Benefits […]

  16. […] more readings on features vs benefits? Click here and […]

  17. […] and communicating benefits is hard work.  You might be interested in a post I authored about the difference between features and benefits.  In my experience, most communication tends to be feature focused rather than benefit focused.  […]

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