Features Tell – Benefits Sell

Ed Burghard

“As you have noticed, people don’t want to be sold to. What people do want is news and information about the things they care about.”

Larry Weber, Author of Marketing to the Social Web

A benefit describes how the community’s promise improves the lives of its residents.  It should answer the question, “What’s in it for me the resident?”  The benefit makes living and working in the community relevant to the resident, so he/she will prefer to reside there versus any other community.

My observation is that most websites are feature focused rather than benefit focused.  As a consequence, visitors tend not to engage.  Nobody really cares what you think about yourself.  They want to know what you can do for them.  Website content must to be authored with the needs of the visitor in mind.  It should answer the reader’s key question of “What’s in it for me?”  If you fail to answer that question, then you will fail to communicate your brand promise.

One of the earliest branding lessons I got at P&G is that “features tell and benefits sell”.  The ability to articulate why an attribute is important to the reader is key to communication success.  It engages the reader and creates a desire to learn more.  In the digital world, attention spans can be measured in seconds.  If you don’t answer the “What’s in it for me?” question quickly, your visitor will click away from your message and never look back.

Learning how to translate features into benefits is one of the more important skills of effective branding.

Generally speaking, there are two categories of benefits you can think about:

  • Performance Benefits (sometimes referred to as functional benefits) speak to the assets, infrastructure and/or public policies of a location.  They might call out superior performance versus a specific competitor (or category – e.g. “the best small town”), a unique experience that is available and highly desired or a combination of things that result in a competitive advantage.
  • Higher order Benefits (sometimes referred to as end benefits) speak to a laddered, higher order result of the performance benefit.  They are used in conjunction with performance benefits to increase relevance, distinctiveness and desirability.  Examples include emotional benefits (how it will feel to live an work in the community), life benefits (how the resident’s life is enhanced), and people benefits (how people will perceive the resident for choosing to live in the community).

Criteria For Effective Benefits

Two of the criteria are drivers of resident appeal:

  • Desirability is mandatory.  You need to understand your resident’s well enough to know what will cause them to say – “I want that”.  Desirability is often rooted in addressing an unmet need or a frustration.  It also includes propositions that promise to delight residents (e.g. low taxes, great schools, safe, etc.).
  • Distinctiveness sets your community apart from others.  Your residents must be able to see how your community is different and preferable to living and working in another location.  It isn’t simply about being different it is how that difference enhances the lives of residents.

Two of the criteria are important to your community branding:

  • Decisiveness requires you to have a single-minded and focused proposition.  It means making a choice on what the most important or impactful thing is to say.  Too many benefits will confuse residents and they will be unclear about what makes your community the ideal location for them to work and live.
  • Supportive of Your Community Promise is mandatory for an effective benefit.  The benefit must be aligned with your community promise.  It must help your residents have confidence that your community promise is authentic, relevant, and/or competitive.


Often it helps to have a formula to use in writing different things.  Here is a template to help you write benefit statements.  It is not intended to generate promotional copy, but it is intended to help you check through the different aspects of what makes a great benefit statement.  And, the output can be shared within your working team to help ensure everybody is on the same page.

By living and working in [your community name], you will [benefit statement].  It is important to you because [insight].  You can believe and trust the benefit is real because [1-3 reasons to believe].  Here are a few of the ways you may experience the benefit [2 – 3 examples].


One way to determine if your community’s communication is focused on compelling benefits is to conduct a tabletop assessment.

The first step is to collect as much as practical of the promotion/communication your community has invested in over the last 6 – 12 months.  Lay it all out on the top of a table (or tables) so people can easily see it.

Invite your leadership (internal and external) to participate in a session where they are asked to assess if the main point of each promotion piece is focused on communicating a benefit.  Give them each a score sheet and a set of red dots and blue dots (or red and blue markers). Tell them to stick a red dot on the score sheet next to the pieces that are not benefit focused and a blue dot next to the pieces that are.

Collect the sheets, summarize the data, and have a group discussion on how you can translate the communication point of the red dotted pieces into a benefit.

The most valuable part of the exercise is the conversation; so, don’t short time it.  This is an opportunity to get everybody aligned on what a benefit is and to get additional insight into how your community promise relates to residents.

If you do not want to engage your leadership in the exercise, invite marketers from local companies to participate.


Defining 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.  It is always easier to describe what is available in a community rather than how it may positively affect the life of a resident.  And, we often make the false assumption he benefit is obvious, so there is no need to state it.  The fact is people are not going to give your communication sufficient time deep thought.  Whatever you do not say goes unheard.  People will not do your work for you by filling in the information you opted not to share.

Leave a comment with your thoughts.

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