The difference between features v benefits may seem like an obvious question. Not least because for some time the generally-accepted marketing and sales wisdom has been to emphasize the benefits of a product or service rather than its features – to appeal to the values, lifestyle, inner drivers of the customer and sell the potential improvements that come from using the product rather than just describing it.
True. As far as it goes. However, there are two points to be made regarding the features vs. benefits question.
1. Just what is a benefit and how do you best describe it?
2. Sometimes you do need to emphasize the features!
Benefits appeal to emotions and describe the impact of the product or service or its consequences rather than the product or service itself. Statements such as “established 1914”, “24/7 service”, or “100-gallon capacity” are features; they fail to inform the customer how the product will improve their circumstances in any way. The customer wants to hear about how these features translate into guarantees, ease of use, or less stress for the user.
More emotive (and selling) descriptions focus on reliability, immediacy, time savings, lower maintenance, organization or easy access. Put simply, a benefit answers the customer’s unspoken question, “What’s in it for me?” and the answer the customer is usually hoping for revolves around one of two things: emotions (making the customer feel better) or money (as in making or saving it for the customer).
So the simple test is to look at whatever marketing statements you have so far, and ask yourself: does this describe an improvement to somebody’s life, health, wealth, or general wellbeing? If the answer is yes, then so far, so good (now ask yourself if that “somebody” is actually in your target market!) but if not, then you need to refocus and rephrase. And by the way, if you can’t find a benefit for your product or service then there’s a good chance there’s no point in offering it until you can!
The best kind of benefit is one that is unique to your product or service because that translates directly to a competitive advantage.
A benefit that you offer that the competition doesn’t is a unique benefit and a competitive advantage. Creating an advantage that’s difficult to duplicate is the ultimate competitive advantage. A competitive advantage benefit may stem from a feature of the product or service itself (faster, better, cheaper) or it may be a feature of the way in which you provide it (home delivery, complementary installation, a free cup of coffee while you shop). Benefits – and particularly competitive advantage benefits – should be at the heart of your marketing messages, clearly emphasized.
However, as mentioned above, the received wisdom of benefits over features doesn’t always hold true for your sales pitches and marketing messages…
Technology is a good example. When shopping for a new smartphone, the clerk could speak for hours about the reduced eye strain, the recording of memories, and the time saved when synchronizing with all of your other devices but the potential customer will still want to know the screen size, how many megapixels the camera has, and which operating system is installed. These are features but they are important features to a savvy buyer who has sufficient expertise to translate those features into benefits for themselves. The more the clerk pushes the benefits, the more likely the customer is to reach for the spec sheet (or simply leave and go to the store next door).
Now, of course, it is still the benefits that are doing the selling in this scenario but the crucial difference is that they don’t need to come from the salesperson. In fact, by emphasizing benefits in this situation the salesperson is actually reducing the likelihood of a sale.
Benefits sell but an expert doesn’t need you to provide them, just the features. It boils down to: understand your customer and adapt your approach.