The Oft-Confused Features And Benefits

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If you’ve been a student of marketing for some time, then I’m sure you’ve heard of the saying: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.”

That quote by Theodore Levitt is probably one of the most quoted passages in marketing in trying to explain the difference between features and benefits.

However, I believe the quote is incomplete and leaving out something that, to me, is far more important. And that is, what’s the purpose of this quarter-inch hole? What does the reader plan on doing with it? Even better, what’s the end-result the reader wants to achieve with it?

The answer to that question is, in my estimation, the real benefit. The ultimate benefit.

Not the hole. And certainly not the drill that created it.

Sure, it is a benefit to some degree. But “benefit,” defined in the dictionary, is “something that improves, enhances, or promotes well-being.” So let me ask you, how is one or one’s well-being enhanced by a quarter-inch hole?

To make offers truly irresistible, words should appeal to specific buyer motives. Common copywriting wisdom dictates that the first rule in doing so is to stress benefits over features. Think benefits, benefits, benefits. Sounds simple, right?

Not really. For if it were, a website would be successful simply if it listed a product’s features and its subsequent benefits. And we all know that is not true. Many benefit-laden copy have failed. So you need more than that.

In an attempt to provide you with some guidance on how to dig deeper to find better, more compelling benefits, here’s a tool I’ve used to help you.

The Product Analysis Worksheet

One of the classes I used to to teach in college was Professional Selling. In it, the curriculum’s textbook was “Personal Selling: An Interactive Approach,” by Ronald Marks, Ph.D., a professor of marketing at the University of Missouri.

In this book, Dr. Marks discusses the ability to convey benefits over features using a tool he calls Product Analysis Worksheet. The way it works is quite simple.

Product benefits usually consist of four principal levels. They are features, advantages, motives, and benefits. Each layer has its own set of attributes and characteristics, which varies depending on the product type and the market to which the product caters.

To illustrate, here’s a description of each layer:

  1. Features — what products have. For example, say you sell an accounting software. You can say, “This accounting software has a reporting feature.”
  2. Advantages — what features do. To continue our example, “Reporting provides real-time, on-demand, updated mission-critical information to key personnel.”
  3. Motives — what motives do features satisfy. For example, “Cost-savings, greater control, increased production, better decisions, etc.”
  4. Benefits — what those features mean. This is where you attach the advantages you outlined to specific motives those features satisfy. To continue our example…

    “With this powerful reporting feature, managers are able to keep their finger on your company’s financial pulse at all times, thereby reducing costs by as much as 50%, maintaining greater control over expenditures, increasing their output by 10-20 times at any given time, and avoiding making decisions that could cost them thousands if not millions of dollars — all in just a few clicks.”

What does this do? By digging deeper and communicating what benefits really mean to your audience, it adds weight, purpose, meaning, relevancy, and power behind the benefits you initially come up with. It gives your benefits legs.

Obviously, coming up with a list of benefits may be easy if you know your product well enough. But describing them in a way that’s appropriate for, and directly related and targeted to, specific audiences is not an easy process.

Market research helps to solve that challenge. In fact, researching your market before you put pen to paper or electron to screen is the most important component of good copywriting. Not the headline, not the offer, and not the price.

The market.

The market is the single most important component of your sales copy. The more you learn about your market, the better and more effective your copy will be.

For example, a common problem among marketers is to develop content using a language their readers will understand. Sure, readers may understand what’s being said to some degree. But comprehension of a message doesn’t mean they will relate to it.

The problem is, marketers often use words that only they can relate to.

This is quite normal as we write in the way we think or talk.

However, the goal in writing good, compelling copy is to think like our readers, talk like our readers, and connect with our readers. This is where much of the copy I see fails.

Even yours truly is guilty of this from time to time. We’re too married to our product, or we’re too disconnected from how and what our readers think, feel, and communicate. This is where the “product analysis worksheet” can become very helpful.

Here’s how it works…

First, list all of the features of your product or service, including standard, technical, supportive, even abstract features. Then, with each feature, develop a subsequent list of relative advantages. Write down what each feature listed does.

Some people think that what a feature does is the benefit. But this is where most business owners and copywriters fail to relate those benefits to their readers.

They assume an advantage is a benefit and stop there, when those benefits are too broad or one-sided. Instead, the feature’s function or purpose, not how it actually serves, relates to, and benefits the reader, is merely an advantage.

While a feature is what a product has and an advantage is what that feature does

… A Benefit is What That Feature Means.

A benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature. It’s the ultimate end-result. When you describe a feature, say this: “What this means to you, Mr. Prospect, is this…” Followed by a more personal gain your reader gets from the feature.

Turn it around. don’t focus on a certain feature’s benefit. Rather, focus on how those features specifically benefit the individual and what those benefits truly mean.

Here’s an example using my private membership website, where members get access to videos of me tearing sales copy apart, and revealing copywriting tips, tricks, and actual, tested conversion strategies in the process.

  • Feature: Watch a top copywriter in action as he writes killer copy, all recorded on video, using real salesletters and real websites from real clients.
  • Advantage: You get to learn how to write copy faster by understanding the logic behind successful copy (not just how to write it), and also learn copywriting tips, mistakes, shortcuts, and proven split-test results in the process.
  • Motive: What you want is to reduce the learning curve, risks, effort, and costs involved in trying to do it all yourself. Therefore, what this feature means is this…
    • Benefit #1: This means you get real-world examples from real case studies and actually see the process done before you, instead of plain textbook theory or mere swipe files that leave you scratching your head.
    • Benefit #2: Using real-world examples means you can understand what goes into world-class copy and appreciate how they’re being used, so you can easily repeat the process on your own, in the future.
    • Benefit #3: Repeating the process on your own means you don’t have to pay an expensive copywriter to write it for you or fix it if it’s not performing well.
    • Benefit #4: Not having to pay for a copywriter means you save money and get it done faster by learning proven strategies you can apply immediately, without waiting for someone to do it for you or explain it to you in some “how-to” course.
    • Benefit #5: And learning proven, tested strategies means you eliminate the need to search for, find, test, and learn everything yourself, and avoid making costly mistakes by having to figure out what works and what doesn’t on your own.

… And on and on.

Can You See The Difference?

Now, once achieved, look at your worksheet.

Did you cover all the benefits that a specific feature has? Did you go deep and specific enough? Don’t just resort to apparent or obvious benefits. Dig deeper. Think of the end-results your readers get from enjoying your product or service.

Coming up with the first batch will be easy because they will be at the top of your mind. But forcing yourself to dig deeper and come up with stronger, more intimate benefits, although it will be more challenging, will provide you with some of the best ones.

To help you, here’s a simple exercise.

Once you’ve listed one benefit tied to a specific feature, just keep asking, “What this means to you is this…” And work it until you run out of reasons.

Or use what copywriter Peter Stone calls the “so that” technique. Same idea, but add the words “so that” at the end, like, “With this feature, you get [benefit], so that [deeper benefit], so that [even deeper benefit],” and so on until you can’t go any further.

Once you’re done, you then move onto the next feature.

Remember that features tell but benefits sell.

Above all, make sure you communicate those benefits in a way that truly reflects and caters to the situations, problems, needs, and desires of your target market. Express benefits in terms that relate directly to each individual in that market.

Some people shy away from describing benefits because they assume they generate hype or puffery. Not so. As illustrated above, they are effective tools to get your readers to fully understand and appreciate your product’s true purpose, meaning, and relevancy.

After all, different words mean different things to different people.

In other words, forget features and what they do, which is what most people think are benefits. Think of what a feature means to the customer and the words that communicate this meaning at an individual, intimate, and emotional level.

Because the more intimate your benefits are, the more real, vivid, significant, and meaningful they will be. And subsequently, the more sales you will generate, too.

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34 thoughts on “The Oft-Confused Features And Benefits

  1. As always, a great meaty article, full of tasty goodness… which means we’re getting thorough copywriting nourishment. :)

    I love simple formulas that are easy to remember… “What this MEANS to you is…”

    Great stuff.

  2. Damn it Michael,

    Isn’t it time for you to sell us something… lol

    Good stuff.

    Rich

  3. Great article. The examples really help to show the meaning
    thanks
    Diane

  4. Very cool, I need this as I am about to review a new product.

  5. Excellent explanation of a topic my students struggle with – sometimes even my clients. I do a variation on Peter’s “so that” technique. I set it up as a challenge and force a “So what?” through the process of moving from feature to benefit to deeper benefit to uber, life-changing and fulfilling benefit.

    But hey, whatever works, works for me.

    • I use the “so WHAT” as well, but more when it applies to developing my five “reasons why,” such as “why you, why me, why this, why this price, and why now.”

      Thanks for stopping by, Roberta.

  6. Great article even though copywriting is abstract skill fro me :-)

    As I was reading it reminded me an eBook I read that was released a while ago by Ken Evoy and some direct copy wizard – Make Your Words Sell. I think the “so that” process you mentioned was slightly turned and approached from different perspective but produces nearly identical result.

    Thanks for sharing! I think even I might be able to use some of that ….

  7. Well put Michel. FAMB, I’ll have to remember that

  8. Well done — I have been working on communicating the benefits of a new approach to time management, and this has already helped — thanks!

  9. Great point Michael – I believe most of us have seen a sales letter that was muddled in its message to the point of being nondescript.No perceived value that was either logically or emotionally compelling.This article on benefits you provided was a brilliant and beautiful exposé of that. I immediately forwarded this information to my PR person -”Because practice does not make perfect – perfect practice makes perfect…”- GlenGlen B. Stewart

  10. This is a fantastic post, thanks Michel! You have perfectly explained the importance of highlighting benefits in marketing.

  11. It’s all about context (to summarize your explanation :) ) No context – no meaning. No meaning – who cares?

    This is why it’s so important to get inside the head and heart of your audience as a copywriter. What makes them get up in the morning? What makes them want to stay in bed? So easy to miss yet so critical to writing copy that matters to people in a very crowded digital space.

    Cheers.

  12. Sure I knew all this – but repetition, repetition, repetition is vital to learning and
    then implementing!!! Thank you for bringing it to mind in such a structured
    useful format. I appreciated the wake up call!!

  13. Yes, I’ve been an advocate of this for years. By asking so what” or “what’s in it for the reader/viewer/buyer etc, you can arrive at what I call “the story behind the story”–a place from which powerful copy seems to flow very easily.

  14. Great post and thought Michel. You know, the first time I heard this analogy was through Mike Dillard, and it stuck with me ever since and it is a BIG lesson not only in internet marketing, but in everything, it’s instant satisfaction.

    It’s just like if your using it in your business, it’s as saying, people didn’t by your product just to buy and read, they bought it because they wanted to solve their problem on “how to” do a certain thing, and after they get that sense of understanding, they get that fullfilment.

  15. Excellent advice – I’ll print a copy and give to my job hunting class today…most of them are telling, very few are selling!

  16. Excellent article Michel! I’m going to share this with my agency. I completely agree that most marketers stop at the ‘advantage’ stage and fail to delve deeper.

    From an agency perspective, your emphasis on market research is valid, but difficult when you have smaller clients with miniscule budgets and no desire to spend funds on the initiative.

    I suppose it is our duty as partners to try and persuade them but it’s certainly a challenge!

  17. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Michel. There are so few in the marketing world who understand features and benefits, as evidenced by the other cliche in marketing, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” They don’t realize that “sizzle” is not a benefit. It is a feature, and that what people are buying is the pleasure of a satisfying, perhaps exhilarating dining experience. One suggestion for your followers, when they combine their features and benefits into marketing statements to be used in advertising or sales, I recommend they put the benefit first, then use the feature as proof that they can deliver the benefit.

    • Oh, I love that Jim. “Put the benefit first, then use the feature as proof.” That underlines the notion that people buy on emotion first, then justify their decision with logic. Well said.

  18. chrisinprague

    This is very similar to what I tell my students: “People like to think that they are logical creatures but they make decisions on the basis of emotions, then justify those decisions with logic.”

  19. That was a very prolific post. Oftentimes, we forget that we owe it to our clients. We must always give value above all else. :)

  20. I’ve known of this concept for years, but for whatever reason it didn’t sink in 100%. It’s amazing the simple 1/2 inch hole quote made it all come together for me. So simple, but memorizable. This is quite a moment for me! And it was quite bad-ass of you to take it a step further by explaining that it’s not really about the 1/2 inch hole either.

    Thank you kindly,
    Shane

  21. Great article, as always.

    I used to think that if I point out the features, people would see the benefits. But it is much better to spell it all out because people often do not really know what all those features really mean. Features tell, benefits sell.

    What makes it confusing is that the quarter inch hole can be used in a hundred different ways, so you have to know exactly how your market would use that hole so you can point out the correct benefits.

    Thanks Michael. always a treat to take the time to read your blog.
    Lorraine G.

  22. I really appreciate your post here Michel. It clarifies some fundamental issues I was having in clarifying benefits and features for a sales letter I was asked to write. I was wondering if you have an type of outline of how a sales letter should be crafted – in general, or if you recommend any resources for that? I will browse around more as I am new to your site – I am sure you probably have a book I could get to help with this. I’m a bit intimidated at the moment as I have this sales letter to be written and this is my first time doing this for someone else – an established marketer, millionaire online. I’ve only written copy for my own product and I think your website is just so full of useful resources and information – thank you. If you have any specific recommendations I would also appreciate that. Thanks again for everything!

  23. Hi Michel,

    Really interesting article. I’m a big fan of the “so that…” approach. I often use it in reverse for clients to draw out the benefits of the features they’re so proud of. A “So What?” approach if you will. Take the following scenario: a client comes to you and says, “Hey, I’ve got a great product” So what? you say, “It’s got widgets!” So what? “The widgets are ergonomic!” So what? “They’re easy to use” So what? “It means the user can increase his efficiency by 90%!” BINGO!

    I still think a lot of big companies are doing it badly, there are some exceptions – I’ve made a few observations on some real life examples on my blog http://samelfer.wordpress.com

    Best wishes,

    Sam

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