Which Sells Best—Benefits Or Features? by Bob Bly

Posted January 13th, 2011 by Nelson Tan. Filed under Business

You’ve heard it before: when advertising your product, stress benefits instead of features.

But it’s a little more complicated than that.

To be accurate, product facts aren’t just divided into one of two categories—features or benefits.

Experienced marketers know that there are four levels of product description.

These are features, advantages, benefits, and ultimate benefits.

The more you understand and use all four levels—and not just benefits—in your advertising, the more effective your advertising will be.

Let’s look at these four levels…

The lowest level is features.

A “feature” is what a product is or has—the literal physical description of the product.

For instance, a feature of a tire is that it is steel-belted. Another might be that it is double ply.

Often, despite what experts tell you about “stress benefits, not features”, a feature can be a selling point…even if the prospect doesn’t know what it is!

For instance, when I was a kid, brochures for the new car models coming out would boast about “rack and pinion” steering.

The car makers hyped it so much, everyone asked dealers, “Does the car have rack and pinion steering?” Many wouldn’t buy a car without it.

Yet I bet not one buyer in a hundred really knew what rack and pinion steering was.

I still don’t, to this day.

Next, there are advantages.

An “advantage” is a feature that your product has that competitive products don’t have.

You know that to get consumers interested in your product, you must show how your product is different than competing products.

The advantage is that point of differentiation…

For our tire example, that might be that our tire is the only steel-belted radial tire that also has double ply.

Moving up the hierarchy, the next level of product description is benefits.

A “benefit” is what the product does for the user…and how the consumer comes out ahead as a result of this capability.

Going back to our tire example, again, the benefit of a steel-belted double ply radial might be that the tire grips the road tighter and increases safety while driving.

Or that it can drive for another 50 miles even after being punctured before you have to change it.

At the top of the product description hierarchy is what I call ultimate benefits.

An “ultimate benefit” is “the benefit of the benefit”…the most important way in which the product improves the user’s life.

Ultimate benefits include saving money…saving time…making money…success…self-esteem…security…safety…joy…pleasure…happiness.

Remember the TV commercial for the tire showing a baby sitting in the middle of a tire?

That’s an example of showing the ultimate benefit…which simply put is, “If you buy our tires, you won’t kill your baby.”

In business-to-business marketing, a benefit might be “reduces energy costs”.

The ultimate benefit is often “makes you a hero within your company”…

Meaning if you achieve the benefit by purchasing the product, senior management will look upon you favorably.

To make your copy richer, deeper, and more credible, don’t just talk about benefits.

Instead, use all four levels of product description: features, advantages, benefits, and ultimate benefits.

For instance, while ultimate benefits are powerful, they are too generic…not specific enough.

To give your advertising specificity, state the specific benefit (e.g. “reduces energy costs 50%”) that delivers the ultimate benefit (“you’ll be the hero of your company”).

To differentiate your product from others that deliver a similar benefit, you need to explain the advantages—how your product is different from or better than the competition.

Finally, there are the features…

Lots of marketing seminars urge you to stress benefits instead of features…but you should use both.

Why?

People are skeptical that your product can deliver the benefits you promise…because everyone is promising those same benefits.

When you show how a particular feature delivers the benefit, it becomes more believable to the prospect.

For instance, if you tell the buyer your computer system never loses data, he thinks, “How can that be?”

But when you describe the feature—that there is a built-in back-up drive…and that the system automatically backs up to that drive daily—then your claim becomes more believable.

Bob Bly is the author of “World’s Best Copywriting Secrets” and has written copy for more than 100 companies including IBM, Boardroom, Medical Economics and AT&T. He is the author of more than 75 books and a columnist for Target Marketing, Early To Rise and The Writer. McGraw-Hill calls him “America’s top copywriter”.


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