What is the benefit someone is buying when they purchase a wrist watch? Was the first thing that popped into your mind something along the lines of “the ability to know what time it is”? If so, you fell into the Feature/Benefit trap that we often fall into when we develop our promotional materials and sales presentations.
A feature is an attribute or characteristic of your product or service. And a benefit is the value of the characteristic or attribute to your prospective customer. So in the example above, a feature is “keeps accurate time” and a benefit might be “prevents you from being late to meetings or important events”. We too often promote features when it is benefits that our customers are buying.
Benefits appeal to the wants and values of our prospective customers, and at the highest level benefits generally fall into three categories:
1. Money: The product or service helps the buyer make or save money.
2. Time: The product or service helps the buyer save time or frees up time for doing other things.
3. Ego: The product or service in some way makes the buyer feel good.
Ultimately your product or service must appeal to your buyer in one of these three areas. In addition, when developing benefits you must keep the following five considerations in mind:
1. The importance of benefits differs based on the target audience you want to communicate with. Often there are a variety of influencers and decision makers involved in a purchase decision. You must tailor your promotional materials and your presentation to each one.
2. It is important to consider needs and wants of your target audience when selecting benefits to promote. The needs and wants of a Timex buyer are very different from those of a Rolex buyer. Therefore, the features and benefits emphasized in promotional materials are going to be different.
3. Choose benefits that differentiate your product or service from the competition – or at least ones that your target market perceives as differentiating.
4. Benefits must be supported by features. Promoting benefits without features leads to a lack of credibility. A benefit statement such as, “Our computer system will improve productivity by as much as 45%, saving you $75 thousand dollars a year and paying for itself in eight months” must be accompanied by the features that bring about those benefits or your target market won’t believe the benefit – it will have no credibility.
5. While your benefit message must appeal to the higher level values of money, time and ego, it must also communicate those intermediate benefits that lead to increased revenues, time savings and “feeling good”. If you have ever attended a networking event I’m sure you have had the experience of hearing five people say “We help companies improve revenues”. And the people claiming to provide this benefit may be as diverse as a CPA and an advertising account executive. Without some information on the intermediate benefits they provide, such as “improved communication with your target market,” the higher level benefit of “improved profits” has no value.
Differentiating features and benefits in your mind as you develop your promotional materials or sales presentations is sometimes difficult. One way to help assure you are promoting benefits and not features is to state a feature followed by “which means” and/or “so that”. For example, “All of our CPA’s take 40 hours a year of continuing education in tax law changes. This means we can be sure you take all the deductions you are entitled to so that you save money on your tax bill at the end of the year.”
One of the difficulties in crafting our own feature and benefit statements is that the benefits of a particular feature are so clear to us that we assume they are evident to our target market as well. And that is a dangerous assumption. You can use the “So what?” test to be sure you are communicating benefits to your target market.
Put yourself in your prospective customers’ shoes and read the benefit statement. If you, as the prospective customer, can respond “So what? So what does this mean to me?” then you are still communicating features. Once you have communicated a benefit, your prospect will no longer be able to respond with “So what?”.
Here is a five step process that you can implement to develop features and benefits for your product or service and assure you are communicating benefits that matter to your target market.
Step 1: Describe your product or service in 25 words or less.
Step 2: Specifically identify a customer group that you want to target your message to.
Step 3: List the problems your product or service solves for the above customer group and/or the needs and wants the product or service meets for the group.
Step 4: With the above information in mind, list three to five features of your product or service that solves the problems or meets the needs outlined in Step 3. Remember to use “which means” and “so that” to transition from features to benefits and from intermediate level values to higher values.
Step 5: Test each feature and benefit statement using the “So what?” test.
Taking the time and investing the energy to clearly communicate benefits to your target market will lead to a message that resounds with your prospective customers, leading to increased sales of your product or service.