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Mistaking features for benefits is losing you money

Posted by on July 24th, 2013

Mistaking features for benefits is losing you money
Positioning a new product and writing high quality sales copy can be an intimidating thing if you have little experience in marketing. Having the wrong sales copy on your website, landing pages and marketing materials can have a huge detrimental impact into the conversion and acquisition of new customers.

Whilst writing effective sales copy is an art, there are some blatant things that a lot of companies seems to get wrong.

One of the biggest mistakes is confusing Benefits verses Features. There are literally thousands of companies and products out there who have written their sales pages explaining their features, rather than their benefits. This is one of the most fundamental things to get right when trying to sell a product, yet so many people get it wrong!

I think a big culprit of getting this sort of marketing wrong is engineering lead companies. If you are solely targeting other highly technical customers you might be able to get away with this faux pas, but if you are targeting non-technical people or consumers, you are giving your competitors a huge advantage.

In this post I’m going to look at what exactly is the difference between benefits and features, I’ll look at some companies that are doing it wrong, and finally, I’ll give you some guidance for positioning your product correctly.

This is really not difficult, but it will make the world of difference to your sales if you get it right.

Why is this a problem?

So if confusing benefits and features is such a common thing, why is it so much of a problem? Whilst it is easy to get confused, positioning your benefits rather than your features will have a big impact on how your product is received and judged by your potential customers.

When a customer evaluates a product, she has to consider how this product fits into her life, what jobs to be done this product solves and how does it compare to her current solution or what else the market has to offer.

By listing a range of features, rather than explaining the benefits you are not showing how your product will specifically solve the customers problem better than any other product. In other words, you are forcing the customer to piece together how your product will benefit her instead of just showing her directly. By not taking the leap with her, you are risking that she doesn’t appreciate the full potential of your product.

What are benefits and features?

In order to make this point clearer, it’s important to have a better understanding of exactly what are features and what are benefits?

What are features?

A feature is simply a factual statement about the product:

For example (in a Project Management application):

Upload your files to our cloud based repository.

Well that’s great, but that is most certainly a feature rather than a benefit! By stating a factual statement like this, you aren’t explaining why this is important and beneficial to the customer.

What are benefits?

So instead of listing a feature, instead you have to explain the benefit:

Manage all of your project files in one place for easy access and convenience

The customer does not care that your product has a file upload feature, she only cares about how your product will benefit her. Notice how I didn’t mention file upload at all. Customers don’t care about implementation, they care about solving their problem.

Projects are messy, time consuming and you end up with hundreds of documents from various members of the team. This is an obvious pain point that your customer is likely to have. At the minute she is probably solving the problem by having a shared place on the network of a shared Dropbox folder. By specifically targeting this problem and showing how your product can solve it, you are far more likely to convert this customer because she doesn’t have to infer that your feature list will meet her requirements.

Companies doing it right

Initially I was going to write sections here on companies that are doing it right and companies that are doing it wrong. In all honesty, there is really no benefit from seeing companies awkwardly try to explain their products and services. However, there is a great deal to learn from companies that have specifically invested time and effort into writing excellent sales copy that is highly targeted at their audience.

If you do want to see some examples of confusing benefits verses features, I would suggest looking up just about any small business from your local area. I assure you, you will find plenty of examples. Hopefully this will also train your eye to notice where companies are getting it wrong, and how they could better target their customers by explaining the benefits of their products instead of just their features.

That being said, here are 3 companies that have nailed it:

Basecamp

37signals’ Basecamp

Basecamp is one of the leading online Project Management applications, created by 37signals.

Basecamp has been around for a number of years now, and 37signals have also been very open with explaining their approach to designing, creating and selling their software. The Basecamp product page is a perfect example of how to explain your benefits and not your features.

Firstly, the page has a full length screenshot of an example project so you can see exactly what you can expect from the software. Moving down the page, annotated notes point out features, but explains them as benefits. Instead of saying To-do list, Basecamp says, Everything that needs to be done is kept in one place.

Basecamp

Further down the page, more features are highlighted but are explained as entirely benefits, Keep your files on Basecamp so everyone knows where to find them and See everyone’s schedule on one beautiful calendar.

You will often see where a company is aware of the confusion between benefits and features when they list a feature and then explain the benefit. This is like a half way house to doing things right. 37signals understand that customers do not care about Basecamp features at all, and so there is no reason to list them.

Whilst listing features and then trying to explain the benefit is better than only listing the feature, your customers will only care about the benefits and how they can utilise your product to solve their problems.

Square

Square

Another perfect example of getting a sales page perfect is Square, the mobile cash register for small businesses.

Square is a technology company that is able to breakdown the barrier to accepting payments for any small company. The amazing thing about Square is, despite it’s technology background, they do not mention a single feature on their landing page.

Instead, Square highlights the benefits of using their technology. Simple pricing, Peace of mind and Know your numbers are three perfect examples.

Square
There is no doubt that Square’s products have some amazing engineering features. With that kind of granular and rich data running through the system, and the technological prowess of the company, I’m sure that Square’s engineering loves to shout about product features. But Square also has an engaged marketing department that understand’s their target customers do not care about flash features, they only care about solving their problems.

The paragraph on Know your numbers is a perfect example of this. Instead of showing how Square can integrate with other systems or export reports in a certain format, they simply say make more informed business decisions.

Squarespace

Finally, Squarespace is my last example of a company that really understands the difference between benefits and features. Squarespace is an online application that allows creative people to build and host their own website without requiring technical knowledge.

Squarespace
Squarespace’s target audience is creative individuals and small brands who need a place on the internet but probably don’t have the money to hire a technology team. Instead, they want to be able to create a website that they can design using the tools that they know. Instead of listing the actual tools, Squarespace simply says, Powerful yet simple and then goes on to further explain the benefit to the customer.

Many creative individuals dream of being able to sell their work online to a potential audience of millions. Integrating ecommerce into a platform like Squarespace is obviously a very powerful feature, but yet again Squarespace chooses to simply state the benefit by saying, Sell anything and then further explaining the benefit by describing how the customer can solve this problem.

Squarespace
Squarespace as a product is in a highly competitive industry with many competing companies offering similar services. Whilst the majority of all customers will only want to see benefits, features do have a time and a place on a sales page under particular circumstances. In the case of Squarespace, website creation software and hosting has become commoditised over the years and so it is still important for these services to offer feature lists to customer who want to evaluate one product or service over another. At the bottom of the Squarespace tour page is a matrix of features and is continued on the feature index page.

Hopefully the contrast between the top of the page which is all benefit focused and the bottom of the page which is all feature focused will give you clear examples of the difference between a benefit and a feature and how you can clearly state the same thing by positioning it in the eyes of the customer.

How to position your product

So what do you need to do to position your product correctly? Well hopefully this post has served to show you that you must always describe the benefit and not the feature. Always remember that your customers don’t care about your features, they only care about what problem your product will solve for them.

A lot of companies list their features and then try to justify it by showing the benefit. Whilst this is better than a list of features, it is still only half of a solution. You can argue that you are solving the problem of the leap between a feature and a benefit, but in reality customers don’t care about the implementation of the specific feature and so you are wasting the valuable opportunity to quickly and clearly convey the benefits of your products.

Here are my 3 guidelines for writing good sales copy:

1. Understand who you are selling to

Firstly you must understand who you are selling to. Are you selling to a small business owner or a middle manager? Is the person who is going to be using your product also the person who buys it or is it a purchasing department that has no context into the problem you are solving?

In order to write good sales copy you must intimately know exactly who is buying your product.

2. Understand what problem you are solving

A customer will only purchase your product if they believe that it will solve a problem they are facing. What problem are you solving and how are you solving it better than your competitors? How is your customer currently solving the problem, and what cobbled together solutions are you really competing against?

In order to write about the benefits of your product, you need to understand what problems your potential customers are trying to solve.

3. Make the connection between the feature and the benefit

Instead of listing a feature, only write about the benefit. As a Product Manager, Designer or Engineer, you are probably extremely proud of your implementation and how you have solved the problem better than any of your competitors. However, your customers don’t care about your implementation, they only care about themselves and solving their own problems.

As a small step, try listing your features and then explaining the associated benefit underneath. Once you are comfortable explaining the benefit, remove the actual features and let the benefits stand on their own two feet.

Conclusion

As the competition of new and existing online products heats up, it will become increasingly difficult to differentiate from the crowd. As your potential customers have more options, it will become even more important to fully describe how your product is better for solving those customer problems.

Unfortunately, describing features rather than benefits is a major problem with thousands of products and services. By forcing your customer to connect the dots with how this product will solve their problem, you risk losing that customer to a competitor.

Instead of selling the feature, you need to sell the outcome. Customers don’t care about the implementation, they only care about solving their problems.

Writing good marketing material can be difficult, especially for someone that isn’t a natural born marketer. But getting the fundamental aspects down can make a world of difference to your rate of customer acquisition.

Philip Brown

Hey, I'm Philip Brown, a designer and developer from Durham, England. I create websites and web based applications from the ground up. In 2011 I founded a company called Yellow Flag. If you want to find out more about me, you can follow me on Twitter or Google Plus.