A common mistake I see in copywriting is that new business owners will often focus too much on features, rather than benefits.
It’s really important to know the difference between features and benefits and when to use them in your marketing, because in most cases, benefits are what will really grab the customers’ interest, and ultimately convince them to buy.
So what’s the difference between features and benefits. Let’s look at the definitions.
Features vs Benefits: What’s the Difference?
Benefits are the results that users will experience when using your product or service. How will your product or service improve people's lives?
Features are the characteristics of your product or service — something that your product has or is.
Some examples of very marketable benefits are less stress, more money, more free time, and better health. These are results that the user experiences after buying your product or service.
Features are something you can highlight to differentiate you from the competition, but shouldn’t be the main focus of your copywriting.
Why? A list of features is boring! I know that as entrepreneurs, it’s tempting to focus on features because we’re so proud of them. We’ve spent hours developing our products and services and selecting and improving the features, but it’s important to remember why we’re doing this, and what problem we’re solving. It’s the juicy, change-your-life benefits that your customers really want.
A benefit is a way that your product or service will change their life.
What your audience cares about is how they’re going to feel after using your product or service. What problem did you solve?
Let’s take a typical open-road car commercial as an example. Imagine a typical ad, with a car racing down a mountain road, making hairpin turns with ease. The narrator may mention some features like the horsepower or maneuverability, but the main benefit here is freedom. In this case, they don’t have to mention it directly, because the imagery of big open spaces, driving on a beautiful road with the wind in your hair is clear enough - it’s all meant to evoke the feelings of freedom & excitement. This is the result you will get from owning this car, and that’s what the commercial is about.
An ad for a station wagon full of kids and toys and dogs and dirt is demonstrating the flexibility that the vehicle has. It’s showing you you can transport anything. It will probably mention the flexible features, and cubic inches of space or modular seating, but that’s icing on the cake. This car will change your life by making it easy and stress-free to transport any configuration of kids and stuff you can dream of. You can look that up all the detailed features on the website, but if the ad doesn’t demonstrate what the vehicle does, you won’t really care how it does it.
Using Benefits for Effective Copywriting
Before I begin doing any copywriting, I divide a page in two, and write as many benefits as I can think of on one side, and as many features on the other side.
If you’re having trouble coming up with the benefits, think about your ideal customer, and imagine what struggles they’re having before discovering your product or service. What difficult emotions do they have? What is their situation like?
I have a short-but-powerful visualization here, that can help you imagine the benefits of your product or service if you're having trouble.
Then look at your benefits list and pick one or two main benefits. Those main benefits should be the first thing people learn about your product or service, whether it’s on your home page, your advertising, or your business card.
Where to use Features & Benefits on Your Website
Take a look at your homepage. Is it immediately clear (before scrolling) how you’re going to help your ideal customer? It should be. Attention spans on the internet are notoriously short, and you only have 3 seconds (maybe less) to convey your most important message. Your most important message is the main benefit of your product or service. Talk about the benefit in your ‘elevator pitch’ and in the main ‘hook’ on your home page.
Features can be used further down on the page, or even on an interior page. Tiered pricing tables are always lists of features.
When Can I Focus on Features First?
There are some products where feature-rich marketing is used successfully, and those are industries in which the benefits are fairly obvious. These are established markets where a customer already knows they want a Widget, but can’t decide which company to get their Widget from.
A great example of this is consumer electronics. We all know the benefits of a shiny new tablet, but which one should we choose? Or which camera, or which suite of home automation gadgets? The excitement around comparing the many, many features and technical specifications of consumer electronics is how unboxing culture came about. In cases like these, consumers just want to compare models to each other. They’re already convinced that a new DSLR or what-have-you will change their life.
Apple is a master at feature-driven marketing. They know you already love iThings, so they want you to buy the newest iThing, and the only difference between iThing 4 and iThing 657X is the features, so that’s what they market.
Most solo-preneur businesses will have products and services that are best sold by highlighting benefits.
Benefits vs Features Case Study
My friend, a psychotherapist, showed me a draft brochure in which she had a headline: Who do I work with, and what do I do?
It’s a little bland, but it’s to the point, and you’re promised the relevant information. So far, so good.
Then, however, the rest of the brochure gives equal weight to the following items:
- A list of problems she can address
- A couple of paragraphs about very specialized modalities
- And what clients can expect
Which of these items do you think deserves the most emphasis?
That’s right, it’s “What clients can expect!”
She had amazing benefits listed, including:
- improved coping strategies
- improved connections and relationships
- improve self-esteem
Who doesn’t want that?!?
The problem was, I had to read every word to find these benefits buried in the text.
I suggested she re-design it, with those benefits loud and clear, and then once she grabs interest, she can explain who it’s for, and the tools she uses (features).
Benefits are the most important information for you to highlight in your marketing. It's the benefits that will pull on the heartstrings of your audience. Features are secondary, and they help your customer compare your product to another similar one, or differentiate your own products/services.
Review your marketing materials, especially your website and see how and where you could be emphasizing benefits more.