Should You Use Features or Benefits to Sell Your Stuff?

Do you list product or service features on your site? What about benefits?

If you’re going to communicate clearly with the audience for whatever it is you offer, you’ll need to understand the difference between these two concepts. Then you’ll need to be able to define them for your product and your audience.

Without this knowledge, your landing page or promo email is likely to read as a mishmash of Interesting Things About My Product. Whether or not they hit the mark for your audience will depend on chance.

But once you get these concepts—and they’re not exactly rocket science—you’ll be able to really speak to the people you want to reach.

Feature or benefit?

When you’re looking at your own (darn fine, I’m sure) handiwork and thinking about what it offers, it can be all too easy to get carried away.

It has this! It does that! It’s better than Brand X! It’s the first Y of its kind! It’s a game changer!

But which of these are features? And which are benefits? There are some pretty easy ways to tell.

Fact versus feeling

One way you can work out if something is a feature or a benefit is to ask yourself whether it’s a fact, or it’s a feeling.

“Compatible with iOS 6″ is a fact. There’s no feeling there. It’s a feature.

“Helps you keep up with friends” speaks to a feeling. We looked at this line when we reviewed the Flickr homepage. There, it was presented as an outcome of the comment and note functionality—or features—that Flickr provides.

If you find yourself falling down the “but it does help you keep up with friends! That’s a fact too!” rabbit hole, don’t think so literally about the terms.

The word “feelings” implies an emotional component that facts don’t have. How many people are going to get emotional about iOS compatibility? Few (none?). But most of us feel good about the idea of keeping up with our friends’ adventures.

Product versus audience

Another way to work out if something’s a feature or a benefit is to ask who has it: the product or the audience? Free phone credits are a feature of a phone plan. The credits are something the product has bundled with it.

But benefits are a function of a feature’s interaction with the audience. For parents buying the plan for their kids, free phone credits might mean peace of mind: they know little Betty can always call if she needs to, so she’ll never get stuck somewhere without a way to get home.

But for Betty, free phone credits may mean she stays better connected with her friends, and doesn’t miss any important gossip as she attempts to scale the social ladder at school.

This raises an important point: benefits can meet conscious needs (staying connected with friends) or subconscious needs (social maneuvering). So it’s important to know your audience and their needs up front. This will help you work out how to pitch the benefits of your service in a way that speaks to those particular people.

Features and benefits in action

Let’s use these two approaches together to try to decipher benefits from features in the real world.

We’ll take lumosity.com as an example. Here’s their brief service description, which I found on a landing page for their service (that is, not the homepage):

Lumosity intro paragraph

Okay, so what about these three points? What’s a benefit, and what’s a feature?

I’d say the first is a benefit, because it’s something the customer has, and the statement elicits a feeling.

The second two points are features, as they’re facts related to something the product has: it’s digital, and it offers tracking.

Getting creative

Further down that landing page we can see features and benefits presented in a different way. They’ve been separated, and the benefits are presented in the words of users, as testimonials.

More features and benefits of Lumosity

The business owners I work with often feel that they need testimonials as a form of social proof, and they certainly achieve that goal.

But as this example shows, some well-chosen testimonials can translate features into user-relevant benefits, almost without you having to do a thing—except, of course, choosing examples that convey the precise benefits you want to promote.

How many features? How many benefits?

Now you can immediately tell a benefit from a feature. You can make a list of features for your product or service, and quickly translate each one into a benefit to your audience.

But which should you focus on in selling your product or service: features or benefits? How can you strike the right balance?

If you own the product, or you developed it, you probably think you have a gut feel for the right answers here. But in truth, you’re probably too close to your offering to see it as objectively as you need to.

Enter: Consumer Involvement Theory. This is a theory of customer behaviour that looks at a product and assesses how involved, and how emotional or rational, customers are when they’re deciding to buy it. For the full background, this article is concise but informative.

How can CIT help us? It lets us position our products within a matrix like this one:

The CIT matrix

Involvement refers to the complexity of the purchase. Buying a subscription to the average app probably rates pretty low on the scale of involvement—unless, as with some productivity apps, for example, users think their jobs depend on making the right choice.

For lumosity, I think involvement might be low to middling.

Emotional purchases are ones that we want to feel strongly about—purchases we buy into emotionally. Informational purchases tend to be more about gathering facts to rationally make the “best” choice.

For lumosity, I think the purchase is probably about health and (mental) fitness, so while we’re going to make a rational decision based on information, there’s no doubt we have an emotional investment in the decision at some level.

So a balance would need to be struck between benefits and features to sell the service, and this is what we see on the lumosity homepage.

Put the theory to work for you

Take a minute to work out where your offering fits on the matrix. This should give you an idea of how much you need to focus on benefits, and how much on features.

You might then allocate a percentage of your message to talk of benefits, and a percentage to features. Will it be 50/50? 75/25? Once you’ve worked that out, you can roughly apply that percentage split to your word counts, page layouts, and so on, to make sure you’re communicating what you need to in the way that best suits your audience.

While you’re at it, prioritize your features and benefits on the basis of your product or service’s value proposition or USP.

Now you’ve got some nice lists of features and benefits, ordered by importance. And you know how much focus you need to give to each. The only question that’s left is: how will you present them?

As a specs list that lets users easily compare your offering against others?

As a customer or member video that shows the benefits one individual gained from your service—and inspires others to join?

Or something else? Let us know what’s most likely to suit your brand—and your audience—in the comments.

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