The Shifting Divide Between Features and Benefits

There are only a few LAWS in marketing. Out of all the advice, best practices, and books, there’s only a few principles we can rely on every time.

And one of them goes like this: push benefits, not features.

But there’s a subtle nuance that people never really discuss. But before we dive into it…

Let’s do a quick recap of how benefits and features work.

When you’re talking about your product and service, you’ll choose whether to prioritize your benefits or your features.

One will make you a massive amount of money. The other will open to crickets and closed wallets.

What’s even worse is that we don’t automatically choose the right one when we first get into business and marketing. Unless you learn the difference, you’ll slow down your growth and prevent your own success.

For someone new to business, they’ll get in front of a prospect, they’ll get super excited, and start saying “My product has THIS. And it has THAT. You NEED it.”

The whole time the prospect is wondering “Why?” She or he doesn’t get it. They’re not persuaded. And the entrepreneur goes home empty-handed wondering what went wrong.

If you’re going to persuade prospects to view your products the same way that you do, you need to spell it out for them and connect all the dots. You need to tell people WHY they should care.

The easiest way to do this is with benefits.

Check out this description of a product:

“My new vitamin supplement has Vitamin A, Riboflavin, Calcium, Potassium, and Sodium.”

BORING. Excuse me while I take a nap.

What about this one:

“My new vitamin supplement has all the ingredients you need to feel energized all day, look good naked, and is completely natural.”

Now we’re talking! Where can I get some of this stuff?

The first example focuses on the features of the product (the ingredients). This won’t get you anywhere.

And the second example pushes the benefits. In a nutshell, benefits tell your prospects how their lives will improve after using the product. Features describe what the product is made of. If you’re talking about the customer (or your soon-to-be customer) you’re on the right track and you’re focusing on benefits. But if you’re spending your time talking about your product, you’re going through the features.

This is usually where the lesson ends. You’ll be told to ALWAYS push the benefit instead of the feature.

And in general, this is pretty solid advice. Getting your benefits in front of people is a good habit to get into.

Buuuuuuuuut life isn’t quite that simple…

Take a look at this diagram:

 Features vs Benefits Spectrum

It’s the Benefits vs Features spectrum. On one end, we have a raw benefit (you’ll look good naked) and on the other hand, we have a raw feature (50 mg of Vitamin B manufactured in XYZ factory).

After reading a few marketing books, you’ll forsake your feature-based ways and move on over to the Benefits side. Hurray!

Features vs Benefits Focus on Benefits


Now let’s work through another example.

The other day, I was looking for some apps for drawing diagrams. Building content is a major part of my work and it’d be great to quickly build simple diagrams that looked great.

When it comes to professional diagrams, one of the most well-known tools is OmniGraffle.

Here are the 3 main selling points from their homepage:

  1. New layout engine
  2. Bézier lines
  3. Mini inspectors

To me, this stuff is just a feature. You have bézier lines? That does absolutely nothing for me. But to someone that builds professional diagrams all day long, I bet they’ve ranted day and night about how they’d do ANYTHING for some bézier lines.

This sort of thing happens to me with analytics tools all the time. After helping countless clients with Google Analytics and working at an analytics company, I’ve gotten to know the benefits and features of the industry pretty well. On a regular basis, I rant and rave about how badly I need one tiny, little feature. And if someone said they had it, they would get my attention (they’d also have a strong chance of getting my credit card).

What’s worse it that marketing copy from analytics tools actually PISSES me off. Just lead me to the support docs already and get out of the way. But I’m not a beginner when it comes to analytics.

And I’m sure some people have gotten just as advanced with diagrams, they’re not beginners. For them, bézier lines might be a major selling point.

But maybe OmniGraffle would do a lot better with a heavier emphasis on benefits. There’s no way to know without talking to their customers and running some A/B tests to get our hands on the data. It’s very difficult to judge the effectiveness of someone’s copy until you have a solid understanding of who their target market is. And you’ll never be able to tell someone they’re doing it wrong until you have the data to back it up.

One person’s feature is another person’s benefit.

Features vs Benefits Find Your Customer

Remember, it’s the Benefits vs Features SPECTRUM. There’s a sliding scale between the extremes on each end. As a marketer, it’s your job to find the right mix that’ll resonate with the skill-level of your target market.

5 Best Practices for Using Benefits and Features

Here’s a few guidelines:

  1. If your industry is new and people aren’t familiar with it, start with benefits.
  2. When in doubt, go with benefits. It’s always better to err on the benefit side than it is on the features side.
  3. For most people, most of the time, most of your copy should still focus on benefits.
  4. The more advanced your customer is, the more you’ll need to include features.
  5. Don’t ever go PURE features, use benefits to grab people’s attention then support those claims with features.

Bottom line: benefits are still the safe way to go, they will serve you well. But we can’t judge the benefits/features mix without having a deep understanding of who the target market is.

So the benefits vs features law isn’t that good of a law. It makes a great rule-of-thumb though.

I’ll show you how to build an unstoppable growth machine. Don’t miss any of my new essays.

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{ 2 comments… add one }
  • andrew woo March 25, 2013, 12:29 pm

    Great post. I’m trying to find the balance between features vs benefits for my App description.

    With the App Store placing a higher emphasis on keyword search, I believe a lot of my customers already understand what my app can do for their business, so I’ve been focusing on features.

    My goal is try to tweak it to be more balanced between features and benefits.

  • Lars Lofgren March 25, 2013, 4:49 pm

    Thanks Andrew!

    I would start reaching out to customers, do a bunch of customer interviews, and have people describe their problems. Then incorporate their answers into your copy. This will help you find that balance between features and benefits.


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