What sells better, features vs benefits? This is a conversation that copywriters will have from time to time. No, that’s a lie – football, coffee or “should pizza with pineapple be banned?” We never chat about the pros and cons of features vs benefits. Because we use them every day. Features and benefits are tools of our trade. Plumbers have spanners, we have features and benefits.
If you want to write persuasive or engaging product descriptions like a pro, you will use both features and benefits to drive sales and conversions in almost every product copy you write.
What is a feature and what is a benefit?
You can think of features as physical description of your product or your service. They are the characteristics the product has, the facts you would use to describe it – the same way a house has features like ‘bay windows’ or a ‘sea view,’ products have desirable features too.
This could be technical aspects – phone companies will tell you how many megapixels their cameras have, whether it is 4G or 5G. TV manufacturers tell you how big the screen is, if it has Dolby speakers, an HD, 4K or 8K display, slim bezels. These are all technical facts and features.
For clothing, a feature can be simply the colour or its size or the fabric it’s made from, where it was manufactured – these could all be important pieces of information to help your customer make a choice. Is it organic cotton, made in Italy, available in XXL and the colour blue?
Benefits are different to features, they are the advantages the product or service gives you. They are the reasons why you need those features, how they make your life better or the problem they solve for you. These are the outcomes from using the product.
In its basic form, features vs benefits can be described as this. Features tell you what you’ll get, and benefits tell you why you should get it. The old adage, features tell, benefits sell.
What should you use?
There is a time and place for both benefits and features.
Features are really just a list of facts. And facts by themselves are not inspirational, people can just read a list, tick off the facts and move on. A fact will usually have to be interpreted, put into perspective to make it motivational.
You can give people a fact but if you then tell them why that is good and how it will affect their lives, it becomes a lot more persuasive.
However, if you are confident your customer already knows the benefits (and we will come on to that later) then it is the features that help people choose.
A simple thing like a running shoe has lots of features, too many to list but here are a few.
Feature – EVA, a light flexible copolymer
Feature – PU, polyurethane
Feature – Carbon fibre core
Feature – As worn by Eliud Kipchoge, marathon world record holder
To make those features more compelling you would have to explain their benefits. How do they enhance performance, comfort, durability or style?
Benefit – Take 3 seconds off your best time
Benefit – Shoes that protect your knees
Benefit – Shoes that are built to last
Benefit – Make you feel like a gold medallist
There is a chicken and egg question with Benefits and Features, which one comes first? The decision to buy somethings starts with a need, a problem they need to solve. They will then look for a product that can answer that need – they might even create a shopping list of products that meet all their criteria. It is at that point that they start to compare one product or brand against the other.
How to get onto someone’s shopping list?
Knowing what features a product have can be important – it will put it into the customer’s consideration set.
A long time before anyone steps into a shop, they will make a shortlist of the products they like, even if that is just a mental list of brands they consider.
Products will only get onto the shortlist if they match the criteria the customer is after. “Is it a 4K TV? No? Well, I am not interested.”
If you’ve got the right features, you’re in with a shout to get on their list. The customer will create a shortlist of products with the right feature set. Then whole lot of other factors come into play like brand preference, cost and availability. But if you are not on the list you are dead in the water.
So, when you are creating your messaging, you must ask where is your customer on their customer journey?
How do Features vs Benefits fit into the customer journey?
You can find a very good description of the customer journey here but it roughly breaks down into three areas.
Awareness – Your customer is not in shopping mode yet and they have no intention to buy when they see your message. At this point you have to trigger their interest. If you are lucky, they will store away the information for later. The features are fairly irrelevant because they don’t know what they’re looking for but if it has a great benefit, they might store that useful bit of information for later use.
Consideration – This is kind of the research stage for your shopper, this is the time they are making their shortlist. They have a problem, or a need and they are looking for a solution.
The problem can be specific if their washing machine has just broken down and they need a new one or it could be something a little vaguer – they’re going out on a big date and need a new dress. Benefits provide the solutions to their problem. Features are used to substantiate the benefits, but it is the benefits that are the decider.
Purchase – If they already have the intention to buy, for instance, if they are in the store, then letting them know what the features are will have them confirm their decision. Boom, job done.
Features by themselves will not be persuasive. Telling people why that feature is great for them will be.
Benefits give people a reason to act.
So, how do you find your benefits? You start by looking at the features and ask a simple question. Why is it good?
Your answer is the benefit. But don’t rely on that first answer, dig deeper and deeper until you get answer that rally connects with your customer. The benefit that gets them to act and put their hand in their pocket.
Take the running shoes example. If the feature is EVA cushioning, the benefit to that is less stress on your joints but if we ask why is that good, the benefit is less injuries and the benefit of that is more time running, doing the thing you love.
If you keep asking why, you’ll find a compelling personal reason that resonates with your audience.
Benefits close the sale if they are meaningful
Benefits are great if they actually provide solutions that matter.
I worked on the Procter and Gamble account for many years. They have amazing products, they spend a huge amount on R&D and produce very effective products. But Lever Brothers are no slouches either. They are innovating, researching, and developing all the time. Every year there was a pressure to find a new benefit for the consumer.
For washing powder that became very difficult to articulate. Go back in time and the focus was on stain removal – clothes got dirty but only a good powder could make them look new again. Now that is a compelling benefit.
After some time this benefit became meaningless as all washing powders could do this, not just the premium ones so they had to invent a new benefit or work on tougher stains.
This became meaningless. Phrases like “whiter than white” just sounds stupid and then the cost of clothes dropped so a stain is not a problem, you just go out and buy something new.
As a result, the feature set changed – the scent became important, the delivery device from a powder to a liquid or tablet changed. The benefits became weaker.
The reason for that was because the client was focussed on features, the millions they spent on R&D. And that is very common.
Why do you see so many ads just about features?
It stands to reason that companies love their products. It is their baby, they adore every little thing about them. It is something they’ve given life to, nurtured – they’ve slept with the idea for months if not years, until they are absolutely smitten with their features.
It is natural for manufacturers to obsess over the features they’ve spent months or years developing. But the consumer is often not on the same wavelength.
Their mind is still on the problem they have at the very beginning of the company design process. You should ask yourself, where did the idea for our product come from?
Companies very often approach the solution backwards – this is a problem our customers are having, well let’s create a solution and while we’re at it we’ll make it better by adding this, this and this, a feature-rich product.
Before they know it the original reason for producing the product has slipped into the background and the manufacturer is focussing on their achievements in the production process, the features – they are very excited about what they have accomplished and want that to be the focus of the communication.
To them the benefits are obvious because that is where the germ of their idea came from. For the consumer, who only has seconds to interact with your copy, the jump from feature to benefit is not always so clear cut.
For a business owner it is tempting to focus on your product features and the achievements you have made. You might think the benefits are obvious, your consumer already knows what the benefits are, or it would be easy for them to work it out. But the truth is they are looking at hundreds of products every day. They are time poor, so in the few seconds attention that they give you, what will cut through?
Benefits outline the need for your product, an emotional trigger. They give you a great argument to use with your customer to persuade them to buy. The features are your substantiation, the reason why they can believe what you say is true.