Features describe a product or service. Benefits describe why those features matter, how they are useful to the target audience, and which attributes make the item more useful than alternatives from competitors. This article explains how to use features and benefits in your marketing communication
Briefly – features tell, benefits sell. Features are often technical, describing what the product or service does. Benefits, on the other hand, paint a picture of how the item will make the purchaser’s life easier in some way, either personally or in their business. Put another way: features tell customers what, and benefits tell customers why.
The extent of benefits varies with the individual buyer and their organization, and can appeal to the emotions or pains of the prospect.
For marketing messages, HubSpot’s Kayla Carmichael said in 2021 that it’s generally better to go with a benefits-heavy approach, because benefits are what motivate consumers to purchase – it’s the benefits that convince people to buy. They care less about the technical features of a product and more about what benefits they can get by buying, using, and consuming the product.
Advantages vs. Benefits
More recently, advantages have entered the picture. Advantages explain the significance of a feature and how it solves a problem, often in a factual, concrete, or measurable way, according to HubSpot in 2022. Benefits, on the other hand, are subjective and appeal to the emotions or pains of the prospect. In essence, advantages are why the features matter, and benefits are why the advantages matter. HubSpot give examples as follows (a blatant self-promo here!):
- Example feature – HubSpot’s Meetings tool provides an interface that is synced to your Google or Office 365 calendar.
- Example advantage – Prospects select the meeting time that works for them without back-and-forth email communication.
- Example benefit – You’ll be able to reach more leads, book more meetings, and close more deals with less admin work.
There’s actually another influencing factor as well: emotions. In fact, emotions are the strongest aspect of messaging, But you need to do them well, to tailor emotions in messages very specifically to the receivers, whether they are a customer segment, employee group, decision-maker or other stakeholder. Read my article, “How to use more emotional words to strengthen your messages,” for insights into the power of emotions in messaging.
Why you should include benefits, not just features, in your product messaging
When we talk to one another, we instinctively understand the power of benefits. Imagine you’re discussing where to go to dinner with a friend. The conversation will largely hinge on the benefits, like “They have great food,” “The restaurant is quick to drive to,” “The staff are very helpful,” etc.
People may not understand why a feature matters. Features are often technical, like the S’well bottle’s “triple-walled construction,” discussed below. Consumers may not understand why triple-walled construction in their water bottle matters for them. A benefit explains why they should care about the technical features. It is essential to include features and benefits in marketing communication.
How to identify benefits
If you think about a feature as the facts and figures of what you offer, a benefit is a combination of:
- The positive result for your customer when using it
- How better they will feel as a result.
A very simple 3-step approach to identifying the benefits of your product is:
- What does it have or do?
- Will this help to improve my customer’s life or work?
Does this cause a positive emotion or eliminate a negative emotion (or both)?
Many copywriters confuse features with benefits
Just because you know why your product will make your ideal customer’s life better, doesn’t mean they do. It is easy for copywriters to forget that the benefits of using their product or service may not be immediately obvious to the typical customer.
Another common lapse: You know the time and effort that went into developing a new feature, and so you may forget that many people don’t care about you, your company, or how many late nights of work it took to develop a product or service – all they care about is themselves. They only think of WIFM: “What’s in it for me?” A key point to remember. And if you keep WIFM foremost in mind, you are likely to get your messaging and positioning right so features and benefits are included in your marketing communication.
HubSpot also show examples of benefits and features that help to clarify understanding of the terms:
When you think about it, we all consider the features of a product or service in the light of the benefits they will offer – ideally more benefits than alternative products or services that are available. Both terms are useful and give customers important information such as design, price, and practical use. Ultimately, the benefits of having a product or service are why consumers purchase.
Ask yourself this key question from the point of view of the customer
When writing content for marketing communication, another perspective is to put yourself metaphorically in the shoes of a buyer, and ask yourself, “So what? How can I get the best result from this product (or service)?” Answering the silent “So what?” in your thinking obliges you to personalize your messaging more to your target audience.
Why features remain important in copywriting
The phrase: “Sell the benefits, not the features” actually gives the wrong impression. Features are just as important as benefits because they give your customer the proof behind the promise you’re making.
When writing your copy, remember that people are looking for a solution to their problem, so think about having a conversation with your customer that sounds like this: “This is what you can experience [benefits / emotions] with our product, and here is how we do this for you [features]”.
For example: “We promise you best-fitting, most-flattering jeans so you can feel great wherever you wear them. How? By providing more than X combinations of leg and waist lengths to guarantee a fit as unique as you.”
Image: Features and benefits graphic.
Quality of features beats quantity
Don’t be drawn into explaining every feature of the product or service. People don’t usually connect more features with better value.
To successfully sell benefits in copywriting, you must leave out the information that doesn’t relate to your prospects. Before you outline a new detail, you should ask yourself, “Will this aspect of the product help my target buyers to achieve their goals or reduce their pain?” If not, don’t use it.
Purchasers usually won’t buy unless they can see how the item will improve their lives. The purchase should solve a pain point for them which makes their overall experience better. So, focus on benefits in your text more than features.
Using a Feature-Benefit Matrix
If you’re a marketer, you may be aware of the term “feature-benefit matrix.” Despite sounding suspiciously like jargon that so many marketers use, these matrices are actually very useful.
Feature-benefit matrices help you to check that your messaging is consistent, relevant, and accessible to end-users. These matrices are often formatted as grids, with one column for features, several more for benefits, and additional columns for specific messaging data points or calls-to-action.
This can all sound confusing and abstract if you’ve never seen one, so let’s look at the diagram below:that Wordstream has developed.
You can write the various features of your product or service (in this example, numbered 1-5). Then we see three columns (“Benefit A”, “Benefit B” and “Benefit C”), where you can add three benefits for each feature. Finally, in the right-hand column, there’s room for your various calls-to-action.
Using a feature-benefit matrix can help you quickly and easily identify each of the unique benefits offered by your product or service’s features. This, in turn, can make overall message mapping a lot easier, and ensures that not only marketing, but other teams are on the same page in terms of what is being communicated to end-users. The above example is a great place to start if you’ve never used one before.
A Swell Example
Copywriter Krista Walsh takes us through a good example of real-life features and benefits – S’well product descriptions for their S’well Geode Rose Bottle.
In the chart below, Krista has separated the features of the products from the benefits included in the product description:
The features tell the customer something noteworthy about the product, and the benefits explain how the customer’s life gets better as a result.
Krista has added the phrase “which,” in the benefits section. When you’re writing your own product messaging, it can be helpful to think through the benefits of each feature using this phrase. For instance, your internal dialogue might go…
“Our water bottles are made with a copper wall layer… which creates a condensation-free exterior.”
Including that silent “which” prompts you to add the “why” behind the feature. (You don’t have to include the “which” in the final copy, though. It’s mainly a tool for remembering to include benefits for every feature.)
People are looking for a solution to their problem
Many customers are looking for a product that solves something for them. For instance, they’re looking for a water bottle that can keep their beverages hot or cold for a long time. If S’well hadn’t spelled out that benefit behind their triple-walled construction, many customers probably wouldn’t have made the connection from feature to the solution they needed… and wouldn’t have made the purchase.
Go even deeper with benefits
To land at truly compelling product messaging, you should aim to go deeper with benefits than the first “why” you come up with.
If you start by answering, “Why did we include this feature?” you’ll easily come up with a simple reason. That’s when you go deeper. Keep asking “Why?” for every answer. Why would customers want that benefit? In this way, you will remember to include both features and benefits in your marketing communication.
S’well’s product description did a pretty good job of including deeper, more compelling benefits. Let’s take another look at our S’well benefits and features chart, this time adding in the deeper benefits:
The “Elements Collection” copywriting is an attempt flatter the reader and make them feel good about the experience of owning a good brand. My own thought is that the glossy writing is a little overdone. What do you think?
Bottom line: use benefits to connect the dots for your customers
As a copywriter, you may feel a bit awkward at first from laying out all the why’s behind the product features. Won’t customers “just get” why a feature matters? If my water bottle is 9 ounces, won’t customers know that the size is small enough to carry with you? They’re not dumb!
You’re right. Most consumers aren’t dumb. But most consumers are busy and distracted. So why leave it to chance that they’ll connect the dots? Don’t assume your customers will understand right away why your product features are great. Clearly tell them why in compelling benefits. In addition, ensure you include both features and benefits in your marketing communication.
Kim J. Harrison has authored, edited, coordinated, produced and published the material in the articles and ebooks on this website. He brings his experience in professional communication and business management to provide helpful insights to readers around the world. His wide-ranging career includes roles as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer and business manager. Kim has received several international media relations awards and a website award. He has been quoted in The New York Times and various other news media, and has held elected positions with his State and National PR Institutes.