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Features vs. Benefits: How to Properly Sell Your Products or Content

Keller Hawthorne | October 20, 2009 | 7 Comments
Blogging 101, Ecommerce 101
Features vs. Benefits: How to Properly Sell Your Products or Content

This was a concept my Marketing Professors desperately attempted to drill into their students’ heads – the concept of a product’s features and benefits. I’ll admit, it took a while for me to really get it; in fact, I’m still learning. Understanding this concept can mean the difference between being successful or failing in business.

If you run an ecommerce store, sell products on eBay or write product reviews on a blog, you’re used to describing a product’s features – you know… the measurements, colors, weight, different buttons, capabilities, etc. In fact, you may have already mastered writing about the features. Unfortunately, features are NOT what sell a product.

Unless you’re selling a necessity (like water for example), the product you’re pushing isn’t really needed by the customer. It’s a luxury, a convenience, a want – NOT a need.

So, if your customer doesn’t NEED this product, what will make them buy it? The cool features? NO! Rather, it’s the benefits those features offer the customer. Why don’t we take a moment to look at these two concepts and some examples of both.

Features

Do a quick search through Google and you will find several definitions for the term “feature.” Here’s one I found from Dictionary.com:

fea⋅ture: noun. a prominent or conspicuous part or characteristic: Tall buildings were a new feature on the skyline.

A feature is a characteristic, but not just any characteristic – it’s one that stands out more than the others. It’s prominent, special or important. The definition above gave us an example of the term used in a sentence, but let’s think up a few more.

Let’s say you’re trying to sell your car. The prominent features may include:

  • 3 CD Disk Changer
  • Electronic Key
  • 30 Miles per Gallon Gas Mileage

Now, it’s easy to notice the benefits of these features, but we haven’t explicitly stated them yet. The above are NOT benefits because they are only characteristics.

Benefits

Again, I went to Dictionary.com and picked up their definition for the term “benefit.”

ben⋅e⋅fit: noun. something that is advantageous or good; an advantage

This definition is quite different from the previous. A benefit doesn’t deal with characteristics or details – it deals with advantages. A benefit takes a feature and turns it into something relating to your customer. It explains why a feature is good. It’s what sells your customers on your products.

Using the car example we looked at earlier, let’s derive the benefits your car’s features will offer your potential customer. Let’s look at why these features are advantageous.

3 CD Disk Changer

Well, a 3 CD disk changer let’s your perspective buyer carry more music in their car. They won’t have to fumble with CDs while driving, giving them a safer driving experience. They can also listen to lots of music easily on long car trips.

Electronic Key

Electronic keys are great because you won’t ever scratch your door again attempting to get your key into the hole, keeping your car looking great longer and saving you money on repairs. You will also be able to unlock your car from far away or unlock it easier when you have groceries in your arms. Also, most cars with electronic keys beep when you click the lock button, letting you feel certain that your vehicle is secure and safe – less worries.

30 Miles per Gallon Gas Mileage

Obviously, the benefit of this feature is that it saves you money – less dollars spent at the gas station! It also saves you time with less gas refill trips.

Hopefully, you see the difference now between these two concepts, but just in case, let’s review a couple more examples.

Example 1. Red Apple Ceramic Spoon Rest

This example comes straight from my own store, Theme Kitchen. This is a spoon rest I sell online. I wrote this product’s description about 3 years ago and it desperately needs to be updated! Here’s what it says right now:

This collectible, hand-painted, ceramic spoon rest is decorated white with raised apple and leaf accents, gold trim, and white blooms. Perfect to give as a gift or to add to your own collection!
* Ceramic
* 1.50″ x 3.63″ x 8.00″

Pretty boring, huh? Not only that, it says nothing about how these features benefit the customer. So, let’s pick out the specific features and see if we can find the benefits for each.

Features:

  1. Ceramic
  2. Hand-Painted
  3. Protects Countertops
  4. Apple Motif

Benefits:

  1. Ceramic is a high quality material, meaning your spoon rest will last a lifetime, saving you money.
  2. Hand-painted means each spoon rest is unique. This is an emotional benefit for your customer, helping to make them feel special and different. The paint is high quality and will last a long time, again saving your customer money.
  3. A spoon rest protects countertops from coffee stains and other messes. This helps lesson the amount of time your customer spends on cleaning their kitchen and helps to keep their countertop safe – saving them money in repairs.
  4. The apple motif means the spoon rest will fit perfectly with your customer’s apple themed kitchen. Again, this is an emotional benefit, making them feel good about their style, decor and home.

Example 2. 12 x 12 Brown Leather Scrapbook

This is an item I found on eBay. Let’s look at their current description and see if we can improve it.

MemoryStor is the perfect album for scrapbookers! Their beautiful bonded leather covers make the album itself a decorative object. Features thoroughly designed, rounded corners and a 3-post style binding, with nickel-plated screw posts, leather spine cover, give it a unique and charming appearance. It is a state of the art album. Your work and memories with last for years to come!
* Individual 12″ x 12″ Album with three cover styles to choose from!
* Deluxe bonded leather with rounded corners
* Three-post style binding, with high quality, nickel-plated screw posts
* 10 PVC-free, heavy-duty, top-loading plastic sheet protectors (makes 20 pages front and back), and expandable to many more!
* Dimensions: 13.75″ wide x 12.75″ high x 1″ thick
* Archival safe, acid free, lignin free
* Satisfaction Guaranteed

They’ve listed a ton of features and attempted to point out some benefits, but I think we could expand on them a little.

For example, the fact that the album is high quality and will “last for years to come” isn’t a benefit – it’s a feature. What is the benefit here? Well, your memories will remain protected and secure with a binder that won’t wear out. You won’t have to waste time later transferring everything to a new binder and potentially harming your precious pictures. You could also pass the binder down to your next generation, transferring with it memories and the history of your family.

Another example is the fact that it’s expandable. This is an awesome feature, but they haven’t explained the benefit. The benefit here is that you won’t have to spend money in the future on another binder.

The last example I’ll use for this item is the “Archival safe, acid free, lignin free” feature. What’s the benefit? Well, your precious pictures will remain safe and protected. You can feel secure knowing your pictures will look as good 5 years from now as they do today. You won’t lose your memories to the harmful impact of aging.

Why Are Benefits Important?

Remember when I mentioned that most products are “wants” rather than “needs?” This means you have to convince your customers that your product is worthy of their money. Features can entice certain customers. For example, the iPhone’s features alone have been able to sell customers. But, most of the time, features alone won’t do the job.

We need to explain to our customers how these features help them. We need to tell a story, touch their emotional nerve, and convince them that the features will have an important impact on their lives. It’s not always easy to do this – certain products can be difficult to derive benefits from. But, it’s crucial you learn how to sell your products – and benefits are what sell a product.

Summary

A feature is a characteristic.

A benefit is an advantage.

Your Turn

Ok, why don’t we end this post with a little problem for you to solve? I will list the features of a product below. In the comments section, tell me what the benefits are.

Product:

iPhone 3GS

Features:

  • 2x Faster
  • Video Recording
  • Voice Control
  • 32GB of Storage
  • 3-Megapixel Camera
  • Compass
  • Cut, Copy & Paste
  • Landscape Keyboard
  • Voice Memos

What Are the Benefits of Each of These Features?

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  • http://bradleyaharmon.com Brad Harmon

    Keller,

    Hmmm … great post, but are all of your posts going to come with a pop quiz now?

    I think you could come up with quite a few benefits, but taken as a whole I would say that the benefit is freedom.

    The increased camera pixels means you can capture better pictures on-the-go without having to bring a camera or video recorder along. The faster speed, easy-to-use keyboard, and voice control let you stay in touch from anywhere with ease. The increased storage and cut-and-paste let's you take more with you or gather more while you are on the go. And the compass pretty much screams freedom.

    How did I do?

    Brad

  • http://www.affiliateblogonline.com/ Paula from Affiliate Blog

    I have a number of niche blogs and the pages that convert the best are the ones that detail the benefits to the user. They consistently out perform pages that only list the features.

    I have learnt that our readers only want a reason to buy something. It gives them the validation they need so they can ensure that what they are buying is worth the money they have spent.

  • ericwerny

    You bring up an excellent point with your article. With our own web site we had to step back and say, what is the real benefit of our site to a prospect. Does it satisfy his or her craving for knowledge of the search they just entered into Google, Yahoo or Bing?

    Are we providing vivid answer, that would push the prospect to research our site, and make a decision to contact us, so we can cause a conversion into a sale of products, or services.

    You have to provide compelling evidence that your the one to choose over everyone else. And that's one of the hardest things to do in the IT market place. There is a lot of sameness.

  • ericwerny

    You bring up an excellent point with your article. With our own web site we had to step back and say, what is the real benefit of our site to a prospect. Does it satisfy his or her craving for knowledge of the search they just entered into Google, Yahoo or Bing?

    Are we providing vivid answer, that would push the prospect to research our site, and make a decision to contact us, so we can cause a conversion into a sale of products, or services.

    You have to provide compelling evidence that your the one to choose over everyone else. And that's one of the hardest things to do in the IT market place. There is a lot of sameness.

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    Good, but it's a little tricky. Is “let's you stay in touch from anywhere with ease” a benefit or actually a feature? What would be the benefit be for staying in touch from anywhere? How does that benefit me?

    Humm… pop quizzes on every post – not a bad idea Brad :)!

  • http://www.fresheventure.com Keller Hawthorne

    Good, but it's a little tricky. Is “let's you stay in touch from anywhere with ease” a benefit or actually a feature? What would be the benefit be for staying in touch from anywhere? How does that benefit me?

    Humm… pop quizzes on every post – not a bad idea Brad :)!

  • http://www.heavydutyplasticpallets.net Heavy Duty Plastic Pallets

    This is cool! And so interested! Are u have more posts like this? Plese tell me, thanks

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