“What is the difference between a feature and a benefit anyway?,” a manufacturing product manager asked me recently. His question implied that there is none and that the entire concept is corporate BS invented by smooth-talking communication professionals. Let this no-nonsense communication professional assure you: there is indeed a difference between a feature and a benefit. What is more, when talking to your customers and other stakeholders, you very much want to focus on benefits. Here’s why.
The difference between a feature and a benefit
When I went to pick up my new car a few months ago, the Ford salesperson sat me down in my beautiful new vehicle and showed me its standout features. Among them, the car’s seat heaters. I asked, “you mean the butt heater?”. He laughed. Belgian car salesmen don’t use the word “butt”. Still, heated seats are a feature. Why should I care about them? Because they make me warm and toasty from the bottom up. And to me, that is definitely a benefit on all those frosty days. To stay in the automotive realm, a parking assistant is a feature. “The car parallel parks for you” is a benefit for those who suffer a panic attack just thinking about having to parallel park.
Go with your benefits
Your customers are looking for benefits. They want cheaper, faster, better, easier,…. They want an answer to their needs, wants, worries, goals and ambitions. If you communicate in terms of the benefits that matter to them, you are speaking their language. Customers will not only appreciate you putting them first, they will also be more open to what you have to say.
When you only talk about features, you only talk about yourself. Plus, you run the real risk that your customers don’t understand why your product or service is perfect for them. Because they don’t know how the feature translates into a benefit for them. Going back to our car manufacturers, saying that a new model has a new type of passenger and side-impact airbags is much less effective than saying that the car will “keep your entire family safe.”
The feature-to-benefit switch
Selling features to customers in a way they can relate to is a mindset that often doesn’t come naturally in the (technical) B2B world. Companies and their product managers often spend years developing a new product or service. They are enamored with their innovations and, to them, their benefits are apparent. To customers, however, those benefits are much less clear. Before a product is launched, it is imperative that the translation of features to benefits is done. Even when customer needs form the basis of a new product or an upgrade, the focus tends to shift to features during the product development process. Before going to the market, (re)focusing on customer benefits is imperative. It often helps to have an outsider come in who is not as familiar with the product. The first question they should ask is “how does this meet the needs of your customers?” The answer to that question should be the starting point of your marketing campaign.