The real & important difference between a feature and a benefit

“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.

Show, don’t tell

Last week, I attended the breakfast meeting of the local BNI chapter as an invited guest. I am an introvert and definitely not a morning person, so these types of early morning network meetings are very much out of my comfort zone. Luckily, BNI Lokeren Durmestad is a lively and welcoming bunch.

Eggs, bacon and a hairpiece

Still, I was happy to have my pitch ready, as us guests only had 1 minute to present ourselves and our business. I was pretty pleased with my ability to condense the full.stop consultancy and agency offer and put a verbal bow around it within one minute.

The real star of the morning, though, was Ingrid Berckmoes, owner of Altijd Mooi and the new LILBHair. She simply stood up, reached up to the top of her head and pulled out a hairpiece nobody realized she was wearing. While the crowd literally gasped, she quickly explained the benefits and while talking, put the piece back in. Without using a mirror and looking as perfect as she did before. Everything she could have said, we could see for ourselves. How beautiful, natural and seamless her hair looked. How safely the hairpiece was attached and how easily it could be put in and removed. I think just about everyone in the room was making a mental note to remember her name for future referrals. It is a beautiful product that will make men and women, often going through trying times, feel better about themselves.

Show, don’t tell

Aside from her product, Ingrid also demonstrated the power of simply showing something. Why try to convince your audience with words when they can just see it for themselves? Seeing is believing. Instant credibility and buy-in.  I know, we are all excited about what we do well and love to talk about it. But if you have a product that basically sells itself, focus on communication that showcases rather than promotes. Think video rather than brochures, live demonstrations rather than a PowerPoint. Or as fellow Shankminder and owner of The Mogul Mom Gabriella Ribeiro reminded us the other day: Show, don’t tell.

 

Advancing the battle against AMR

Sometimes we get to work on truly meaningful topics, such as communication on antimicrobial resistance. AMR was one of the main issues discussed when Maggie De Block, Belgium’s Minister of Social Affairs and Public Health visited the BD Benelux Experience Center on February 15, 2019.

Read the article here (in Dutch): https://www.nieuwsblad.be/cnt/blvva_04191992 

Read the article here (in Dutch): https://www.hln.be/regio/aalst/minister-maggie-de-block-open-vld-op-bezoek-bij-erembodegems-bedrijf-bd~acbf714a/

 

 

Just say no to the SEO press release

There is only one good reason to issue a press or news release: when you have actual news to share. Well, um, isn’t that a given? Why would that even merit a blog post? For one, because the frivolous, irrelevant or just plain dumb press release is an age-old problem. They were the bane of journalists’ existence when I talked to them every day as a media analyst in the early 2000s. And that was –gasp! – almost 20 years ago. Most still get bombarded with hundreds of releases and pitches every day, very few relevant and well written. Now, there’s also the SEO press release adding insult to injury.

The SEO press release

Don’t get me wrong. I am obviously all for SEO. It is an absolute requirement in today’s digital world. If you want people to find you, people need to be able to find you. And a good press release will certainly help your SEO. It generates press coverage, which results in the very elusive, SEO-boosting high quality backlinks. Everybody wins! Unfortunately, this has inspired too many to use press releases as just another tool in the never-ending SEO battle. Hence the SEO press release. No real news to share. Just a block of copy stuffed with just the right keywords, parked on distribution services just to get the backlinks. Somewhere, somehow, the one and only reason to issue a press release got lost in the shuffle. It isn’t just making journalists keel over in disgust. Because you’re not impressing any living person much with your actual “news”, especially the ones that can generate valuable media coverage for you.

What is the real message of your SEO content?

The content you put out there in the vast expanse that is the interwebs, does much more than prop up your SEO. It communicates something about you. And a vapid SEO press release is a great tool to make you look like one. Never mind getting that quality backlink. We’re pumping out so much pointless content, it is clogging the online universe like the plastic debris in our oceans.  With any content you create, ask yourself the question: does this do anything for me except boost my SEO? If the answer is no, keep working on finding that relevance. Taking a step back and creating more judiciously will give you the quality that rises above the ever-increasing quantity.

From sports to B2B communication, with love

Sports and B2B communication could not be more different. In many ways, sports is the envy of any B2B communication professional. Involved fans who love your brand and who welcome any information you put out there. And they happily spend money on your merchandise. What is not to love? Maybe the more pertinent question is: what is there to learn?

 

In October, I traveled to Kona, Hawaii for the World Championship Ironman. I have been involved in sports communication for more than 10 years, but Kona remains extraordinary. The race, the atmosphere, the number of athletes, the heat, the sheer suffering … it never gets old. In the 40 days leading up the 40th Ironman Hawaii, we had counted down on social media to Tine Deckers’ Ironman Hawaii. Once on the Big Island, we ramped up the online effort with daily Instagram stories with behind the scenes sneak peeks, a Facebook live, a photo shoot and live race updates. The result was an exponential increase in likes and comments, and in social media followers. But also: “Thank you for letting us be part of your journey.”

It’s the kind of gratitude you never ever get in B2B communication. Which made me think, what are the lessons of sports communication that carry over to B2B? I can think of three: involvement, emotions and storytelling.

 

Involvement

Sports fans care. In short, that is why can never get enough information about “their” brands. They go out looking for it, subscribing, following and commenting along the way. Most B2B communication gets ignored or deleted. So the question becomes: do you matter to your stakeholders?

This is where relevance comes in. Rather than talking about yourself, demonstrate your usefulness to your audience. Still, it is a minimum requirement. Providing specific value at a specific time will only get you noticed. But how do you get people to care about you? Social corporate responsibility can play a key role. People will root for the good guy.

 

Emotions

Sports is all about the big emotions. The ecstasy of winning, the sadness of defeat or injuries. It’s the highs and lows that keep people invested. Of course, the B2B environment tends to be a rational one. But that doesn’t mean your communication has to be. Science tells us that people make their decisions based on emotions, rather than reason. What are the subjective reasons customers (don’t) like your brand? Status? A personal connection with your sales rep? Fear? Find the emotions behind the seemingly reasoned decisions and use them to drive your communication.

 

Storytelling

Sports are full of compelling stories. That crazy match, the athlete with the captivating journey, the epic tale of that winning streak, … stories make sports memorable. Why not use storytelling techniques in B2B communication? The stories, about people, products, trends are right in front of you. You just have stop thinking in terms of features and benefits for a second to see them. Or how about not focusing on your story per se, but on how you fit in that of your customers?

 

True, B2B communication will never have the passion and involvement of sports. But it doesn’t have to. Just use the lessons of sports to make your B2B communication more relatable and significant for your stakeholders.

 

B2B content management: making case studies work for you in more ways than one

For years now, content management has been the talk of the communication town. But what does content management mean precisely? And how can you make it work for and in B2B? Take a good look at case studies. Executed well, a case study can deliver real value in more ways than one.

 

Study this?

In a case study, you analyze and highlight something your business did well using the challenge-solution-result format. Typically, that involves a problem you solved for a customer. The primary advantage is obvious: Even if you keep the results to yourself, this analysis will hopefully make it easier for you to duplicate a success. However, if you decide to share what you have found, you will reap a variety of other rewards.

 

Case studies make you look good

First of all, you get to talk about something that portrays your company and your team in a really positive light without appearing to be bragging. All you are doing is to highlight a problem and how it was capably solved.

This also shows that you care about your customers. They needed something and you used your experience and expertise to deliver. Since you can decide what the case study is on, you can demonstrate that you went beyond what could reasonably be expected. Or how you found a really creative, outside-the-box solution. Or that you delivered better-than-expected results. Ideally, you also want to get some testimonials from the customer you helped and get them to say good things about your work instead of you having to do it.

 

Spreading the word & making your case

A case study is essentially a (mostly) free advertisement for you. You get to look good to any potential customer/client. And that is precisely why you should want the case study to be spread as widely as possible.

Fortunately, case studies are perfect for being disseminated widely in a number of different ways. You can do it yourself in the form of a brochure or a presentation at a trade fair. You can also send it to the (trade) media. If that doesn’t work – or even if it does – you can publish it yourself, for example in the form of a blog on your website, and then distill social media posts from it. This allows you to maximize exposure as well as your return on investment.

 

Case study 101

Now all you have to do is find the right case study. One thing you should always aim for is to describe a solution with measurable results. Of course, it’s nice to have a customer say that they were happy with your work in generic terms. However, it is much better to have them rave about a solution that ended up cutting their production costs, reduced cycle times or allowed some other efficiency gains.

Obviously, if you want to name the customer, you also need to get their written permission. Don’t forget to get it beforehand or otherwise you won’t be able to make your case study public. Since case studies are something you should try to do periodically, it might be easiest to draft a standard waiver.

With all of the benefits you will get from this project, you will want to do the case study right. That’s why you should invest in photography/videography, graphic design as well as PR. Images will really allow the project to come alive. A graphic designer will turn the case study in to a professional-looking brochure or prestation. And a capable PR professional can ensure the difference from a trade magazine merely mentioning your case study and highlighting it in a multi-page spread with pictures.

And when it all comes together, a case study is the type of content that will really work for you. By showing what works, you will be able to brag about your accomplishments without overtly doing so. And because you can use the case study in so many different ways, you can generate real return on your communication investment.

Yes, you should have an elevator pitch!

Here’s the thing about the elevator pitch: every business absolutely must have one. “One” is the key word here. While many companies don’t have an elevator pitch at all, others have too many.

Why you should have an elevator pitch

First, let’s figure out why it is so important to have one. The answer is simple. You never know when you will share a brief moment with somebody who could make a difference in the future of your company.

Whether that’s in a coffee shop, in an airport, in a brief interaction online or in an actual elevator. When that moment comes, you should be prepared instead of fumbling for words. So be ready to explain in a few words what your company does and what sets it apart.

And it’s not just the CEO or top managers who should be familiar with the elevator pitch because any employee can find themselves in a pitch perfect situation.

Do the pitch test

If you think your company is ready, why don’t you take a quick test? Ask a handful of your team members for your elevator pitch and see whether they are on the same page. Chances are that you’ll get all different answers.

Obviously, that’s a problem because you want each of them to be able to make the best possible pitch. And if you get five different answers from five people, at least four of them aren’t the best.

Your perfect pitch

So the first step is to come up with that ideal pitch. It should be brief (about 30 seconds) and concise.

The best pitches offer a solution to a problem, are intriguing and/or offer the listener an opportunity. That means don’t get lost in generalities. “We make machine parts,” is not going to get anybody excited about your company. Even throwing in “high quality” won’t set you apart.

However, “We use patented and innovative technology to produce machine parts that are lighter than any others to save you a lot of money” might just get somebody interested.

  • it could meet the need of a business that wants to make its machines lighter.
  • the other party might be intrigued and wants to find out more about the innovative technology that achieves this reduction in weight.

You could also add some of your best credentials. For example, “We are an award-winning small business with customers on four continents.” Talk about specific credentials. Calling yourself “leading” has never convinced anyone that you actually are. When nobody has heard of you, then try to make sure you convey the necessary credibility in your pitch.

Finally, your pitch should try to get the other party to take some action.  This could range from simply accepting your business card to a promise to keep the conversation going.

All of the above has to be achieved in just a few seconds – seconds that could be vital to the future of your business. Which is why it is so important to invest some time and effort into coming up with a really good pitch that everybody in a company knows by heart. 

Long-tail keywords: the key to winning SEO

In a previous article, we discussed the importance of showing up on the first page of Google search results. On its face, that seems like an unobtainable goal for all but a few corporate giants. But there is an overlooked way for small and medium-sized companies to “own” a search term.  Take a good look at long-tail keywords. Search engine optimization (SEO) based on specific terms instead of broad ones yields surprisingly powerful results.

Long-tail keywords: why?

Let’s face it, it is virtually impossible for a small business to land on that coveted first page if you optimize your website for a very broad search term. For example, a small company that transports particularly large goods should not try to optimize its site for the search term “shipping.” It would never be able to displace businesses like UPS, FedEx and DHL. To capture that prominent place, our shipping company will have to get creative. And it can get there by understanding Internet users in general and its customers in particular.

Your potential customers can broadly be separated into two categories: Those who are doing research because they are looking to make a purchase down the road and those who want to buy something in the near future.

Potential customers: the researchers

In our example, customers in the first group know that they will have to ship something large at some point in the future. Maybe they are contemplating a move abroad and want to see what their options are for shipping something big. When they simply enter “shipping,” they realize that this will only take them to UPS, which they know is not a good solution. So what will they search for next?

That is the question that our sample company needs to figure out – and optimize its site for. Maybe it is “cheaply shipping large products” or “bulky goods shipping.” How about adding a location reference? Determining that search term requires research and a good understanding of one’s customer base. If done right, long-tail keywords can sharply reduce the advertising costs of companies, so it is worth it.

Potential customers: the immediate buyers

Being found during the research phase is one way for smaller businesses to reach potential customers. Another is to engage them when they are looking to make a purchasing decision.

For a small restaurant in Brooklyn, it makes no sense to optimize its site for “great food” or “good restaurant New York.” There will simply be too much competition and the search terms are not nearly specific enough.

Instead, the restaurant  should tailor its SEO to long-tail keywords that will actually increase business. To do so, the first step is to get to know what customers like, identify defining features of the restaurant and learning how people use its website.

Say we have found out that customers particularly like our burgers. Or that we are open until 2:00 am while our competitors close at 10:00 pm. In that case, we should try to get to the top spot of Google searches such as “Great burgers in Brooklyn” or “Afterhours food in Brooklyn.” And we definitely want to own longer search strings like “Where can I get a burger after midnight in Brooklyn.” People looking for that are our target audience.

So yes, long-tail keywords make SEO for small and medium-sized businesses easier. Still, that doesn’t mean getting on that first page on Google will be easy. It’ll still take research, a commitment to search engine optimization, the right content and a partner who knows what they are doing

8 business twitter tips that will help you tweet like a pro

The best thing about Twitter is that you can send a short message to the world and hundreds of millions of people (but especially your followers) can potentially read it. The worst thing about Twitter is that you can send a short message to the world and hundreds of millions of people (but especially your followers) can potentially read it. Come again? Twitter is great when your message is great. If not, it can be very detrimental to your brand. So here are 8 business twitter tips:

  1. Don’t “like” porn accounts: This should probably go without saying, but unless you are in the adult industry, don’t “like” porn accounts. Just ask U.S. Senator Ted Cruz. The account of the conservative Republican from Texas, who ran for president in 2016, “liked” a post from a pornographic website and was skewered for it on the Internet. The explanation that a low-level staffer was to blame did nothing to stop the ridicule.
  2. Know who and what to “like” and “follow”: This is an extension of our first rule. Make sure you are aware what type of tweets you like and which accounts you follow. Just because somebody once wrote a tweet you agree with doesn’t mean you should like it or even follow the account. The person who wrote something funny about sports or posted a picture of a kitten you like might be a white supremacist, porn star, anti-Semite, ISIS sympathizer, etc. And by liking or following the account, you or your company will be linked to them.
  3. Beware of fake news: The internet is rife with fake news. Don’t help spread disinformation and check your sources.
  4. Keep private and business matters separate: Never use a company account for private matters. For example, if you are trying to get in touch with your favorite celebrity or complain about customer service, the temptation might be to make that happen using a business account rather than a private account with a few dozen followers. Don’t. If you have been entrusted with your company’s Twitter account, don’t violate that trust by mixing in your private agenda. So even if you are a big fan of a Korean pop group, that doesn’t mean your company does.
  5. Think before you tweet: The beauty of the medium is that you can compose a tweet in seconds. But it’s always better to take your time, compose your message, consider any repercussions, and ensure you might not inadvertently offend a person or group.
  6. Stay away from issues people feel strongly about: You’re not going to win a customer over just because they like your tweet on politics or they are also fan of your favorite team. However, you can certainly lose a potential customer over these things. So even if you think, for example, that Brexit was the dumbest idea ever (or the best), by voicing that opinion, you are sure to step on somebody’s toes.
  7. Don’t beg for retweets and follows: Avoid anything that makes you look desperate. This makes you look desperate.
  8. Don’t like really old tweets or many tweets from the same person in a short period of time: Avoid anything that makes you look like a stalker. This makes you look like a stalker.

If you follow these simple business twitter tips, you should be fine. Obviously, they also apply to your other social media accounts with one important addition: Whenever you appear in an image or a video, e.g. on YouTube, Facebook Live, Snapchat, etc., make sure you are dressed appropriately. We wouldn’t want Ted Cruz to like your post for the wrong reason.