One of the most repeated rules of writing compelling copy is to stress benefits, not features.
In other words, identify the underlying benefit that each feature of a product or service provides to the prospect, because that’s what will prompt the purchase.
This is one rule that always applies, except when it doesn’t.
We’ll look at the exceptions in a bit.
The idea of highlighting benefits over features seems simple. But it’s often tough to do in practice.
Writers often end up with fake benefits instead.
Direct response copywriter Clayton Makepeace asserts that fake benefits will kill sales copy, so you have to be on the lookout for them in your writing. He uses this headline as an example:
Balance Blood Sugar Levels Naturally!
That sounds pretty beneficial, doesn’t it? In reality, there’s not a single real benefit in the headline.
Makepeace advises to apply his patented “forehead slap” test to see if your copy truly contains a benefit for the reader. In other words, have you ever woken up from a deep sleep, slapped yourself in the forehead, and exclaimed “Man … I need to balance my blood sugar levels naturally!”
I think not. So getting someone to pull out their wallet to buy that so-called “benefit” will be difficult at best.
Here’s how Makepeace identifies the real benefit hidden in that headline:
“Nobody really wants to balance their blood sugar levels. But anyone in his or her right mind DOES want to avoid the misery of blindness … cold, numb, painful limbs … amputation … and premature death that go along with diabetes.”
A high-risk person will want to avoid the terrible effects of diabetes. That is the true benefit that the example product offers.
How to extract true benefits
So, how do you successfully extract true benefits from features? Here’s a four-step process that works:
- Make a list of every feature of your product or service.
- Ask yourself why each feature is included in the first place.
- Take the “why” and ask “how” does this connect with the prospect’s desires?
- Get to the absolute root of what’s in it for the prospect at an emotional level.
Let’s look at a product feature for a fictional “read later” app.
“Contains an artificial intelligence algorithm.”
Why it’s there:
“Adds greater utility by adapting and customizing the user’s information experience.”
What’s in it for them:
“Keeps the data you need the most at the forefront when you’re in a hurry.”
“Stay up-to-date on the things that add value to your life and career, without getting stressed out from information overload.”
Getting to the emotional root is crucial for effective consumer sales. But what about B2B prospects?
When features work
When selling to businesses or highly technical people, features alone can sometimes do the trick. Overtly pandering to emotions will only annoy them.
Besides, unlike consumers (who mostly “want” things rather than “need” them), business and tech buyers often truly need a solution to a problem or a tool to complete a task. When a feature is fairly well-known and expected from your audience, you don’t need to sell it.
However, with innovative features, you still need to move the prospect down the four-step path. While the phrase “contains an artificial intelligence algorithm” may be enough to get the tech-savvy reader salivating, he’ll still want to know how it works and what it does for him.
The “What’s in it for me?” aspect remains crucial.
For business buyers, you’re stressing “bottom line” benefits from innovative features. If you can demonstrate that the prospect will be a hero because your CRM product will save her company $120,000 a year compared to the current choice, you’ve got an excellent shot.
While that may seem like a no-brainer purchase to you, you’ll still need to strongly support the promised benefit with a detailed explanation of how the features actually deliver.
Remember, change can be scary to the business buyer, because it’s their job or small business on the line if the product disappoints.
Sell with benefits, support with features
We’re not as logical as we’d like to think we are.
Most of our decisions are based on deep-rooted emotional motivations, which we then justify after the fact with logic. So, first help create the emotional desire, then aid the rationalization process with features and hard data so that the wallet actually emerges.
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Editor’s note: This post was originally published on February 19, 2014.