Thursday, April 8, 2010

Features vs. Benefits

If your ads suffer from a discouraging lack of response, it may be that they don’t answer every reader’s key questions: “Why should I care?” and “What’s in it for me?” Sales materials don’t deserve the name if they talk exclusively about features rather than benefits.

Features are the specifics on what a business does or is. Benefits are the specifics on what a business does, or can do, for its customers. Features, at best, capture attention for a few moments before readers direct their attention elsewhere. Benefits are what assure potential customers you offer something they will find useful, helpful, or pleasurable.

Does your copy talk directly to the customer? Good persuasive copy is full of “you’s” and short on “we’s.” Every ad should ask rhetorically, “Do you have this problem?” or “Do you enjoy experiencing this activity/feeling?” before explaining how the product or service solves the problem, or provides the activity/feeling, better than any other option.

Does the copy appeal to emotion? However much we like to think of ourselves as rational, reasonable people, we all let personal desires and wishes guide most of our actions. If your copy is sufficiently vivid and “you-oriented” that potential customers begin picturing themselves enjoying whatever you’re offering, you’re well on the way to a sale.

Does the copy tie all straight facts to potential gain for the customer? “Our new auto runs 10% more efficiently than last year’s model” may evoke a yawn and a “whose doesn’t?” “Our new model's increased efficiency can make your gasoline budget go 10% further” will get people thinking “this might be a worthwhile investment.”

Does the copy leave no doubt as to what it’s selling—and does it state this at the beginning rather than the end? Only the most prominent brands can get away with wildly imaginative commercials that hardly mention the product/service at all. But many feature-heavy ads are only a tiny improvement when it comes to being comprehensible. Some “ads” spend so much time explaining how the machinery works or how the service was tested that they never get around to stating clearly what is being advertised—or of asking people directly to buy it. Other ads tuck this information into one small paragraph at the end of a crowded page, forgetting that few readers bother to go on to the end once they get bored.

Does the copy tell readers how to buy? Ease in ordering is a benefit too often neglected; even readers interested in buying will give up quickly if there’s no Web site address, no order form, and no mention of which stores might be selling a product. The vast majority of consumers, given no way of immediately locating a product or service, will consider it not worth their while to spend time searching.

Thinking in terms of “benefits” has obvious advantages in persuading people to buy immediately. But it can be equally helpful when your purpose is simply to make a good impression on your public. The next post will discuss this and other things worth knowing about press releases.

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