By Krista Walsh
This blog was provided by Krista Walsh. Krista is a freelance copywriter for e-commerce small businesses. Her writing and messaging strategies help her clients speak to their customers’ values and emotions, for meaningful sales. Connect with her at kristawalshcopywriter.com.
You’ve probably heard of “features and benefits” before–maybe in some eyes-glazing article about the importance of “consumer-centric” marketing, or maybe wedged into a chapter in your hefty college marketing textbook.
“Features and benefits” just sounds boring, I know. But understanding the difference between them (and knowing how to craft a message around them) are valuable cornerstones of your marketing.
So, let’s breakdown the what’s and why’s of features and benefits for e-commerce marketing.
What's the difference between features and benefits?
Here’s the quick and dirty answer:
Features are aspects of your product, which could be technical or descriptive.
Benefits are why that feature matters for your customers. In other words, how that feature makes their life better.
Features tell customers what, and benefits tell customers why.
Let’s take a look at an example of features and benefits in action: S’well product descriptions for their Geode Rose S’well Bottle.
In the following handy chart, I’ve separated out the features of the products from the benefits included in the product description:
|Triple-walled, vacuum-insulated construction||...which keeps beverages cold for up to 24 hours or hot for up to 12|
|Food-grade stainless steel||...which allows for refilling and reusing easily|
|Copper wall layer||...which creates a condensation-free exterior|
|9 oz size||...which makes it perfect for on-the-go|
The features tell the customer something noteworthy about the product, and the benefits explain how the customer’s life gets better because of it.
Notice that I’ve added the phrase “which,” in the benefits section. When you’re writing your own product messaging, it can be helpful to think through the benefits of each feature using this phrase. For instance, your internal dialogue might go…
“Our water bottles are made with a copper wall layer... which creates a condensation-free exterior.”
Having that “which” there prompts you to add the why behind the feature. (You don’t have to include the “which” in the final copy, though. It’s mainly a tool for remembering to include benefits for every feature.)
Why should you include benefits, not just features, in your product messaging?
When we talk to one another, we instinctively understand the power of benefits. Imagine you’re discussing where to go to dinner with a friend. The conversation might go something like…
“Let’s go to that new Indian restaurant.”
“Nah, I think we should go to the Thai place because they have a happy hour special right now, so we’d actually be able to afford drinks.”
You’re selling the Thai place based on a feature (happy hour), but you make sure to outline why that matters (so we’d actually be able to afford drinks). That’s a pretty compelling point for why you should go to Thai instead of Indian.
Somehow, when we sit down to write our marketing message, all our instincts go out the window. So, as a reminder, here’s why you should include benefits, not just features, in your product messaging:
People might not understand why the feature matters
Features are often technical, like “triple-walled construction.” Consumers likely have no idea why having triple-walled construction in their water bottle matters for them. A benefit explains why they should care about the technical features.
People respond positively when given a reason
In a well-known 1978 study, researchers had participants ask to cut in line to make copies (back when places like Kinko’s were common). Some participants were instructed to give a reason for why they needed to cut in line, and others were instructed to ask to cut without giving a reason. Those participants who instructed to give a reason were over 30% more likely to get a yes. And the kicker? The reason didn’t even have to be good. In fact, sometimes, the reason was, laughably, “because I need to make copies.”
Something in our psychology is begging for a because or a why. So give customers a reason–a benefit–for every feature.
People are looking for a solution to their problem
Many customers are looking for a product that solves something for them. For instance, they’re looking for a water bottle that can keep their beverages hot or cold for long periods of time. If S’well hadn’t spelled out that benefit behind their triple-walled construction, many customers probably wouldn’t have made the connection from feature to the solution they needed… and wouldn’t have made the purchase.
Go even deeper with benefits
To land at truly compelling product messaging, you should aim to go deeper with benefits than the first “why” you come up with.
If you start by answering, “Why did we include this feature?” you’ll easily come up with a simple reason. That’s when you go deeper. Keep asking “Why?” for every answer. Why would customers want that benefit?
S’well’s product description did a pretty good job of including deeper, more compelling benefits. Let’s take another look at our S’well benefits and features chart, this time adding in the deeper benefits:
|Features||Why did we include this feature? (Benefit)||Why do customers want that? (+Deeper Benefit)|
|Triple-walled, vacuum-insulated construction||...to keep beverages cold for up to 24 hours or hot for up to 12||... [on this feature, they didn’t go further but you could imagine something like this:] so that you’ll never find your drink’s gone lukewarm|
|Food-grade stainless steel||...to allow for refilling and reusing easily||...so that you can reduce your need for single-use plastic bottles|
|Copper wall layer||...to create a condensation-free exterior||...so that you don’t get sweat on your hands or in your bag|
|9 oz size||..to make it perfect for on-the-go||...so that you can pack it in your handbag or lunch bag|
By going just slightly deeper with the benefits of each feature, S’well’s overall case for why customers should buy this water bottle is far more persuasive.
Bottom line: use benefits to connect the dots for your customers
As a business owner, you might feel a little silly at first laying out all the why’s behind your product features. Won’t customers “just get” why a feature matters? If my water bottle is 9 ounces, won’t customers know that the size is small enough to carry with you? They’re not dumb!
You’re right. Most consumers aren’t dumb. But most consumers are busy and distracted. So why leave it to chance that they’ll connect the dots? Don’t assume your customers will understand right away why your product features are great. Clearly tell them why in compelling benefits.