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Featuring Benefits: Enhancing Your Go-To-Market Plan

Posted by Seth Elliott On May - 25 - 2010

PublicityIn the marketing field, particularly copywriting, there’s a key lesson drummed into the heads of all beginners – sell customers by articulating the benefits of a product, not by explicating it’s features. This is a key lesson for entrepreneurs as well. When building a Go-To-Market plan, it’s key to differentiate features from benefits and use this information effectively.

Features are the basic facts about a product or service. Features are simply the core characteristics inherent in a product/service offering.

Benefits, however, describe what you gain by using the product or service. Essentially, benefits articulate how a customer’s life (or business) will be improved or enhanced through use of the features inherent in a product or service. Features and benefits are often confused by entrepreneurs. It is important to know the distinction between the two – and to describe a separate list of features and benefits of your product/service offering as a baseline for the rest of your GTM planning.

How do you start? Begin by writing a complete list of all the features resident in your product or service. Sometimes even this basic step can prove difficult for entrepreneurs. If you’ve been “living, breathing and sleeping” your business, you may find it challenging to step back and objectively set forth all the features of your offering. One technique to help in this process? Ask yourself (and your employees, colleagues, vendors and customers) what does my product (service) do? List every possible answer – don’t neglect any, no matter how foolish or trivial it sounds. By the way, it’s likely that you will come up with some answers that are actually benefits. That’s OK – don’t worry differentiating the two for now, you’ll fix that shortly.

Once you’ve listed all the features of your product/service offering, take each one and ask the question “so what?” Who cares about the feature you’ve articulated? Why does each particular feature? Whatever answers you come up with for the “So What?” question are actually benefits (also, this is where any benefits you accidentally articulated as features can be identified and shifted to the appropriate column). Naturally, you should also immediately list any benefits of your product/service that you already know – though it’s helpful if you can connect them to one or more features.

If you find yourself struggling to articulate benefits, here’s a useful exercise designed to help you connect features and benefits. Choose a set of everyday products and services – either brand names or local businesses. Now, spend some time trying to identify and distinguish their features and benefits.

Here are some examples:

The Feature is a 3 bladed razor. The Benefit is a close, comfortable shave.

The Feature is a hybrid automobile. The Benefit is that it’s environmentally friendly and you save on gas .

The Feature is call forwarding. The Benefit is that you never miss an important call.

The Feature is Tivo’s recordable function. The Benefit is that you never miss your favorite shows.

The Feature is a handyman service. The Benefit is that you are freed from worry and able to spend more time with your family.

OK – when you’ve identified your features and articulated the related benefits, it’s time to use them effectively. We’re not going to focus on the secrets of copywriting, advertising and promotion. Nonetheless, there are several key elements to consider when articulating and using your features and benefits.

Know Your Customer. At this point, I’m presuming you’ve already done a great deal of research about your typical customer (or prospect). The demographic information you’ve previously gathered (including income) can be quite valuable to you in understanding what benefits might interest your customer. What you may not have spent much time on is “psychographic” data.

Psychographic data extends information about your customers and prospects beyond basic demographics. Instead, it utilizes geographic and demographic information as a foundation to identify and segment customers in regards to specific qualities such as: lifestyle, values, attitudes, beliefs, personality, purchasing motives, etc. The more psychographic information you can gather, the more you will truly understand your customers and prospects – and the more effective you will be in the next steps.

Shift Perspective. Unfortunately, when you operate singularly from your own viewpoint, you automatically use a set of assumptions. Your core assumptions are usually present without even your conscious acknowledgement. Your customers and prospects don’t have your knowledge base about your product/service offering. As such, they are not capable of making the connections that you can. Although you almost unconsciously identify features and translate those into benefits, your customers and prospects are unlikely to do so. You have to do that for them.

Use the demographic and psycographic information you’ve gathered to place yourself into the “shoes” of your customers. Approach your product or service as though you’ve never heard of it before and try and discover why you’d be at all interested in it.

Features AND Benefits. One final tip – avoid the singular benefits trap that captures many entrepreneurs. Often, these exercises lead you to focus solely on benefits when building Go-To-Market strategies. To a certain extent, this is understandable. So much of the popularized discussion relating to features and benefits emphasizes describing benefits to customers and prospects. However, most customers want to know not only the benefits but also the specific features.

Remember the first feature/benefit example we used? In that case we identified a 3-bladed razor (feature) that offers a close, comfortable shave (benefit). Imagine you are the manufacturer of that product. After performing this exercise, you go on to promote the “close, comfortable” shave benefit to your customers and prospects. It’s likely you would not have as great of an impact as you could. Simply articulating that benefit results in an unverified claim. You need to develop credibility by articulating to your customers and prospects the feature that supports the reality of the benefit that you identify.

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About the Author

I have spent the last 15 years advising entrepreneurs on starting and growing their businesses, as well as assisting in financing those growth efforts. I have also been an entrepreneur on several occasions myself. By writing this blog, I hope to provide actionable advice on how to achieve your goals and become more successful.