Features & Benefits?Benefits, then Features.

This is a “duh” post (at least for anybody who deals with marketing on a daily basis.) But all you have to do is look around the marketplace (especially B2B) and you can see terrifically bad examples of a universally recognized marketing rule of thumb being routinely ignored.

The rule in question?
The one regarding Features vs. Benefits (as in, which comes first.)

Features are subject to market change.
Benefits are universal and timeless.
When in doubt, focus on the Benefit,
deploying whatever Features are needed to get the job done.

I’m painting with a wide brush here, and there are always exceptions, but if you’re ever faced with a client that wants to lead with “what it (the product/service) does,” be sure to ask what’s in it for the end user (i.e., the benefit)—and guide them toward communicating the latter rather than the former.

An obsession with feature sets can lead to feature bloat. Just ask Microsoft Word, an application that has long forgotten its primary purpose, much less key consumer benefit (ease of communication.)

Feature Bloat has an avatar: the Wenger Giant Swiss Army Knife
Feature Bloat has an avatar: the Wenger Giant Swiss Army Knife

An obsession with features is just one symptom of a marketing disease called “Swiss Army Knife Syndrome.” Instead of making a knife that really cuts, a corkscrew that actually works, and a truly sanitary toothpick, the Swiss Army Knife sandwiches a bunch of barely-able-to perform tools together into one mediocre pocket buster. Other symptoms include a notable lack of user understanding, uncontrollable product enhancement momentum, and a conspicuous lack of brand self control. See here for more on this marketing malady—and its potential treatment.

Features help make the sale. Benefits start the conversation, lead to sale, and if consistently focused upon, can enhance and maintain longstanding relationships.

Features are subject to market change. Benefits are universal and timeless. When in doubt, focus on the Benefit, deploying whatever Features are needed to get the job done. Or you could just pile on features, corner the market, and force an unmitigated disaster on mankind (thanks, Microsoft!)

– dp

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