The Difference Between Features and Benefits, Saw-Style

So, I was training a group of web copywriters the other day, and casually mentioned features versus benefits. Nothing earth-shattering there.

But, just as I was about to click to the next slide, I noticed that the expected nods and hums of recognition didn’t arrive. So I asked, “you do know the difference between features and benefits, right?

Blank stares.

I realised that I often take it for granted that website writers know and understand what a benefit is. So here we go, features and benefits in a nutshell:

A feature is something the product does.
A benefit is how a feature improves the life of the customer.

So how about an example of features vs benefits?

Okay. I went to buy a saw at the weekend. Being something of a DIY illiterate, I was surprised to see a choice of about two-dozen saws.

I asked the bloke at the till what was my best option. His advice: “this one has tungsten tips, this one has a gel-embossed handle. This one here, the Sawmeister 3000, has a reinforced body.

He may as well have been speaking in Esperanto.

What he could have said is:

  • This one cuts fastest, because of its tungsten tips – so you’ll spend less time sawing.
  • This one is the most comfortable to hold – so you won’t get blisters.
  • This one won’t break, no matter how much you use it, so it’ll last longer and save you money.

After all, I wasn’t really buying a saw – I was buying quick, neat, cut wood. Just like people who buy 37Signals software are really buying an easier working life, people who buy a hedge-trimmer are really buying tidier hedges, or people who buy a Rolex are really purchasing perceived status.

The key, of course, is accurately pinpointing the true benefit to the customer. Even if this might not be clear at first, drill down until you find it. You can apply this to nearly anything (including aspects of your own life). For example:

Your social Life:

Feature: There’s a party this weekend
Benefit: You might meet that elusive dream girl who puts up with your accordion playing (not a true story)

Your education:

Feature: You get a load of letters to put on your CV
Benefit: You won’t have to work in the Burger King at Victoria Railway Station

Your web design business:

Feature: You design and build accessible websites
Benefit for clients: More customers will be able to use your site = more sales for you

Sometimes people mistakenly think that bringing out benefits means treating people like idiots. I disagree. It’s simply a way to spark in the customer’s mind how using a product/service will help them out.

Now, get sparking…

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