Copywriting: Benefits vs Features
Updated: Apr 17
It’s one of the first things you’re told – or taught – when you go into any marketing field: Sell the Benefits, not the Features.
And this pearl of wisdom is aimed at copywriters and sales people more than anyone else.
We’ve all seen a great salesman or woman leave a prospect drooling with anticipation after delivering the perfect sales pitch. But how did it get to this point? What were the magic ingredients that translated a dull list of product features into a single compelling benefit that resonates with the customer almost instantaneously? And, at the same time, how did the copywriting differentiate the product or service from that of competitors who generally serve up much the same features?
First off though, what's the actual difference between features and benefits?
Some people describe it like buying a bed. You don’t necessarily want to buy a 6 foot divan with a mahogany headboard. You want to buy the best night’s sleep for your money.
Copywriter Jay Conrad Levinson summed it up like this: “A feature is a factual statement about a product or service. Factual statements aren't why customers buy; benefits are.”
People have written tomes on this topic but here’s a great visual example of the difference between Features and Benefits:
OK. It’s easy to see how this works when you’re presented with a finished image like the Apple example above. But if your business makes a complicated, feature-heavy product, it can sometimes be very difficult to single out the one feature that will then translate into the most compelling benefit for your audience.
This is where a good freelance copywriter will earn his crust – by being able to generate an emotionally engaging benefit for your product: one that connects with prospective customers in a way that your competitors aren’t doing.
If the copywriter’s headlines and copy can quickly propel the customer’s imagination into almost ‘experiencing’ the product in action, you’re already a lot closer to your sale.
And that’s where the features come in – they play a supporting role after the benefits: they justify and reinforce the emotional connection that your benefits copy established.
It’s like going to buy a car. It needs to be an automatic, but there’s lots of them out there. You want leather seats, but most cars offer that as an option. And because you live in Iceland or somewhere similar, you want heated seats – again, competitors have all of the above features.
But in the absence of any other features that will set set this car apart, what if the copywriter presented the following benefit:
It's like driving to work in your duvet
That simple emotional connection sticks in the mind. It differentiates you from your competitors – and the customer instantly and easily imagines the benefit. It also effectively answers the age-old consumer question: "what's in it for me?".
It reminds me of the story about one of the most famous advertising men ever – David Ogilvy. His ad agency was tasked with finding a new way to differentiate the luxury of the latest Rolls Royce from that of other high-end cars.
After the copywriter (Ogilvy himself) went through the long list of features – over and over again, looking for a golden nugget of inspiration - and taking the car on the road for several test drives, he eventually hit on the feature that prompted him to use one of the most famous lines in advertising:
Ogilvy created a benefit that set the Roller apart from the slew of other luxury cars of the time.
As writer Bradley Gauthier put it: "Eureka! He had struck advertising gold. And the rich and famous finally had an option to escape the average, everyday lower-class world while driving from mansion to beach-home." That’s the magic that a copywriter can perform for your business.
Finally, remember that if you're looking to hire a copywriter - especially in Ireland - yours truly works with clients in Belfast, Dublin and all points in between.