Originally posted – Jul 16, 2014
I have often thought that, to gain market share, effective advertising is the name but cleverly pairing features and benefits is the game. Not only is this true, but I guess it’s poetic justice as well.
There’s old advertising adage, which states, “features tell but benefits sell.” However, in my view, that’s only partially true. Quite simply, a feature is what your service or product has, does or looks like. It is typically a physical characteristic that often can be described in quantifiable terms.
For example, your 80-pound washers hold 80 pounds of clothes, your dryers quickly reach a certain temperature, your store is open a set number of hours per day, you have free WiFi, you offer specific loyalty programs, and you offer a drop-off service for laundry and drycleaning. These are all features.
On the other hand, a benefit is something customers or potential customers value because it solves what is called a “pain point.” Of course, this doesn’t refer to actual physical pain, but merely an irritation – a mental or emotional frustration or practical problem for the customer.
Let’s apply all of this in a practical manner to the laundry example above in which I listed features but no benefits. Yes, your 80-pound washers hold 80 pounds of clothes, so the feature is that it’s very large, which likely would be visually impressive to the customer; however, the real benefit is that it enables the customer to wash up to eight loads quickly – in fact, in the same time they could get one load done in a toploader. Therefore, the benefit is major time savings, as well as a financial benefit. In this instance, we have merged the visual feature with the benefit to get maximum results.
Regarding the dryers, customers don’t really need to know (nor likely care about) the exact temperature at which your 75-pound dryers operate. But, by telling them the machines reach approximately 190 degrees (a feature) can be coupled with the benefit that your dryers “start hot, stay hot and dry fast,” which saves your customers a lot of time and money.
If you say your laundry is open 24 hours a day, you are merely giving customers “feature mathematics.” However, if you indicate that your extended hours mean they can do their laundry when they choose and on their terms, now you’ve provided them with a distinct benefit.
Likewise, indicating that you have free WiFi is a feature, but the benefit is that customers can access the internet for any purpose they wish at your store, while their clothes are being washed and dried – and that’s a highly valued benefit indeed.
Also, point out the specific benefits of your loyalty programs – such as entering to earn free gasoline, groceries or lottery tickets – along with the fine-print “features,” which govern the rules of entry.
Lastly, simply indicating that your business offers a drop-off service for laundry and drycleaning is clearly a feature. But pointing out how quickly and professionally these services are performed are major benefits, which should impress and attract customers to this segment of your laundry operation.
In truth, just about every feature has benefits, and it’s your job as a businessperson and marketer to point them out and to visually merge them as simply and effectively as possible. In fact, not doing so will significantly reduce the impact of your advertising.
Here’s the problem: most small-business owners (certainly including self-service laundry operators) know a great deal about their products and services; however, since they typically aren’t trained marketers, they often tend to go in the direction of least resistance. As a result, their advertising copy tends to contain mainly features that they find impressive.
When discussing why customers are attracted to benefits, I love the radio station analogy “WII-FM,” which simply stands for “What’s in it for me?”
If you carefully merge features and benefits in language and illustrations with which customers can easily identify, you can literally double the impact and pulling power of your advertisements.
For example, if you show a simple photo (the feature) of a large single-pocket dryer while at the same time indicating all of the time- and money-saving benefits of using this machine, congratulations – because you’ve accomplished the classic advertising “double whammy.” The customer can visualize why the machine offers the benefits it does. And this can be done with many other features of your self-service laundry. The list is as long and broad as your creativity permits.
Are you familiar with the Hammacher Schlemmer catalog of consumer goods? It’s America’s longest-running catalog – and for good reason. You can find it at hammacher.com. It offers terrific examples of pairing features and benefits. Each and every product offered for sale (usually about 250 of them per catalog) displays a great color photo (showing uncomplicated pictorial features) of the product and provides the many clear benefits of owning and using this item (WII-FM) in the headline and adjoining copy. It’s advertising brilliance.
Of course, there also are many examples of what not to do. There’s an interesting case of the misuse of features and benefits in some ads for the Apple iPhone. (Yes, even huge, sophisticated companies make feature/benefit mistakes.)
In one advertisement, Apple shows a photo of its cell phone and an enlarged image of the phone’s battery, with copy that reads “2,000 mAh,” which stands for milliamp hours, or how long the device can perform without running out of juice. My guess is that most people (other than engineering types) have no clue as to what “2000 mAh” means, so Apple should never have put such a reference in an ad to be read mainly by non-techie folks.
That’s not the type of information I (being a complete non-techie) find useful when deciding whether or not to buy a phone. Later, I saw a revised version of the ad for the phone with the same feature information displayed, but this time it read, “Up to 120% extra battery power.” They left out the confusing technical jargon, so now they were speaking my language.
Of course both ads provided the required amount of benefit information, but the second version was far more advertising effective and compelling in terms of WII-FM.
One of my favorite advertisements with regard to successfully merging features and benefits is for a product called My Pillow (mypillow.com). Perhaps you are familiar with it or even own one.
The company’s ad is iconic in every manner in terms of utilizing benefits and features to entice you to buy this product. It shows numerous photos – including an image of the friendly looking inventor holding the pillow (uncomplicated visual feature) – and then goes on to provide a huge amount of benefit information, including all of the common sleep problems the pillow can help to alleviate. It even explains how to wash and dry the pillow, and also mentions its 10-year limited warranty.
In fact, I was so impressed by the advertising that I bought the pillow, and it lives up to every benefit mentioned.
The best (and most profitable) path of least resistance is to think exactly like your customers do and to cleverly merge the features of your laundry with the benefits the customers are looking for to solve their “pain points.” The key is to not display the features in an overly complex manner so that they don’t confuse, intimidate or bore potential buyers or “talk them out” of the sale.
Notice advertisements for air travel, which is created by the airlines. It merely shows a photo of an airplane and often the comfortable interior of the plane – but most definitely not the literally thousands of complex, ultra-technical, electro-mechanical engineering and communications features that enable the plane to take off, fly and land safely.
I recently came across another perfect blend of features and benefits in a local magazine advertisement. Of course, these days we’re all familiar with the infamous (often dreaded) medical diagnostic tool called the MRI machine. Although it’s a wonderful medical device, the scary part for many of those who have to be tested by one of them is the fact that you have to actually get inside of it – and it’s mighty tight in there, especially for claustrophobic types like me. I freely confess that I would need at least 10 milligrams of Valium under my belt before I would even consider entering the building in which the MRI machine was located.
However, in the MRI ad, there was a photo of the exact machine – very clearly showing all of the “open space” inside (feature). And the ad copy (benefits) read, “You’ll feel very comfortable and relaxed in our open MRI.” I’m sure you understand that merely talking about the benefit without visually displaying the features that support it would be a big mistake in this case.
Several industries are guilty of mainly showcasing features and spending far less advertising copy (and money) pointing out benefits, when in fact both can be done smoothly. And this is true regardless of the complexity of the product.
So, although the generally accepted sales mantra dictates that we should advertise only benefits and not features, perhaps I have convinced you to consider carefully using the show-and-tell approach by leveraging both aspects of your business.
I’m hoping so.