Features vs Benefits
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Overview

Which of the following options are more effective? 'ModelThinkers is a growing collection of the big ideas from the big disciplines'

Or 'ModelThinkers helps you become smarter, faster, with the big ideas from the big disciplines". 

Features describe what a product or service has and does; Benefits describe how those features help solve a problem for a user. 

DESCRIPTION vs OR PAY OFF. 

Features are generally considered to be surface descriptors, including what the product has, it’s specifications and key elements. In contrast, benefits describe what happens, or the ‘pay off’ when these features are put into use. 

MARKETING.

It is generally advisable to lead marketing messaging with benefits to connect with a potential customer's pain points or needs and speak to a clear value proposition about the problem you will solve. Features are important, particularly when customers are making comparisons and digging into the detail of an offer, this is especially true in competitive markets of markets with comparable products. 

Emphasising benefits is important because consumers' decisions are generally driven by how they can solve their problems. This is arguably more important today with increasing expectations around personalised experiences and targeted messaging.

IN YOUR LATTICEWORK. 

This model obviously connects with marketing models such as the 4Ps of Marketing, but consider how you might combine it with other models such as Cialdini's Six Principles of Influence and even Minto's Pyramid as a means to quickly communicate value to diverse stakeholders. 

You might also want to consider the types of benefits you communicate on with an understanding of Hyperbolic Discounting and the Anchoring Heuristic

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Actionable takeaways
  • Understand how you currently describe your offer

Do you currently list features or benefits in your marketing material? Is your language generally descriptive of what you have created or does it speak to value for a target audience? What is the pay off from your products and services?

  • Focus on benefits for any initiative, presentation or project

This approach can be applied beyond marketing to any form of communication. Want your kids to brush their teeth? Rather than talking about brushing teeth in isolation, focus on not having the pain of fillings at their next visit to the dentist. Want to update an executive group on project progression? Rather than just describing milestone progression, focus on how your progress has helped solve problems they care about. 

  • Add ‘which gives you…’ or ‘so what’ statements to features

When refocusing on benefits, try taking a feature statement and adding the phrase: ‘which gives you…’ or asking ‘so what?’ These will assist you to develop narratives around benefits and customer value beyond the basic feature.  

  • Empathise with your customers 

Benefits can backfire if they do not target actual customer problems, pains and needs. Speaking to an irrelevant benefit is a risk that can be mitigated by empathising with and understanding your customers more deeply as well as fully testing your messaging.

  • Mix features with benefits when necessary

In some cases, persuasive messages require a combination of Features vs Benefits. Features can speak to specific points of difference while still tying them to a problem through benefits. 

Explore More
Features vs Benefits is featured in these Playbooks:
In Practice

Slack - killing meetings. 

Slack is now being challenged by Teams and other competitors but for a time was one of the fastest-growing platform solutions in the world. Rather than focusing on features, their marketing messages highlighted specific data on how companies who adopted their solution reduced emails and meetings — two huge pain points in the corporate world. 

iPod - 1,000s of songs. 

When iPods launched they famously avoided ads which emphasised their (at the time) impressive storage capacity. Instead, they focused on the opportunity to have ‘thousands of songs in your pocket’.

Unboxing videos

By contrast to the examples above, the growing popularity of unboxing videos on Youtube reflects an appetite for feature-focused discussions for some products.

Limitations

There are many variables to take into consideration when choosing between features and benefits to market your product: product type, market saturation, competition, the focus on customer relationship or on solving a customer’s problem, and so on. While leading with benefits is normally the correct play, there are exceptions, particularly for a highly informed consumer or highly competitive and consistent market.

Another limitation of this approach is the inherent risk of targeting benefits. A feature can potentially be interpreted by different audience segments with different needs — so several groups might find relevance and appeal in a feature. 

By contrast, a benefit tends to be a targeted message that can exclude as many people as it targets. This relates to the key takeaway of market research and understanding your audience. 

Build your latticework
This model will help you to:

Features vs benefits is a fundamental mental model in the field of marketing and communication. It can be used more broadly to influence and explain value in any context. 

Use the following examples of connected and complementary models to weave features vs benefits into your broader latticework of mental models. Alternatively, discover your own connections by exploring the category list above. 

Connected models: 

  • Cost-benefit analysis: in establishing the actual value for a customer or target group.
  • Opportunity cost: in establishing the next best value. 
  • Value proposition: providing clear benefits to customers. 
  • Personas: to fully understand your customers. 

Complementary models: 

  • Inversion: consider how to deliver pain or make a problem worse to test out the real value of a benefit.
  • The golden circle: identify the ‘why’ behind the features to solve underlying value-driven problems.
  • Red queen effect: competing on features alone is considered to be a ‘race to the bottom’, as it focuses on value and features. Benefits can provide a broader, sometimes emotional connection with new market opportunities.
  • Lock-in effect: how to reduce attrition by delivering on benefits. 
  • Diversification: testing whether a specific product feature can fulfil multiple benefits from diverse audience segments. 
  • The BCG growth-share matrix: when considering marketing and market share.
  • The 4Ps of marketing: when developing a marketing strategy.
  • A/B testing: to test hypotheses about possible benefits and marketing language.
Origins & Resources

The Features vs Benefits mental model has been a cornerstone of marketing conversations for decades. There are many useful articles in this space, we particularly enjoyed this one from Vappingo which outlines over 100 examples of features vs benefits.

My Notes

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