Lesson 15: How to write your features & benefits
All about, yeap, features & benefits
Here’s a common, twofold mistake that I see marketers making:
They write a conversational piece of copy that clearly goes through all the benefits of their offering. But they don’t give any explanation of how those benefits happen.
They write a conversational piece of copy that clearly goes through all the features of their offering. But they don’t give any reasons for why those features matter.
To you, with your knowledge of your offering, the “how” of the benefits or the “why” of the features are entirely obvious.
But to Sam they are opaque. Unexplained, the exact vision of how your offering will improve his life remains murky. And that prevents him from buying.
He lacks information. He lacks clarity.
Here’s an example: Imagine you’re talking about how your home study course will teach Sam to hack his neighbor’s wireless network in 2 hours. (For example!) The reason he can learn this so quickly is that the course actually teaches him how to operate a bundled, automated software utility. This software does the actual grunt work of breaking into the network.
Simply talking about how Sam will be wirelessly checking Facebook in 2 hours even though his ISP suspended his internet won’t give him the kind of clarity he needs. Even though he wants this benefit, and even though you may furnish plenty of proof — testimonials or case studies or whatever — he still just doesn’t see how it’s possible.
Alternatively, just talking about the automated utility in detail, relating each feature back to a corresponding element of wireless network security, will show him that hacking is possible — but he won’t understand how it is possible for him, since he doesn’t understand it.
To achieve clarity, both the benefit and the feature must be explained — and then their relationship.
Talk about benefits first
It’s easy to talk about features before drawing out the benefits. In fact, this is probably your natural impulse, because we tend to work from the objective to the subjective when describing things.
If you know your offering well, that’s the natural order to take.
But Sam is only interested in the features inasmuch as they create benefits for him. This means that he really doesn’t care about any given feature unless he already knows why it matters. He wants to read about features because he wants proof of the benefits you’re offering. So the logical order for the copy to follow is to tell him about the subjective benefits he gets, and then back them up with objective facts to substantiate them.
Talk about the benefits first, then clarify them with reference to features.
Obviously there are exceptions to this rule. A lot of technical B2B prospects know exactly what features they’re looking for, and want to see them tabulated nicely. But that’s because they already know the benefits. This illustrates the importance of having a clear idea of Sam’s reasons for being on your page. You must know how “advanced” he is, so you can match your presentation to his knowledge.
There are basically three ways to present features and benefits in your copy...
1. Use a table to match up features & benefits
This is useful if you’re not sure exactly where Sam is at, or if you have different kinds of customers who are all interested in the same thing. By using a table you add clarity in a way that targets any customer — if Sam is looking for specific features, he can scan down the appropriate column; conversely, if he is looking for benefits, that’s easy to follow as well:
2. Basic bullet lists
Often a table can be a bit clunky, and it’s not necessarily what you want. If your features and benefits are fairly concise, bullets can be a good alternative. They allow you to link features and benefits more seamlessly and conversationally, while still being very scannable:
Peace of mind that your data won’t disappear if your connection drops, thanks to the persistent asynchronous database connection and local storage backup.
Better color reproduction for print work because of the advanced In-Plane Switching technology (IPS) — the crystal molecules in the display move parallel to the panel plane instead of perpendicular, reducing the amount of light scattering in the matrix.
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Notice that I included the acronym for IPS in case Sam is looking for it, but isn’t aware of what it stands for. More information means less likelihood of him missing something important.
3. Subheads & paragraphs
If some of your features and benefits require more space to explain, it’s a good idea to use normal subheads and paragraphs. Even if some are quite short, organizing them all in the same way means greater clarity — Sam can tell at a glance where they all begin and end. If you mix up tables, bullets, and paragraphs, it gets confusing, and remember, confusion is the conversion-killer.
That said, if your benefits are written in paragraph style, don’t be afraid to use bullets within them, just as you would in any other piece of copy:
A follow-the-numbers guide for the next 5–7 steps to take in your marketing
In the third part of the consultation, once we’ve gathered the information we need, I help you crystalize exactly what objective to focus on to get an immediate boost in sales. We then plan out the precise steps you should take to achieve this goal — including:
The expected timeframes for each
What deliverables or outcomes each should produce
The tools you’ll need to achieve these (especially in cases where you’ll need to use an online service)
The likely cost of each step once everything is added up
How each step will lead into the next, and why
Once you understand the basic principles and structure of features and benefits, writing them is pretty straightfoward. So let’s talk about doing that.
Refer to the list from lesson #13 so you know what to write about, and in what order.
Use the first brainstorm from lesson #14 to ensure that you’re describing the right benefits — the things that Sam is emotionally invested in.
Use the second brainstorm from lesson #14 to ensure that your features are as clear as possible — that if they are complex or technical, you help Sam understand (and thus believe) by explaining them with analogies and metaphors.
If possible, work in testimonials or brief stories to illustrate how the features turn into benefits. This works best with the subhead-and-paragraph format; I wouldn’t use bullets. If you’re using a table, you can talk about these examples underneath.
Remember to write by talking. If you can, record yourself telling your friend about these features and benefits, then transcribe the recording to use as a base. (You won’t have to do this forever — after a while you will start to pick up the patterns of conversational copy, and it will become natural to write that way.)