We’re doing some minor house renovations at the moment and I can tell you, shopping for bathroom floor tiles was an eye-opener for me from a marketing point of view.

Every sales person I spoke to was able to rattle off a whole list of features about their bathroom tiles, and if they were unsure about anything they’d look it up in their Big Book of Specifications. They knew about the different colour tones, what country it was made in, how porous the tile was, whether it had a matt or gloss finish, the dimensions of the tile and the price per square metre.

What they almost all failed to tell me was the benefits of these particular features. I ended up choosing a pale grey tile in a matt finish, mainly because the colour matches the rest of our scheme and it fitted into our budget. What I didn’t realise (yes, I probably should have done some more research but I’m blaming the tile sales guy for not telling me!) is that a gloss finish makes the tile look shiny and clean all the time. A matt finish, I’ve found out, doesn’t, so my matt tiles look dull and dirty even when they’ve just been cleaned. If I had been told about the benefits of choosing a gloss tile over a matt tile I’d be a lot happier with my choice!

My point is, the features of a product are interesting, but without a benefit to go with them, they mean nothing to me.

This is a trap that’s easy for marketers, sales people and copywriters to fall into because it’s sometimes hard to distinguish between the two. There’s often a grey area where a feature can also be a benefit and vice versa. As a rule of thumb, the saying “features tell, benefits sell” is a good one to keep in mind.

  • Features are statements or facts about your product, such as what it can do, its dimensions and specs and so on. For the bathroom tiles, the features are the colour, the porosity, the finish and everything I mentioned earlier.
  • Benefits tell your audience why the product is the solution to a problem. They answer the ‘so what?’ question. These bathroom tiles have a gloss finish. So what? Well, it means they’re easy to clean and look nice and shiny all the time. That’s what’s going to benefit me, because I hate cleaning and these will make the cleaning job easier for me.

When it comes to selling your product or service, look at the list of features and keep asking yourself the ‘so what?’ question. The answer is usually the benefit. Sometime you’ll have to ask ‘so what?’ more than once to find the key benefits.

Just to confuse you a bit more, let’s throw a third possibility into the mix; advantages. These aren’t really features or benefits but sit somewhere in between. Let’s take a mobile phone with 4G internet connection as an example. A feature of the phone might be that is has super fast 4G internet connection. Great! But how does that benefit me? Well, it means I can access the internet faster. That’s good – that’s an advantage. But how does that benefit me? It means I can access the internet faster (and my apps, including my map app) when I’m lost and stuck in traffic and need directions right away! That’s the benefit to me.

Whilst highlighting the benefits is the key to selling a product or service, you have to highlight the right benefits – ones that are going to be beneficial to your target market. You can’t save the day if you don’t know what problems your audience is having. As a business owner, you should already know who your target audience is, so figure our how your product or service can help them solve the problems they face in life. The features of your product then need to back up the benefits and ‘prove’ the claims you’re making. The benefits won’t work as well on their own, so the two need to go hand in hand.

It takes time and patience to learn how to focus on selling the benefits vs. the features of your products or service. It took me a while to get my head around it. Try making a list of all the features of what you’re selling and keep asking yourself the ‘so what?’ question until you can’t answer it anymore.

There’s your benefits, and that’s what you need to focus on in the marketing process.