I received a very thoughtful email from a reader of the March 14 post about features and benefits that I thought well worth sharing (with a bit of abridgment for space’s sake). My responses are in black.
I read your blog post [and] I understand and agree with your premise; however I felt you could have taken it further. The examples in the blog didn't connect for me. In order to work, the features being sold/promoted need to have a perceived benefit to the customer. Using a features/benefits filter is a great idea, but first you have to be clear on the customer viewpoint so you are able to identify the benefits to that customer . . .
. . . No one will ever totally nail how benefits are perceived by anyone because perceptions are fluid. Even within one individual, what are perceived as benefits will change from day to day. The goal is to do your best and keep trying to understand the needs and perceptions of your market. You do that by nurturing an on-going awareness of whom you’re serving.
Some choices, like fashion, may often be made emotionally. Others, like choosing a lawyer, are made to meet a perceived need.
Needs and emotions are not in separate categories; rather, they tend to feed and color each other. Many people view fashion purchases as needs-based. Even with something as apparently pragmatic as choosing a lawyer, the emotional component is still huge. Any time a person is choosing a professional service, the rapport between the client and the professional will be as crucial to the success of the process as the skill level of the professional.
It is a fine line that must be walked in tying the features to the benefits lest the customer feels his needs are not being heard and/or addressed because the "benefits" are being sold apart from the features - benefits not desired and/or viewed as false by the customer.
If you mean that benefits are often marketed with little or no basis in or relation to the product’s actual features, I would call that bad marketing. The ironic effect of bad marketing is that people will find out that much faster that the offering is crap. A sort of built-in karma.
Honest communication is the key, as I see it.
Absolutely. People in general are not stupid. Sooner or later charlatans will be exposed.
So I think it must be understood and acknowledged that customer-centric marketing as you define it, with the emphasis on benefits is potentially exclusionary - especially if benefits are pre-conceived and/or "targeted".
Emphasis on benefits is not exclusionary because the emphasis does not ignore features, but uses them as a basis for asserting benefits. When people read a list of features, they subconsciously interpret the features into their own internal list of benefits – how they perceive what’s in it for them (self-interest). Benefit-centric marketing does this for the customer and brings the benefits up to consciousness. Often features are used to bolster the assertions of what the benefits are. You can’t really make a strong case for benefits without referring to the features.
And on that note, I’d like to share a great quote from David H. Sandler I ran across that neatly sums the subject up: “People buy on emotion, then justify with logic.”