You Want Them to Buy? Sell Benefits

  |  April 9, 2001   |  Comments

To sell, you must appeal to what motivates people. Use words that evoke, not words that baffle. In other words, translate features, which appeal to the intellect, into benefits, which appeal to the emotions.

So you're the biggest, the best, the fastest, the first? So what. Big deal. How do you know if any of that answers the question your customer is asking, "What's in it for me?" (WIFM).

"Features versus benefits" is Marketing 101. But as I look around the Web, I wonder if anybody heard that through their college-day hangovers. Very few people even talk about benefits, much less make the effort to get really good at translating features into benefits. Yet power-packed words describing benefits are what trigger the emotions that motivate us to spend our money, time, or energy. People (including you and me) buy because of the positive emotions associated with the benefits.

"The 2001 model has a 220-horsepower V8 engine, antilock brakes, traction control, automatic safety restraint system, and both front- and side-impact airbags." This statement may excite some of you out there, but the average consumer (and by "average consumer" I also mean "most of them") is lost after the word "model." Speak to consumers in their language: "This car has a very powerful engine, so it won't need to work as hard as one with a smaller engine. You'll find it a pleasure to own, especially when you want to merge or pass. The extra power will also help you avoid obstacles and quickly get you and your family out of harm's way, while the extra safety features ensure you're all safe and secure. And it's great fun to drive!"

Here's another example: "This ring features a 1.4 carat, pear-shaped cut white diamond with an SI1 clarity grade and an H color rating." Huh? Unless you're a gemologist or you understand the four Cs (cut, color, clarity, and carat weight), that's just gibberish. Here is what might sell diamonds better: "Imagine that special evening when you gently slip this on her finger and stare intensely into her eyes. She peers at this symbol of your devotion, the promise of your future together, and tears begin to glisten. An adoring smile spreads across her face, and at that moment your love is sealed forever."

Would it be indelicate to ask that gentleman if he cared about the four Cs the next morning?

Focus on emotions, not intellect. Emotions are the gateway to making a buying decision. Zig Ziglar, a world-renowned sales trainer, explains, "People usually buy on emotion and then they justify it with logic." Therefore, appeal to their emotions first and foremost. Benefits are the language of emotion. Features are the language of logic. Even people who insist they buy logically or based on features do so because that's what makes them feel better.

One of the common problems companies have translating their product or service features into benefits is that they are "looking at the label from the inside of the bottle," in the words of best-selling author and ad guru Roy H. Williams. In other words, because they know too much about their businesses, they often assume that others, too, not only want to know them but also should know them. These companies spend time (and money) "assuming" and "shoulding" all over themselves.

How does one get out of this thought trap? I thought you'd never ask. Here is a process to use to identify benefits.

Products' attributes usually have four principal levels:

  • Features -- what products have. For example, "This application is able to handle multiple users concurrently."

  • Advantages -- what features do. For example, "This application provides essential information in real time."

  • Benefits -- what features mean. For example, "This information will allow your managers to keep their fingers on the company's financial pulse at all times."

  • Motives -- what features satisfy. For example, "This feature will provide cost-savings, control, and efficiency."

List all of the features of your product or service, including standard, technical, supportive, and abstract features. For each feature, develop a subsequent list of relative advantages, then list benefits, and finally motives.

I'll close this article with a simple question: Would you prefer to read an article that will provide you with data on sales, marketing, usability, consumer psychology, and Web site design, or one that can actually show you how to increase online sales?

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Bryan Eisenberg

Bryan Eisenberg is coauthor of the Wall Street Journal, Amazon, BusinessWeek, and New York Times bestselling books "Call to Action," "Waiting For Your Cat to Bark?," and "Always Be Testing." Bryan is a professional marketing speaker and has keynoted conferences globally such as SES,, Direct Marketing Association, MarketingSherpa, Econsultancy, Webcom, SEM Konferansen Norway, the Canadian Marketing Association, and others. In 2010, Bryan was named a winner of the Direct Marketing Educational Foundation's Rising Stars Awards, which recognizes the most talented professionals 40 years of age or younger in the field of direct/interactive marketing. He is also cofounder and chairman emeritus of the Web Analytics Association. Bryan serves as an advisory board member of SES Conference & Expo, the eMetrics Marketing Optimization Summit, and several venture capital backed companies. He works with his coauthor and brother Jeffrey Eisenberg. You can find them at

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