Benefits or Features?

We usually focus on benefits in our marketing communication. I think that’s often the right approach. But I found the following insightful:

From time immemorial we’ve been told that marketing is about holes, not drill bits. Benefits not features.

Well, whoever said that didn’t know any carpenters. The one thing they don’t need to hear about is holes. They’re experts. You sell them drill bits by talking shank and metal and size and spiral. That’s what they want to hear.

You and I know lots of carpenters, don’t we? We call them technology buyers. They’re bored (and bombarded) with talk about benefits and ecosystems and lifecycles. These are experts. They want to read about what your technology does, and how it does it.

My own experience tells me there’s something to this. When I buy a new phone, I want to know primarily about its features: How fast is the processor? How much RAM does it have? What size is the screen? How many pixels does the screen pack in? I don’t want a bunch of marketing-speak about how it will change my life. I already know the benefits of a smart phone. Give me features.

But I don’t think we should scrap benefits. It doesn’t have to be either-or. Benefits and features are both important. I wonder, though, if we don’t sometimes get their priority reversed. For the newbie, the focus on benefits is warranted. They’re not yet sold on the category of product you’re trying to sell them. The features don’t yet mean much to them. But for the expert, the benefits are less important. They already know them. They want to know about all the new bells and whistles the newest version has that their version is missing. Benefits don’t drive upgrade sales; features do.

Before we decide to apply the benefits-over-features rule, we need to identify the audience.

Here’s my proposal:

  • Newbies: focus on benefits primarily and features secondarily.
  • Experts: focus on features primarily and benefits secondarily.

What do you think? Is this a useful distinction?