Secrets of a Master:
Features and Benefits Made Eas(ier)

An aging copywriter is lying on his deathbed. Father McHoly gives him the last rites. "Father …" says the copywriter. (Cough, sputter.)

"Yes, my son," says the priest. "Something to confess?"

"No, Father," says the writer. (He can barely speak now.) "I have … a question."

He gestures for the priest to lean closer.

"Of God's existence? Of ultimate forgiveness?"

"No, no. It's just that (cough, sputter) … can you explain 'features and benefits' to me one last time?"

Hmm. Exactly.

Why it's so difficult to communicate the difference between features and benefits, I'm not sure. But I'll try …

A feature is what you can see, smell, hear, taste, or feel with your fingertips.

A quantity judgment, more or less. The kinds of details you'd find on a police report:

"Subject in question is a newsletter, printed on white paper, appears to be highly absorbent … "

A benefit is the above, but with quality judgments taken into account:

"Newsletter in question will increase your stock profits tenfold, is easy to read and even easier to follow, eliminates odors when lining bird cages …"

Copywriter Bob Bly has an exercise that's made the rounds a few times. He creates a chart with two columns. Features. Benefits.

Then he describers in the features column, all the material details you would use to describe a pencil. Rubber eraser. Graphite point. Octagonal shape. Wood body.

On the other side of the line, he lists the corresponding benefits of the pencil: Erase mistakes without tearing the page or leaving a mark. Sharpened point lets you write neatly and legibly. Never rolls off a desk. Going swimming? No problem – this pencil floats!

Clear yet?

Essentially, the benefit is the emotional bond your prospect has with whatever feature you've identified.

I can only guess that the real difficulty arises not because we're not nimble enough to see the differences above …

But because we're not always astute enough to see that the benefit one person sees in a certain feature is not necessarily the benefit someone else will see.

Allow me to illustrate with this story about "the fastest car I never drive" …

When I was 16, my mother agreed to loan me a small sum – at reasonable rates – to buy a used car.

I took her to see a 1967 red Pontiac GTO convertible. Hurst transmission. 392-cubic-inch Hemi engine. 366 horsepower. Extra-wide rear tires. $2,800 as is.

I drooled. She drained. We had different ideas, apparently, of the ideal car.

Benefits, my version: "Girl magnet convertible. Big tires for maximum burnin' of rubber at green lights. Huge engine. (Well, we all know what a huge engine implies, right?)"

Mom didn't see it that way.

Anti-benefits, her version: "Convertible = no head protection. What's a car need those big tires for? And huge engine? Well, I don't like what that implies."

Then the clincher …

The mechanic selling the car walked up and said, "You like her? Fastest car in Philadelphia, pal. Guy got a ticket just takin' her around the block last week!"

Needless to say, I didn't get the car. Instead, I drove our '74 Valiant for the next four years. But maybe I did learn a lesson. One I hope you're picking up too …

Translating features to benefits is a great exercise. In fact, it's probably THE great exercise of most selling. Look at the product. Make the feature list. And then start translating. That's the guts of your selling job right there.

But caveat emptor on this advice … if you haven't learned enough about your audience to figure out WHICH benefits and WHICH features to emphasize …

Well, you might have to start over.

But live and learn, right?

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: September 3, 2002

2 Responses to “Secrets of a Master: Features and Benefits Made Eas(ier)”

  1. I sympathize with the mechanic. I always misjudge what someone will consider to be a benefit.


  2. What a riot! I had such a good chuckle reading this.

    And yet it SO well illustrated the point.

    Thanks John!


Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)