Why You Should Break the ‘2nd Commandment’ of Copywriting


Will Newman

The ‘2nd Commandment’ of Copywriting is to sell benefits not features. (The 1st Commandment is “know your prospect,” which we talked about last week.)

The driving force behind this idea is that people buy mostly for emotional rather than intellectual reasons. Benefits stir those emotions. The features of a product touch the intellectual part of your prospect’s buying decisions.

What do we mean by features and benefits?

Features relate directly to the product itself. They’re color, shape, and size. They’re things like the processing speed of the computer. The number of issues in a newsletter. The number of blades on a pocket knife. The size of a nutritional supplement capsule.

By themselves, features won't excite a prospect’s emotions.

That brings us to benefits. You can look at benefits as how various features impact your prospect’s life in positive ways. So the faster processing speed — a feature — lets the prospect finish his work faster so he can go play pool with his buddies — a benefit.

A financial advisory newsletter could have numerous benefits. The most superficial one is providing the prospect with sound investment advice. A deeper one would be freeing the prospect from worry about retirement.

We're going to talk about various levels of benefits and how to find them tomorrow.

But today, it’s all about how important features are.

If you’re selling in a Business-to-Consumer (B2C) market, you really must sell benefits first. But you must know the product’s features to understand what the benefits are.

If you're in the Business-to-Business (B2B) niche, your main focus should be on the product’s features, not benefits.

Finding the features of my product

Unfortunately, I can't give you a simple strategy for finding features. Features vary so tremendously from product to product that doing that’s impossible.

But … you should start at one place, particularly for a product you’re unfamiliar with. And that's your client.

A couple of weeks ago, we talked about how to talk with your client in the creative call. Yet unless you're dealing with a really complex product, I don't advise asking your client to list the features of his product.

However, you can ask for a datasheet or a product manual so you can discover those features on your own.

What if you're selling a nutritional supplement? What sort of datasheet could you get? Ask for a copy of the product label. This gives you the components of the supplement, their amounts, how often it has to be taken.

These are all features of a nutritional supplement. Certainly there are more features based on the individual components, but those you research on your own rather than bothering your client.

You can find other sources for features for products online. Search for that product or for ones similar to your product.

What if you're selling a newsletter? What are those features?

Well, this is one situation where asking your client directly can be effective. You want to know who the "guru" or editor is. Number of issues per year. Even the number of pages. Are there illustrations or photographs? Charts?

These are good general questions to ask your client. But be sure to ask her to send at least six sample issues to you. These samples can provide excellent guidance for your ultimate promotion.

As I said, tomorrow we’re going to discuss how to go from features to benefits.

And remember, if you're in B2B, your major focus must be on the features. You're much less concerned about touching emotional hot buttons than if you’re doing B2C. In B2B, your first appeal is to your prospect's logical brain.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on today’s article. Tell us by commenting below.

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: August 22, 2016

14 Responses to “Why You Should Break the ‘2nd Commandment’ of Copywriting”

  1. Hi Will. Thanks for this article.

    My one comment is on this (and similar) statements: "And remember, if you're in B2B, your major focus must be on the features."

    According to the B2B "Secrets" program and the accompanying instructor, B2B is more "equal parts" features and benefits, rather than heavily tilted to features. As a B2B writer, I agree. While B2B buyers look out for the company, they are always people, too. They may look out for the company's bottom line, but they also want a product that lets them make it home for dinner more often. :-)

    There are exception, of course. "Pure" data sheets are mostly features.

    Just my thoughts!
    - Les

    [FROM WILL: I can count on well-trained copywriters like you to keep me "honest." The Writer's Life has limited space, so it's often necessary to limit info in any one article. It's true that in B2B, you want to look at both features and benefits. But you'll seldom delve deeper t

    Les WorleyAugust 22, 2016 at 12:59 pm

  2. Can you give some suggestions for learning the features of a service? I'm working with a business coach and not sure how to figure out what the features are. As it's B2B it's important to get this right.
    Thanks!

    [FROM WILL: Specifics on this would depend on the service. For a business coach it would be things like how the contact is made (Skype, etc.), how often, special contact available, degrees earned, general types of clients, specific clients, endorsements, media appearances, article published. In other words, features that specify how the coach works and to a large degree, what distinguishes her/him as a coach.]

    jetAugust 22, 2016 at 1:12 pm

  3. great advice

    Guest (karl wagner)August 22, 2016 at 1:19 pm

  4. nice one,still planning on the move to be a copywriter. thanks

    Guest (mercy)August 22, 2016 at 1:22 pm

  5. I agree with you concerning features n benefits. I also like to add some exceptions. Like a car buff wanting to know the features of a car, in b2c sector. Or how a product can make a manager feel like he'll look good to his superiors in the b2b sector.

    Guest (Melvin)August 22, 2016 at 2:38 pm

  6. I couldn't agree more in this article. Knowing key details to your product can be a key factor to your success and marketing approach. I like the way you detailed what gainful information to acquire and develop from your product and how to do so.

    Guest (Violet Blanco)August 22, 2016 at 5:05 pm

  7. I have enrolled in AWAI's B2B program, and I promise to give it a short and see where it leads.

    Thanks wills

    Guest (wilfred)August 22, 2016 at 5:48 pm

  8. Hello Will:
    I look forward to receiving your emails. Every day I receive tons of emails but I always take the time to stop what I'm doing to read yours.
    Not only are they so well written but also they are so informative that I usually leave having learned something new.
    Thank you and best regards Hyacinth

    Guest (C Hyacinth Halstead)August 22, 2016 at 6:18 pm

  9. The deepest benefit(s) would apply to an ideal prospect...
    ...and so, all efforts to gather information must focus on that end.

    TerenceAugust 22, 2016 at 8:02 pm

  10. Hi Will, You are the master of the craft-a great copy writer. You have rightly observed that when writing for a product, don't press on features but on benefits. This is also true that benefits can be derived out of features. Features of the product provide you basic knowledge about how you can turn these features into benefits. So the idea firstly to get the features of the product and turn those features into benefits. Don't sell the steak, sell the sizzle. That is the answer.

    Guest (Mahesh Seelvi)August 23, 2016 at 3:57 am

  11. Hello, Will

    I stand corrected, but I recall reading that as B2B copywriters we need to promote both features and benefits, as they are the 2 pillars on which the art is built.

    I tend to agree with that view, too, because in order to get the desired sales, we have to appeal to the managers in charge (who become consumers), so we need to highlight the benefits as well.

    Those are just my thoughts. You are a great writer!

    EddixAugust 23, 2016 at 3:25 pm

  12. People simply are feeling creatures...

    Guest (BEAR )August 24, 2016 at 12:39 pm

  13. will, love your posts. I find so much insight from your articles pleas keep them coming.

    AngeloSeptember 6, 2016 at 10:51 pm


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)