Whenever I’m looking to take on a trainee copywriter, one of the tasks I always set is the same. It’s designed to see if the writer is able to turn features into benefits.
On the face of it seems a very simple exercise…
And frankly, it is.
But it reveals something about a writer that very quickly shows me if they have this skill that I’ve found to be almost inherent in successful copywriters.
You probably have it too:
The ability to understand the advantage of benefits over features when it comes to selling any product or service.
You see, I ask all potential interviewees to write a 500 word piece of copy that attempts to sell me either a suit or an HB pencil.
Doesn’t sound too difficult, does it?
It’s not really.
In fact, most people do it in a very similar way. Instances of the task being handled in a truly original way are few and far between.
But that’s not the point…
Really I’m looking for one thing – does the writer rely solely on features to ‘sell me’ or is there some evidence that, on a subconscious level at least, they’re thinking about the benefits those features might afford me.
It’s incredibly interesting to see how people handle it and you’d be surprised how well it works as a litmus test for how successful a trainee copywriter could become.
But hey, you’ve heard it before, right? This talk of features and benefits?
It’s a copywriting concept that goes back decades. You’ll find it discussed in books by David Ogilvy, by Eugene Schwartz, as far back as Hopkins too.
You go to any copywriting event today and you should see it on the agenda. If you don’t, ask for your money back.
Seriously. This is ‘Copywriting 101’ stuff. And sure, it’s obvious. But my god, it’s so ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL that it’s worth discussing on a regular basis.
In fact, if you only ever learn one thing about copywriting… learn the importance of using benefits over features.
I can hear you shouting “I’ve got you, Glenn. I’ve got you. I already got it covered, man.” If you have, then great.
Still, I’d rather be safe than sorry. Just in case.
I mean, call me paranoid, but I can’t help pick up sales letters, glimpse at print ads and drive past billboards on a regular basis and notice features being used to sell instead of benefits.
Someone out there isn’t getting the message.
The eternal difference between features and benefits
For those ruffians at the back, let us recap exactly what the difference is between features and benefits, and then we’ll also look at something you can do to make your benefits even more effective.
Let’s take the pencil as an example…
One feature of a pencil is that it has a graphite nib.
One benefit of such a feature is that you can easily erase any mistakes you make. This is harder to do with an ink pen.
Even in this basic example you can already see that describing a benefit makes the pencil immediately more attractive to a potential buyer.
It’s not rocket science, you’re just making life easier for the customer: rather than having to figure out the benefit themselves (and therefore running the risk they might NOT figure it out), you spell out the benefit.
And indeed, that’s the minimum you must do when it comes to copywriting – turn features into benefits.
But there’s much more you can do…
Charge your benefits with an emotional narrative
Now, the fact you can easily erase your mistakes is a benefit, but it’s still not the easiest thing for a customer to connect with. Often basic benefits like this are things we take for granted.
So, to really connect with potential customers, you need to take your benefits to another level…
You need to charge them with an emotional narrative.
In our example, you might speak about the day of an exam and the fact that the student has been studying for this moment all year…
As the clock ticks down, the student sits back and relaxes, happy they’ve completed the exam. They start to imagine life after this, all the things they’ll achieve…
But then they panic!
They remember question four and realise they’ve entered the wrong answer.
There are only a few seconds left, but thanks to the fact they used a pencil… the student is able to quickly erase it and rewrite the correct answer!
A week later the student is celebrating in a bar having received their results that morning. They scraped the highest grade by a single mark; the answer they were able to erase and correct made all the difference.
It’s a crude example, but you can see what I mean.
The little old feature has come a long way, right? Originally it was just a graphite nib, but now it’s the difference between passing and failing an exam.
People rarely buy features. And neither do they always buy benefits.
What people really want to buy are narratives.
I mean, you don’t buy Maserati just because it has powerful engine (a feature), nor do you really buy it because it’s fast (a benefit). Most sports cars are fast. No, people buy a Maserati because – for them – it’s charged with an emotional narrative of wealth and success.
So, when it comes to your own copy…
First make sure you’re not trying to sell something on its features alone. Think about the benefits those features will afford the customer and sell them on those instead.
Once you’ve got that sorted and you feel comfortable with your benefits, try to charge them with an emotional narrative. Think beyond the benefit alone. Ask yourself how that benefit could change someone’s life.
Do that and you’ll soon see your copy stand out above everyone else’s.