Look Before You Leap

Benefits, Not Features

The benefits of a product are all-important--I should say the perceived benefits are all-important. Calvin Klein isn't selling perfume. He's selling sex. Year after year, Coca-Cola's advertising drummed variations of the word refresh--refreshes, refreshing, refreshed, refreshment--into the American psyche. Coke owned a benefit that almost all of us feel a need for from time to time.

One of the most common mistakes marketers make is that they communicate the features of a product rather than the benefits. Imagine the results if Coke's advertising slogan had been "the pause that's cold and wet" rather than "the pause that refreshes."

A feature is something that the folks in the research and development department get excited about. A benefit is something that excites the buyer. A feature is what a product does; a benefit is what a product does for me.

British comedian John Cleese made a training film for salespeople that illustrates the folly of trying to sell features rather than benefits. Cleese portrays a surgeon who is explaining an upcoming procedure to an anxious patient lying in a hospital bed.

"Have I got an operation for you," Cleese begins eagerly. "Only three incisions and an Anderson slash, a Ridgeway stubble-side fillip and a standard dormer slip! Only five minutes with the scalpel; only thirty stitches! We can take out up to five pounds of your insides, have you back in your hospital bed in 75 minutes flat, and we can do 10 of them in a day.

"Shall I put you down for three?"

Cleese's surgeon has a demonstrably superior product. He's talking to a customer who is interested in what it could do for him. But all the customer discovers is that after a gory surgical procedure, he'll be right back where he started. In the hospital bed. What he wants to know is when he'll be playing golf again.

Put your customers on the golf course.

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This article was originally published in the April 1998 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Look Before You Leap.

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