So now that you understand the difference between features and benefits, how do you apply this to your own business so you can start marketing your benefits? The three-step solution is one you probably already know. As a matter of fact, you'll probably slap your forehead and groan.
1. Know your customer. To know your customer, you must gather as much information as humanly possible on each market segment. You have to gather demographic data (age, sex, household income, family size, number of credit cards, media preferences and so on) and psychographic data (value system, primary hot button, behavioral style, response mechanisms, fears, passions and so on).
You can get much of the demographic data from studying your present customers. (If you haven't had any customers yet, this emphasizes the importance of selecting a narrow target market to explore.) You can probably guess their age and health from their appearance, their family and marital situation from their conversations, their economic level from the way they dress and their behavior, and so on.
Psychographic data is a little more difficult. Small businesses rarely have the resources to collect or purchase comprehensive data of this sort, but you can gather some from observation and extrapolate more. For example, finding out what kind of car a person drives and what kind they wish they had will tell you much about what they value. If they drive a station wagon and long for a red convertible, then you could presume that they fantasize about freedom and lack of responsibility. If you know they prefer classical and jazz to pop or country, they may consider themselves apart from the crowd or they have a broad background. These aren't surefire assumptions, but when you put together a number of such facts, it's possible to derive a reasonably accurate picture of what motivates an individual.
2. Change your point-of-view. Whenever you function from your own point of view, you automatically fill in the blanks with assumptions. Unfortunately, prospects can't do that. No matter what type of business you have, you're bound to think it's great because you fully understand what you're offering. But a prospect knows little or nothing about your offerings. That's why they can't make the same connections about it that you can.
Your demographic and psychographic information will allow you to discover what patterns exist among your customers. Using that information, you must learn to put yourself in their shoes as the buyer. Approach your own product or service as if you'd never seen it. Then ask yourself-and anyone else who will answer-"What results will that feature bring me?" and "Why would I want to consider buying or switching change?
3. Think in terms of results. There's nothing wrong with the term "benefits," but if you refocus the problem to think in terms of "results," the situation becomes clearer. Your dilemma isn't features vs. benefits, but rather features vs. results. Start with your current features, and then take each one into the results phase. When you ask yourself "What results to I get from the speed dial feature?" the answer isn't "I only have to push one or two buttons," but rather "I don't have to scramble for my Rolodex or Palm, look up a number, punch it in, and risk misdialing." Then, just to be sure, take the results one more step: "And I don't have to waste time on these tasks while I'm trying to meet a deadline!" Try out what you get on a few current customers to see which ones spark their interest.
When you use this "results" approach to discovering your business' benefits, you can be sure the marketing messages you use to reach your prospects will be right on target. And that's the surest way to get business!
Laura Clampitt Douglas, CEO of MAX International Converters Inc. and president of Small Business Marketing Analysis, has been providing valuable advice to small and homebased businesses for more than 15 years. She is co-author of the bestselling book Getting Business to Come to Youand gives speeches and seminars on marketing at conferences nationwide.