Position For Profits

To strengthen your marketing materials, sell benefits, not features.
This story appears in the February 1998 issue of Startups. Subscribe »
Reader Resource

Position yourself for growth in 2017—join us live at the Entrepreneur 360 Conference in Long Beach, Calif. on Nov. 16. Secure Your Seat »

Here's a tiny fact that can have an enormous impact on your bottom line: There's a major difference between what you're selling and what your customers are buying.

"In the factories, we make cosmetics; in the stores, we sell hope," Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, is reported to have said. He understood that while he was selling blush, powder and mascara, what really mattered to his customers was how those products made them feel. Revson was marketing the idea of beauty.

Features are the characteristics of your product or service--or your company itself. Benefits are what your customers will derive by using those features. No advertisement, brochure or direct mailing can be successful unless it goes beyond features and addresses the benefits your customers will enjoy by choosing to work with you, so it's vital to identify those benefits and make them the crux of your company's message.

Everywhere you look, companies and their products are positioned with benefits. M&M's, for example, are essentially chocolates covered with candy shells. Those are the features of the product. Anyone who watches television is familiar with the benefit of the candy shell that Mars Inc., the maker of M&M's, has been communicating for years: "M&M's melt in your mouth, not in your hand."

Benefits may be tangible or intangible, like Revson's, and relate to feelings and emotions. What's the difference between buying a Chevrolet and buying a BMW? Each car will get you from point A to point B. But when you park the BMW in your driveway, it communicates a message of status, an intangible benefit conferred on the luxury car owner.

Let's say, for example, you're selling a computer system to a midlevel manager in a major corporation. And let's suppose your system is put in place in several divisions within the corporation, where it performs superbly. Thanks to his decision to purchase your system, the manager will reap an intangible benefit by looking good to his own superiors. Perhaps he'll get a raise, expand his department and increase his power within the organization. In other words, the middle manager will enhance his position due to the performance of your company.

Here's an easy exercise I've created to help you determine your own company's tangible and intangible benefits. The goal is to create a single "benefit statement" that will be the starting point for all your sales and marketing messages.

1. Draw a vertical line down the center of a piece of paper. On the left, put the heading "Features." On the right, put the heading "Benefits."

2. List all the features of your company and its products or services down the left-hand side of the page. There may be as many as 25 or more. Features may relate to price, convenience, location, customer service policies, your educational background, awards, billing practices, length of time in business, delivery practices and all the special characteristics of your products and services.

3. In the right-hand column, begin translating groups of features into benefits. Benefits always answer the prospect's question, "What's in it for me?"

As many as six or eight features may all translate into a single benefit, such as saving money, making money or enhancing the buyer's status. For example, if one of the features you've listed is "free delivery," two benefits to your customers would be "saving time" and "saving money."

4. Look over your list of benefits and put them together into a single sentence that begins with the name of your company and states what your customers will receive when they select you. For example: "Clients of Compton Computing enjoy a guaranteed reduction in network costs, savings in personnel and worry-free operating systems."

To position your company with benefits, put this new benefit statement to use in everything from brochures, sales letters and ads to telephone calls with prospects.

Trump Cards

A terrific business card is an essential tool no business owner can afford to be without. It should contain the vitals: your name and title, company name, address, telephone and fax numbers, e-mail address and a logo.

But beware of adding too much information, cautions James Vail, president of the International Thermographers Association in Lakewood, Colorado. "If it gets too billboard-like, it detracts from your professionalism," he says.

When you visit your neighborhood printer, ask to see a business-card catalog. These are supplied by wholesalers, who offer lots of options, including logos and two-color and raised printing, at more affordable rates than if your printer creates custom cards in-house.

There are four primary considerations when ordering a business card:

  • Weight. Most business cards are printed on 80-pound cover stock.
  • Finish. Of the three available--smooth, linen and laid--the smooth finish is the most popular.
  • Color. Right now, two-color cards predominate. If you're selecting from a catalog, there are between five and 15 standard colors to choose from. If you have another ink color in mind, your printer can show you a Pantone Matching System book, which includes every shade under the sun.
  • Quantity. It generally pays to print more cards rather than fewer, because the printer's cost is primarily in the setup.

Even the paper you choose can communicate something about your business. Joe Sander, president of Business Cards Tomorrow in St. Louis, has a bright idea. "You can get everything from a paper with a wood grain, which makes a strong impression for a carpenter or home builder," he says, "to fluorescent-colored paper, which would be great for a rock band."

Contact Sources

Business Cards Tomorrow, 10223 Bach Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63132, (314) 427-4777

International Thermographers Association, 2490 Kipling St., Lakewood, CO 80215, (303) 232-8886

Edition: October 2016

Get the Magazine

Limited-Time Offer: 1 Year Print + Digital Edition and 2 Gifts only $9.99
Subscribe Now