When Selling Gets Personal

Pushing the intangible benefits
Magazine Contributor
4 min read

This story appears in the February 2001 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

What's the difference between buying a Ford and buying a Jaguar? Presumably, both will get you from point A to point B. But when you buy a Jaguar (or any luxury car) and park it in your driveway, it conveys an image of status-an often unspoken, though important, intangible benefit marketed to buyers of luxury cars.

Intangible benefits can be powerful motivators because they appeal to customers' emotional needs and desires. When formulating marketing strategies, entrepreneurs often focus on the concrete, tangible benefits, such as money saved or convenient delivery, yet overlook the intangible benefits, which sometimes carry greater weight.

What They Want Most

Imagine that you're the owner of a company that provides communications networking solutions to midsized companies, and you're developing a new company brochure. Your brochure should include a description of all the tangible benefits your corporate prospects might reap by hiring your firm, such as increased sales thanks to better communication with customers. But unless the brochure also addresses the intangible benefits your service will give the primary decision-maker (the IT manager or chief information officer), your brochure is bound to fall flat.

Take into account, for example, that when your company performs well by carrying through on its promised tangible benefits, the IT manager will look good to his or her bosses and co-workers, possibly getting raises and promotions as a result. Your brochure copy should convince the IT manager that he or she will enjoy peace of mind knowing you'll carry out your promises, thereby making your firm a safe and career-enhancing choice.

Peace of mind and enhanced status are just two intangible benefits widely used to market products and services around the world. Another hugely popular intangible benefit is the way products make users feel. Case in point: the cosmetics industry. The late Charles Revson, founder of Revlon, is reported to have said, "In the factories, we make cosmetics. In the stores, we sell hope." A cosmetic may or may not make a woman look beautiful, but it can certainly make her feel beautiful.

Beauty marketing knows no bounds: At the high end, stores like Bergdorf Goodman sell 1.36-ounce jars of face cream for $500. Then there are the newly affordable day spas that have sprung up nationwide to offer full-day pampering. Here, the marketing goal is to promise tangible benefits, such as reduced wrinkles or inches, while conveying the intangible benefits-the feelings of confidence and enhanced self-image these products and services may bring.

Make an Emotional Appeal

To increase the success of your own marketing materials, include intangible benefits that appeal to the emotions of your key decision-makers. For example, expand beyond the tangible benefits of making or saving money to include benefits that zero in on how your products or services will help your customers look and feel good-whether to their bosses for professional performance, their neighbors or their sweethearts.

Suppose you own an 11-year-old ac-counting firm that specializes in tax and estate planning for individuals and businesses. The tangible benefit of hiring your firm is clear: Thanks to your 11 years of experience, you know the tax codes and all the legal deductions available and will make fewer mistakes. As a consequence, your clients will benefit by saving money on their taxes. What is the intangible benefit to be gained from your experience, which spans more than a decade? Beyond saving your clients money, knowing you'll make fewer mistakes will allow them to enjoy peace of mind. Whether you own an accounting firm or a sky-diving school, clients and customers will appreciate your putting their safety and well-being first. And your marketing materials should place those benefits front and center.

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