It has become a pragmatic orthodoxy in content marketing that the best copy emphasises the underlying benefits of a product or service over features. But is this a universally applicable law? It usually applies, but there are circumstances when it doesn’t. Let’s look at why.
Seasoned direct-response copywriter Clayton Makepeace once explained that it’s all too easy to inadvertently promote spurious benefits (i.e., product features masquerading as benefits) – an error that will kill sales copy stone dead.
He cites this example of a headline: “Flush Deadly Toxins Out Of Your Colon!”
Makepeace suggests applying his “forehead slap” test: when have you ever leapt out of a warm bed in the morning to exclaim, “I’ve just got to flush some deadly toxins out of my colon?”
Our bet is never.
The real benefit that’s being completely overlooked is that the product may help prevent the discomfort and distress of constipation or gut-cramping diarrhoea, or the onset of life-altering colonic diseases.
Veteran copywriter Brian Mark recently advocated a four-step process to help content creators avoid the pitfalls of mistaking features (objective facts about a product) for benefits (the end result that the features will deliver – what most prospects are interested in):
- Itemise every product/service feature in a list.
- Ask yourself why each of these features is needed in the first place.
- Now supplement your “why” question with a “how” question: how will this link up with the prospect’s desires?
- Whittle down until you’ve got the elemental nugget of what’s in it for the prospect at an emotional level – that’s your headline.
Let’s say you’re marketing a “read later” app. Its principal feature is an artificial intelligence-powered algorithm. The “why” is the improved usefulness to the customer arising from its ability to adapt and customise to the customer’s interests. The “how” (does it benefit the customer) resides in its ability to keep the data that most interests them at the forefront when they’re in a rush. The emotional nugget? As Mark puts it: “Stay up-to-date on the things that add value to your life and career, without getting stressed out from information overload.”
The exception to the rule that we noted earlier comes when you’re engaging in B2B marketing, where the features will have greater appeal: customers often desire things, while businesses need things, and they will be far more interested in the objective facts about the product you’re promoting.