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Features vs. Benefits: How to Leverage Them Both and Create Messaging That Your Competitors Envy

No matter how experienced you are as a product marketer, one aspect of the role that’s often a challenge is properly conveying the difference between features and benefits.

You yourself may see the dividing line very clearly—it’s getting others up to speed that causes friction. And when it comes to creating messaging that speaks to features and benefits, it’s important to know how to speak to each, when to speak to each, and what specific nuances make these closely related aspects of your product so crucial.

If you look outside your four walls, it’s easy to see that each product in your vertical is equipped with its own set of features and benefits. Some of them are unique; some overlap with your own. Some aren’t entirely obvious, and thus require coaxing on behalf of the brand in order to break through to the customer.

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It’s for that reason that this challenge keeps product marketers awake at night. It’s on the basis of features and benefits that you differentiate your product from its alternatives in the market. More critically, it’s on the basis of features and benefits that your company builds a sustainable competitive advantage. 

In this post, we’ll underscore the fundamental differences between features and benefits. Then, we’ll discuss when and how to leverage that knowledge in order to tell customers exactly why your product is better than the rest.

Features vs. benefits: What’s the difference?

Experienced product marketers already know the difference between a feature and a benefit. But in order to get others to understand the nuances, we first must articulate the basics.

A feature is something the product does. HubSpot’s email marketing tool automatically inserts recipients’ first names into the beginning of messages.

A benefit is something the product enables the user or consumer to do. HubSpot’s email marketing tool enables you to personalize your outreach while saving time and energy.

While this difference seems fairly elementary, in the minds of consumers—and often your colleagues—features and benefits often get confused. It’s all too easy to set out promoting benefits and end up promoting functionality. The reason? While product marketers have a tendency to keep the end user front-and-center, brand and growth marketers predominantly focus on themselves and the nuts-and-bolts of the solution that their company brings to market. As a result, they end up “forgetting” about the end user—and, in the B2B case, the end user’s boss.

Expounding benefits is an inherently customer-focused process. It requires brands to (1) think deeply about either the consumer lifestyles (B2C) or business processes (B2B) of their target markets and (2) determine how their products make those lifestyles or processes better.

Because of their customer-focused bent, benefits enable the marketer to speak directly to their target audience. This is, naturally, a big advantage: The customer is going to be thinking about themselves first and foremost when they’re shopping in your market. They want to know how your product will make their lives easier—how it will relieve their pain points

The goal is to get customers to engage with your product first. If you can craft compelling messaging that speaks directly to those points, they’ll do just that.

The B2B case: Speaking to the uneducated prospect

Let’s talk about a specific advantage that benefits hold over features: speaking and appealing to the uneducated prospect.

Consider the following example. Let’s say you work for a SaaS company that sells chatbot solutions. A prospect in your target market is running a free trial of your competitor’s software, and they’ve come to find its machine learning capabilities too limited when understanding and communicating with visitors on their company’s homepage. Accordingly, they head to their favorite search engine and enter the query “best chatbot software.”

Thanks to your demand gen team, they’re greeted by an ad for one of your tools. Prominently featured in this ad is a reference to, well, a feature: “Uses machine learning.”

Now—because this particular prospect is already acquainted with chatbot software, this feature may be enough to encourage them to click on your ad, head to your product page, sign up for a demo, and ultimately, switch to your product. The feature-focused messaging resonates because they already understand the business benefit that the feature would offer to them. In their minds, it could be one-in-the-same.

But what if you were catching this prospect on their first foray into chatbots? What if they didn’t know that machine learning is something they need? 

In that case, a benefit would almost certainly prove more effective—something like “Increase conversion rates on your product pages,” or “Drive more revenue through conversations.” The uneducated prospect, generally speaking, is more interested in how your product helps them than specifics about how your product functions.

The B2C case: Feature or benefit—which is appropriate?

Let’s move on to a B2C example. Say your company sells a decorative patio accessory that repels mosquitoes, and a prospect finds your online store through a link on a home & garden blog.

This person is still in the research stage of their customer journey: They didn’t realize they needed mosquito repellant prior to reading this blog post. Up until this point, they thought bug spray was sufficient. Little did they know, your product eliminates the need for bug spray, adheres to eco-friendly standards, blends into existing patio decor, and repels mosquitos for up to 300 feet.

The prospect finds all this information on your product page. Which message do they find the most compelling? To the uneducated consumer—someone who detests bug spray because it gets in their eyes when they sweat—the fact that your product eliminates the need for bug spray is a completely novel benefit that they can’t ignore.

But what if they were a bit further along in their research? What if they already knew they wanted this type of accessory? Well, the fact that your product features a 300-foot repellant radius, while your competitor’s only works up to 150 feet, may be the most compelling message.

Now, we should clarify: The degree to which a prospect understands your product or vertical does not define whether they’ll be most compelled by a feature or benefit. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to messaging; it’s a nuanced challenge that requires, as we mentioned at the start of this post, deep critical thinking.

And that’s just the point: As a growth marketer or a product marketer—and whether you’re B2C or B2B—you should always be thinking about where your prospect is in their customer journey, which segment of your target audience they belong to, and what goal you’re trying to achieve with a given campaign or conversation.

Is it a remarketing campaign targeted at cart abandoners? Is it a cold email that you’re drafting for your sales team? What message does this prospect need to hear to get them engaged, move them through the funnel, or nudge them over the edge?

Messaging to win

Now, let’s get to the crux of this post: Your features and benefits are only as good as they are better than the competition’s.

Does that mean you should focus so intensely on what your competitors are doing that you lose sight of what makes your product the best solution? Certainly not. But it’s impossible to see the market through the eyes of your customer unless you maintain a 360-view of the competitors around you. Here at Crayon, we’d contend that’s a far more prevalent problem than over-emphasis on the competition. 

Good news: You don’t need to start from scratch. Your competitors have given you a wealth of features and benefits to use as models in your own messaging. You can repurpose them, you can improve them, but whatever you do, you’d better beat them. Because if your competitor is the darling of your industry, and—to use an earlier example—their product repels mosquitoes for up to 150 feet, you better believe that 300-foot radius is a feature that’s going to win you business.

How to communicate winning features & benefits

The path to victory is clear—but how to embark on it? Competitive intelligence (CI) is the key.

Within the CI umbrella, battlecards are a great place for B2B marketing teams to anchor their competitive messaging efforts. Battlecards outline (amongst other things) the relevant features and benefits of each of your competitors so your sales team can speak to how yours stack up.

For example: If you’re selling hockey sticks wholesale, and a prospect asks a member of your sales team how your stick’s durability matches up to that of a competitor stick, your salesperson can quickly tout that, on average, your sticks last 20% longer than the competition. Product longevity is a benefit that could act as a great selling point for you and your retailers, and you can draw the direct comparison between you and your competitors on that topic in a battlecard.

Importantly, battlecards can also be used to deliver key reference points to your demand gen team as they’re crafting competitive marketing campaigns. So if you’re running an ad campaign for a content management solution, and you’re targeting competitor keywords or interests in competing products, you can promote the fact that your solution offers best-in-class drag-and-drop functionality—and at a 10% lower monthly rate.

Another tactic: Consider the abundance of messaging inspiration waiting to be extracted from your competitors’ product reviews. When scouring the reviews for one competitor’s solutions, you may find that multiple customers had problems with installation. Do your customers have that same problem? If not, that’s a major benefit you should call out.

Or, let’s say your company rents industrial cranes to contractors around a given city. In your competitor’s Google reviews, people have said that the cranes are reliable and fairly priced—but they’ve encountered grouchy points of contact and shoddy customer service. Has your company invested in customer service? Do you have a live chat feature that allows reps to respond to customer concerns around the clock? That’s a feature your marketing and sales teams should be calling out—and could speak to the core benefit of having a white-glove level of customer support.

Create stronger competitive messaging with Crayon

At Crayon, we arm our customers with the competitive intelligence they need to promote features and benefits that—bottom line—win them business. From battlecard creation, to product review insights, to competitive campaign analysis, our brands are invested in increasing their company’s growth relative to their competition, and we give them the tools to do just that.

Take a spin through our product and find out how competitive intelligence can help you grow.

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Laura Taylor
Laura Taylor is our Chief Marketing Officer here at Crayon, responsible for overseeing strategy across demand generation, product marketing, customer marketing, visual design, and content & SEO. Previously, she was SVP of Marketing at WordStream, a provider of digital advertising technology.