Monday, 7 September 2009

Features. Advantages. Benefits. What sells the hardest?


Sound familiar?

The 2009 model has a 220-horsepower V8 engine, anti-lock brakes, traction control, automatic safety restraint system and both front and side-impact airbags.

Or how about this?

This ring features a 1.4 carat, pear-shaped cut white diamond with an SI1 clarity grade and an H color rating.

They’re pretty impressive aren’t they? Or are they? They’re just lists of features which actually mean next to nothing to the man and woman in the street. Unless of course, you’re a total petrolhead or diamond expert.

The problem is, lists of features like these don’t make people buy, which is what we’re all trying to do.

Benefits make people buy. Or to put it another way:

Features tell, but benefits sell.

But what is truly incredible is that you see and hear lists of features like these all the time – in ads, in brochures, on websites, on TV commercials.

Very few advertisers even talk about benefits, much less make the effort to get really good at translating features into benefits.

And yet power-packed words describing benefits are what trigger the emotions that make us spend our money, time or energy.

People all over the world of every single nationality, class, colour, race and religion buy because of these emotions.

So let’s look at those two lists of features again. They should read something like:

This car has a smooth, powerful engine, something you’ll appreciate when you pull out to overtake. The extra power will also help you avoid obstacles and quickly get you and your family out of harm's way, while the extra safety features ensure you're all safe and secure. And it's great fun to drive!

And again:

Imagine gently slipping this ring onto her finger and staring intensely into her eyes. They glisten as she sees this symbol of your undying devotion, this token of your lifelong commitment to her and your life together. An adoring smile spreads across her face as she looks you in the eye and whispers ‘Yes’…

Turning features into benefits

There’s another term to throw into the mix. Advantages. Simply put, they turn features into benefits.

Here’s how you can compile a list of features and turn them into advantages and benefits for any product or service.

Features are what products have. For example, ‘This pushchair has a durable, lightweight aluminium chassis.’

Advantages are what features do. For example, ‘The durable, lightweight aluminium chassis makes the XYZ strong and yet easy to push.’

Benefits are what features mean. For example,’This means that you can take baby for long, relaxing, sleep-inducing walks without tiring. And the XYZ will give you years of trouble-free service, so it could be taking your children’s children for long walks too.’

So, to summarise, you need to interrogate your product or service and write down as many features as you can. But don’t stop there. Work out what the advantages of all these features are. Then turn these advantages into benefits and hammer them home in every single piece of advertising you do.

14 questions you need to ask when taking a copy brief

It’s the most important part of any copywriting job you take on.

If you get a great brief, there’s no excuse for not doing a great job. If you get a rubbish brief or no brief at all, you’re up against it. You’ll have to use every ounce of your experience and advertising nous to produce a professional finished result.

I’ve taken hundreds of briefs in my time and I’ve found that they usually fall into three categories.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get a full written brief that includes absolutely everything you need to know. Brilliant - you can get going straight away.

Or you’ll get a sketchy brief. Or you’ll get no brief at all, or it will consist of someone talking at you for half an hour while you frantically scribble down some notes. The result: three or four pages of scrawl that you have to decipher when you sit down to start the job.

With scenarios two and three, you’ll have to flesh out the ‘brief’ or even write your own by doing research, and throwing in your own insights and gut feeling for what’s required.

Frustrating and time-consuming, and all too often, the client isn’t prepared to pay for this.

In short, if you get a bad brief, it will be a case of **** in, **** out and guess who’ll get the blame for that.

This is why it’s so important to get the best brief you possibly can.

This checklist gives you 14 questions that you need to ask when you start every single job.

Ask your client all of these questions and write down the answers. Because it’s amazing how often you begin work on a new project and find that there’s some essential piece of information that they haven’t give you, or you haven’t asked for.

  1. What’s the objective? Do they want to beat the control by X percent? Generate one-step sales or qualified leads? Strengthen relationships? Introduce a new product? Increase average order size? Direct traffic to their website? Test media, offers or other DM elements?
  1. What’s the brand personality? Is it upbeat and innovative or classic and conservative? Is it straight and established or quirky and left-field? Is there an established copy voice, tone and vocabulary? If so, you need to have copies of these.
  1. Who’s the audience? Is it customers or prospects? What is their average age, household income, educational background, likes and dislikes? You need to have a clear image in your mind of one of these individuals, rather than a mass of nameless, faceless people.
  1. What’s the product or service? You need the features and corresponding benefits. Are there are truly unique features and benefits? Price? Is it new? Improved? A best-seller? Back by popular demand? Are there any competitive advantages and disadvantages?
  1. What’s the offer? This is what generates response, so you need to understand all the elements of the offer and why they are included - discounts, deadlines, guarantees, premiums, other incentives, delivery and payment options.
  1. What are the top three buying objections? Ask why people don’t buy this product or service. You need to deal with these objections - either directly or indirectly.
  1. What’s the call to action? Do they want people to respond by phone, mail, email, online, clickthrough to a website, in-store or at an event? You also need to find out what will happen after a prospect raises his or her hand as a qualified lead.
  1. What’s the format? For space advertising, is it a full or half-page ad, front cover, back cover or ROP? For DM, is it a postcard, solo pack, self-mailer, box, tube or other format? For email, is it text or HTML? Does it link to an existing web page or is a new landing page required?
  1. What’s the media? DM lists, email lists, TV, radio, space advertising, online.
  1. What are they testing? Copy? Creative? Formats? Lists? List segments? Offers? Timing? Other DM elements?
  1. Is any other background info available? Interviews with customers, salespeople, customer service staff, product managers and developers? Are company brochures, newsletters or annual reports available? Get as much information as you possibly can, because you never know where you’re going to find a real nugget you can use. And it could even form the basis of your whole campaign or creative approach.
  1. Can I try the product? Ask for a product sample. Go onto the company’s website. You need to try what you are writing about because it gives you first-hand experience of the product or service’s benefits – or otherwise.
  1. What am I trying to beat? Ask for a sample of the control pack, email or space ad you’re trying to beat. It will show you what you’re up against and stop you repeating what they’re already doing, which is a waste of your time and the client’s money.
  1. What’s the budget? Perhaps most important of all, how much is the client going to pay you to do this job? If it’s enough, fine. If it’s not, then either ask for more, which you might not get. Or make it clear to the client what you can do for the budget available. This avoids misundertandings further down the line, particularly when it comes to paying your invoice. 

 And finally, good luck and happy writing!