Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Features may not be benefits

Product features are often assumed to also be benefits, but this may not be true.

Because features and benefits are often linked together, there is an implied assumption that all features also have a benefit and this thinking then extends to the belief that potential customers will be able to figure out for themselves why those product features are beneficial to them. Marketing text that talks about 'feature packed' products may be interpreted by customers as suggesting the product is likely to be complicated and difficult to understand.

The problem is that adding features has become something of a tactical 'arms' race to outstrip the competition and meet or exceed specification criteria. Charts listing a whole range of features with ticks to indicate where a product excels and others fall short are quite popular for technical products from cars to consumer electronics and of course b-2-b products too. But these are what the product does. The reality is that the more complex - feature packed - the product, the less the features actually get used. Just look at a control surface that has been used for a while - a remote, key board, control desk - and the pattern of wear and grime will reveal which keys are regularly used and which are pristine and untouched.

Benefits may be based more on an emotional consideration than an analysis of how the features stack up. The decision to purchase a television may depend more on what it might look like in the living room, the quality of the picture and how much it costs. There is an implied assumption it will do a few other things like hooking up to a sat. box and DVD, but beyond that the extensive range of other features are unlikely to sway the argument.  Mobile phones have become feature rich, but in terms of sustaining a telephone conversation in an area of poor coverage or when a train plunges into a tunnel remain just as challenging to the user as they were in the early days. In the b-2-b sector product development has too often been driven by what features  the competitors offer, then going one better. The rationale is to create differentiated products rather than compete in a commodity market on price alone. But unless the features are translated into customer benefits and explained in a way that the prospective customer understands and appreciates, these features risk being excluded from the purchase decision.  

What the marketing messages should focus on is convincing the prospective customers that the product has benefits that they can relate to and can actually appreciate. Features that make the product easy to use, improve productivity, save money, even bestow prestige - what they don't want is a list of features. We recently took delivery of a new television that offers a handbook only on screen which tantalisingly lists its 'features' some about its own proprietry system but unfortunately no explanation of how to access or use them.   

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