Nowadays, we live in a world of features. Technology is brimful with features like apps, add-ons and upgrades. Car dashboards are overrun with feature-this and feature-that. Our social relationships are mediated by the features of mobile apps and our brand buying is completed through an ever-more feature-intensive array of hi-tech services for comparisons, payments and delivery. It is a world awash in features.
By all appearances, in today’s marketplace, features seem to sell us on one thing versus another. Yet, features don’t sell. As brand marketers we know that when it comes to the choices consumers make, features are beside the point. But it’s hard to keep this in mind in today’s feature-rich marketplace. Nevertheless, bottom line, all that matters are benefits.
With features dominating so much of the attention and investment these days, it’s worth revisiting this basic marketing imperative – market the benefit. To do so, I thought it helpful to look at an illustration I learned way back when from Kevin Clancy, who recently received the Advertising Research Foundation’s Great Minds Awards in Innovation for his career contributions to the development of marketing and marketing research. (It’s an example that is included, along with many others, in a 1991 book he co-authored, entitled The Marketing Revolution: A Radical Manifesto for Dominating the Marketplace.)
Kevin taught me that there are two things brand marketers can focus on about a marketing message or a product or service, and two ways to say each. You can focus on attributes (or features) or benefits. Attributes describe what something is – it’s the what, if you will. Benefits describe what something delivers – it’s the why. You can market what a product is or you can market why a product matters, or you can market both. Ultimately, though, consumers care less about what a product is; mostly, they care about why a product matters to them.
For both attributes and benefits, Kevin argued that you can speak of their tangible dimensions or their intangible dimensions. The tangible dimensions are direct elements or physical manifestations that can be specifically identified and isolated. Intangibles are less palpable, often existing only as immaterial perceptions or beliefs. However, both are measurable. Intangibles are not beyond measurement simply because they are less corporeal.
Kevin’s classic illustration of these tangible and intangible attributes and benefits come together was around the marketing message of price. Many examples, some focused more on products than on communications, could be cited, but price is useful because it affects so many aspects of brand marketing.
Price is not simply price. You can talk about price as an attribute or feature of something, or as a benefit. Plus, price can be communicated in both a tangible and an intangible way. When all is said and done, brand marketers have at least four ways to communicate price to consumers, and the value of focusing on benefits is much more apparent when seen in this context.
Start with price as a tangible attribute. That would be “cheap.” A tangible feature to market is cheap. This is the typical way we think of price.
Price as a tangible benefit is “saves money.” Now, the difference between an attribute, or feature, and a benefit is seen more clearly, as is the appeal of benefits over attributes in marketing communications.
But price can also be described as an intangible attribute. This would be “good value.” Some may argue that is a benefit not an attribute. But good value does not represent a benefit per se. The question to ask is why good value matters. Benefits have self-evident worth. Good value does not close the loop on the appeal or importance of such an attribute.
Price as an intangible benefit is “smart choice.” Of course, this benefit may not matter to many consumers, which is where segmentation research comes into play – segmenting consumers by benefit relevance and prioritization. But it is a benefit with obvious worth to those consumers for whom that matters.
Obviously, there is more that could be said about price. But these examples make it clear why benefits matter. What would you rather say about your brand – it’s cheap or it’s a smart choice? Even if your customers only want the cheapest option, what’s driving them is not cheap per se, but the benefit of saving money, and if you can find ways to save them money, you might be able to avoid having to characterize your brand as cheap in the process.
Benefits are what differentiate one brand from another. For example, cars are all cars. The only differences are in the benefits they deliver. Admittedly, different cars have different arrays of features, but those features only matter to consumers if they offer some differentiating benefit. Otherwise, the features are nice but not nice enough to matter or distinguish one car from another.
In a famous essay entitled, “The Marketing Imagination,” the late Harvard marketing guru Ted Levitt quoted Leo McGinneva to the effect that customers “don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.” This is another way of saying that benefits are all that matters, an idea that remains true, if not truer than ever, in today’s feature-intensive world.
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