Which Matters the Most: Features or Benefits?

Paul Boag

How we articulate our features and benefits through our websites throws up an interesting discussion about how we approach online copy.

Marketing and sales 101 tells us that we should sell the benefits of a product over its features. But is that always a good idea? In particular, does that make sense on your website?

The Problem With Benefits

Take a look at this old screenshot from the Skype website. As you can see, they are focusing heavily on the benefits Skype provides to connect people. Effectively they are saying that Skype is about connecting people, not about technology. It’s a great sentiment.

Skype focused heavily on its benefits, but at the cost of clarity

However, imagine for a moment you did not know what Skype was. In that case, this page would leave you utterly confused. Is it a social network? Perhaps they allow you to send e-cards or could it even be some kind of dating app?

Of course we all know who Skype are so it may not be a problem. But what about this company? Can you articulate what they do?

Can you tell me what this company does?

It maybe clear how the company intends to benefit us, but we have little insights into how they are going to achieve that.

Focusing on Benefits Makes the Wrong Assumptions

It is important to remember where this benefits orientated mindset comes from. It originates from before the web in a world of push marketing.

In the pre-digital world, marketing channels such as TV, billboards and ads had to grab the attention of consumers. Benefits are a great way of doing that. Talking about “delivering more wins” is much more attention grabbing than talking about “marketing management software” (which is what the company above does btw).

However, a website is not a push marketing channel. It does not exist to grab attention. People who visit a website are already a long way on your buying journey.

  • Identified a need.
  • Expressed an interest in solving that need.
  • Searched on a possible solution to that need.

In other words, the majority of those arriving on your site already know roughly what they are looking for. We don’t need to convince them, we just need to answer their questions.

They are more interested in knowing whether the website they are visiting can answer those questions and whether your product or service can do what they need. In other words, they want to know about the features of your products.

Benefits and Features Should be Balanced

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not suggesting benefits are irrelevant. Users still need reassuring that the investment in your product or service will generate returns. They also want to be clear about what those returns are.

Instead we need to balance benefits and features equally on our sites. Apple has done an excellent job at that in the past.

Apple combines benefits (all day working) and features (long battery life) to paint a picture of a positive experience.

This simple strap line still focuses on the benefit, but also addresses a feature, which is all day battery life. It combines benefits and features into a single story.

Of course, it is not always easy to summarise both benefits and features in one strapline. We often have too much that needs to be said. How then do we decide what to introduce the user to first? Do we start with features or benefits?

Which Comes First Benefits or Features?

To answer that question we need to step back and identify what it is users want to know and what order these questions go through their minds when landing on your website.

This is an exercise that does not happen often enough in my experience. Too often companies start with “what do we want to say on our site” rather than “what does the user want to know.

However, when we do step back and think about it (or perish the thought, actually ask a user) the answer to our features vs benefit question is obvious.

Every site and audience is different, but often a users thought process goes something like this:

  1. Am I on the right site?
  2. What do these people offer?
  3. How will that help me?
  4. Are these people I want to do business with?

In that context, features would actually become before benefits. You need to explain what you offer (features) before you explain how it helps (benefits).

Are the Right People Writing Your Content?

For me, the main take away from this discussion has nothing to do with features or benefits. Rather it is the fact the wrong people are writing web content in the first place. Web content should be written by web copywriters. Anybody else is going to bring their biases of how to write with them in just the same way marketers often bring their push marketing perspective.

Stock Photos from ESB Professional/Shutterstock