BG and I were driving to work on Friday when I commented on a radio ad. She said she hadn't even noticed it and I can't say I'm surprised. It was a car ad from one of the big companies - Ford or Chevy, I think - and it made me think about one of the most important rules of adverting. Features Vs. Benefits
In their book Made To Stick, Chip and Dan Heath frequently mention the difference between features and benefits. Features are specific details that made the product unique or special. These are the phrases that the guys on any sales floor repeat ad naseum. Benefits, however, explain how the product fits into a person's life or makes their lives easier or better.
If you've ever had a job, you've probably talked about features - we all do it. That's because when we spend 8 or 10 hours a day on something, we like to think it is in some way worthwhile. If you work for Wendy's, you can explain how your burgers vary from McDonald's. If you assemble televisions, you know all the specs.
There is a cruel truth about features though: no one cares but you. It's sad, I know, because we all want our thing (whatever that is) to be the best. But the consumer doesn't really care about how you want to be the best. She wants to know how your product will impact her life.
Chip and Dan give a few examples of the difference between features and benefits. It's the difference between selling "the world's great lawn fertilizer" and selling "the world's best looking lawn." It's the difference between selling drill-bits and telling Dad how to hang his kid's pictures.
When Engineers Write Ads
So let's go back to that radio ad we heard on the way to work. It was almost like they threw out the marketing team and asked the engineers to make the ad. The car industry seems to have forgotten how customers behave: no one compares your truck's payload capacity before buying, no one knows who J.D. Power and Associates is, and no one knows what the hell a "hemi" is (or why on earth they should want one).
In this example, the engineers are speaking one language and the consumer is speaking another. From Chip and Dan: "[T]he moral of the story is to find a 'universal language,' one that everyone speaks fluently. Inevitably, that universal language will be concrete" (pg. 115).
The Good Example
BG dropped me off at the train station and I started reading the March issue of Wired magazine. Just a few pages in I serendipitously found a good example of features vs. benefits. This Citibank ad shows a real dog sleeping next to a toy poodle. In the 40-odd words to the right of the picture, there's a short story about how Max the dog was depressed. His owners tried everything, but eventually bought Max a toy poodle as a companion. It worked and now everyone sleeps better at night. The Citibank arch links "stuffed poodle" with "smitten dog."
How perfect is this example of speaking in terms of benefits? Citibank's marketing team could have touted any number of features: their financial know-how, their FDIC ranking, their IRA revenue-generating power. Instead, they spoke the customer's language - how your Citibank card can please your pet and help you get a better night's sleep. Bravo, Citibank. Benefits trump features any day of the week.