Photo by John Tower

People Don’t Buy Products, They Buy Better Versions of Themselves

There is the famous story about Steve Jobs when he invented the iPod and everyone in the news and the rest of the tech industry scratched their head a little. MP3 players had been around for quite a while, what was so different about the iPod?

Of course, people argued many things were different, but one of the key aspects was how Jobs marketed and presented it:

“1,000 songs in your pocket”

When everyone else was saying “1GB storage on your MP3 player”, telling people about the product, Apple went ahead and made you a better person, that has 1000 songs in your pocket.

Our friends over at User Onboarding wrote an incredible post and graphic, showcasing how this framework looks on a higher level:

In particular, the image itself proved to be popular — understandably. It’s a great way to describe clever marketing that focuses on benefits rather than features.

I’ve heard people talk about using benefits instead of features in marketing, but I’ve always struggled to understand the difference. For this post, I explored this in a bit more detail and dug up some examples of companies who do this well.

Features vs. benefits — how to grasp the difference

Here’s how our friends at User Onboarding explained features vs. benefits:

People don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.
When you’re trying to win customers, are you listing the attributes of the flower or describing how awesome it is to throw fireballs?

It also included this Tweet from Jason Fried on the topic:

When I read about this some more, I found some great blog posts that broke it down even further. One from the ideacrossing blog describes features as “what your product or service has or does” and benefits as “what the features mean and why they are important.” In fact, oftentimes products contain features, that are absolutely unused, which can be a big source of waste.

So, it seems like features are the “what” of your product or service, while benefits are the “why” behind it.

I also found a really neat, old marketing quote that’s often attributed to Theodore Levitt (he attributes it to Leo McGinneva in this paper), on why people buy quarter-inch drill bits:

They don’t want quarter-inch bits. They want quarter-inch holes.

So, the customer wants to make a quarter-inch hole for some reason. They buy a quarter-inch bit for their drill in order to achieve this. Marketing the drill bit based on its features (it fits into your drill) wouldn’t be as successful in this case as marketing it based on the benefits (you can create a quarter-inch hole).

So after all of this reading, I finally distilled the difference into a sentence that I think makes it easy to distinguish between features and benefits:

A feature is what your product does; a benefit is what the customer can do with your product.

But hey, enough the theory, let’s dig up some amazing examples from some of the best companies out there.

Some great examples of companies making you a better version of yourself

To get a better idea of how this works in practice, I thought it would be useful to take a look at some well-known companies who use benefits in their marketing strategies. Here are a few that I found:

Evernote

Remember Everything

Evernote can’t remember everything for you. In fact, it can’t remember anything — it’s software. What it does is offer features to let you save and organize things.

Remembering everything is what you can do with Evernote — the benefit!

Twitter

Connect with your friends, get in-the-moment updates, watch events unfold, in real time, from every angle

Twitter has used a few different benefits in their tagline on the homepage but they’re still focused on benefits. Each of these three things is something you can do with Twitter. Not a feature of the product.

Of course, for saving time on Twitter with scheduling your Tweets and seeing analytics, I hope you’ll still find Buffer useful.

Nest Thermostat

Programs itself. Then pays for itself.

I love this one, because it’s so clever. In just six words, the Nest Thermostat tagline tells you what the biggest benefit is (you’ll save energy and money), and something about what makes the product unique (it’s automated).

LinkedIn

Be great at what you do.

LinkedIn has gone even further by referencing the customer in their tagline. Saying “Be great at what you do” makes it clear that the idea is you’ll be great at what you do if you use LinkedIn.

It’s very customer-focused, rather than pushing features of the product or company mottos front-and-center.

GitHub

A better way to work together

Another super simple, but clear tagline. GitHub has a really obvious benefit to sell to customers, and features don’t even play a part in the tagline.

I’m sure there are lots more companies doing this well. Do you have a great example? Share it in your responses.

Oh and if you liked this post, you might also like 5 ways to get through writer’s block or content marketing fatigue and 6 Powerful Communication Tips From Some of the World’s Best Interviewers, which are right in the same direction of coming up with a better way to communicate with your customers.

What are some products that have amazed you in the past? I’d love your insights on what makes for a great experience with a product or service according to you.

This blog post was first published on the Buffer Social blog on January 16, 2014 by Belle Beth Cooper and updated by Alfred Lua.

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