It’s one of the first things you’re told – or taught – when you go into any marketing field: Sell the Benefits, not the Features.
And this pearl of wisdom is aimed at copywriters and sales people more than anyone else.
We’ve all seen a great salesman or woman leave a prospect drooling with anticipation after delivering the perfect sales pitch. But how did it get to this point? What were the magic ingredients that translated a dull list of product features into a single compelling benefit that resonates with the customer almost instantaneously? And, at the same time, how did the copywriting differentiate the product or service from that of competitors who generally serve up much the same features?
First off though, what is the actual difference between features and benefits?
Some people describe it like buying a bed. You don’t necessarily want to buy a 6 foot divan with a mahogany headboard. You want to buy the best night’s sleep for your money.
Copywriter Jay Conrad Levinson summed it up like this: “A feature is a factual statement about a product or service. Factual statements aren't why customers buy; benefits are.”
People have written tomes on this topic but here’s a great visual example of the difference between Features and Benefits:
OK. It’s easy to see how this works when you’re presented with a finished image like the Apple example above. But if your business makes a complicated, feature-heavy product, it can sometimes be very difficult to single out the one feature that will then translate into the most compelling benefit for your audience.
This is where a good copywriter will earn his crust – by being able to generate an emotionally engaging benefit for your product: one that connects with prospective customers in a way that your competitors aren’t doing.
If the copywriter’s headlines and copy can quickly propel the customer’s imagination into almost ‘experiencing’ the product in action, you’re already a lot closer to your sale.
One of the inevitable downsides to reading advertising, marketing and design books is the fact that you’re going to come across a few authors who are definitely in the “look-at-me-I’m-wonderful” school of writers.
Thankfully, Jon Steel is not one of them. An Englishman who wound up working as Director of Account Planning at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco, he has been showered in countless awards by the advertising industry and been lauded by San Francisco Focus as one of the '100 smartest people in the Bay Area'.
Perpaps his most famous campagin as planner – on this side of the pond at least - is the "Got Milk?" advertising campaign. In preparing that campaign he asked focus group members not what they thought of milk – but instead requested that they go for a whole month without milk and then say how they felt about its absence. The result was a campaign that is frequently cited as one of the most effective of the past 50 years.
Steele's style of writing is conversational and shows both humility and common sense. And, refreshingly, his content actually plainly states the limits of account planning. For instance, he says simply that occasionally there are just no insights to be found in research.
The world is awash with books on advertising, marketing, design and copywriting. I know - because I collect them. And I know that anything by Dave Trott deserves a place very high on the list of the best advertising books.
Like many other copywriters, I am partly indebted to Dave Trott for getting me into advertising in the first place. Not because I ever met the guy, but because - as a kid - his ads showed me that there was considerable fun to be had in making up weird shit and getting paid for it.
Trott is a terrific copywriter for TV or print advertising and has always had a unique way with words, as in this blast from the past:
Other examples include: Hello Tosh, Gotta Toshiba? and Aristonandonandonandon.
This is an important book for those interested in the cultural and social aspects of brand development in Ireland, and how these changed in the 20th century.
Formerly Managing Director of McConnell's Advertising in Dublin, one of Ireland's largest marketing agencies, Fanning has been in charge of marketing communications for some of Ireland's leading brands.
He has also been Professor of Marketing at Trinity College Dublin and a non-executive director of The Irish Times.
Fanning is strong on the importance of the ‘brand’ per se and stronger still on the growth of the brand in Ireland during a period when the country emerged with a distinct and increasingly confident identity – a time when branding had wide-ranging applications, not just for businesses across Ireland but also political parties, churches, regions and even individuals.
Well, I say 'Book Review' but this is really by way of drawing your attention to one of the strange anomalies of Ireland in the 1950s. I refer to the influx of great Dutch designers.
For those of you who like myself, wondered why so many trendy Hollanders would leave Amsterdam for the dark, repressed Ireland of the '50s, you’ll get an insight into their thinking here.
When the Dutch came to Ireland, they certainly made an impact on the country's creativity. As author Conor Clarke of Design Factory explained in a recent interview:
“Many of them had been trained with Bauhaus principles and introduced the use of flat colours, sans serif typography and the grid.
I used to be a funny guy. At least, I used to try and be funny. In fact, humour is one the reasons I got into copywriting in the first place.
Back in the day, as they say, there seemed to be a lot more funny ads on TV; in my case, ads that made you wish you wrote them.
But when you sit down to write something funny in order to sell a client’s product it’s a very treacherous path to successful sales.
Humour can go either way. A hilarious ad can be talked about for ages if it hits the right note with everyone. Or it can result in a totally vapid reaction from the viewer who stares blankly at the screen thinking ‘I don’t get that’ – or worse.
There’s a very evident trend in marketing and advertising for today’s brands to ostentatiously engage in ‘storytelling’.
And while there’s always been huge value in this approach, I sometimes balk a little at the word ‘storytelling’ in relation to talking about a brand. Why? Because I’ve always associated the word with ‘making things up’.
Maybe it goes back to childhood when I was forever asking my grandfather to ‘tell me a story’. And it never took him long to launch into a long yarn that always played fast and loose with what little truth might actually exist in the story in the first place.
Here’s a conundrum that often puzzles businesses that want to get some writing done. Hell, it even confuses new writers too.
It’s this: is copywriting different from content writing? Or are they the same? Well, the quick answer is no, they’re not the same. And here’s why.
Let’s start with Content Writing. The most widespread definition says that Content is a piece of writing that educates/informs the audience about a business or product without necessarily attempting to drive a sale at the time of reading.
Search the internet for copywriting tips and you’ll find zillions of them. You’ll find out how to write a headline, make the sale and … ‘write with rhythm’.
We all learned about the importance of rhythm in writing at school. It was called English class.
Maybe they didn’t use the particular term ‘rhythm’, but any time you read a poem you were actually learning about rhythm in writing – subconsciously at least.
Then, if you went on to become an actual reader of books, you will again have learned subconsciously about a rhythm being necessary to drive the writing along.
Now and again, I think of the old quote attributed to Mark Twain: “I apologize for writing such a long letter – I didn’t have time to write a short one”.
Amongst other things, it reminds me of the eternal question facing copywriters and marketing experts – which is more effective: long copy or short copy?
Before you read all the way to the end of this, I’ll tell you the answer now: there is no answer. Except of course that ‘it all depends’.
Brian O'Fril | Copywriter
Elm House Creative
Belfast, Northern Ireland
t 028 9023 8850
m 079 7025 3809