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Features good, benefits much better

Features can sell, but when it comes to getting more replies benefits are much more effective

This Briefing Article covers six key issues

  1. What is the difference between a benefit and a feature?
  2. But we sell chairs, they don’t have a benefit!
  3. One benefit at a time.
  4. So where do the features go?
  5. What about pictures?
  6. When benefits go wrong

Part 1: What is the difference between a benefit and a feature?

In the most simple of terms, a feature is something that describes all or part of what you are selling.  The window is made of glass.  That is a feature.  The window is made of toughened glass; that is still a feature.

A benefit on the other hand is something that solves a problem the buyer might have, or which makes the buyer feel good. 

The toughed glass means that if a cricket ball hits the window, the window will not break.  Mostly there will be no effect at all, meaning you don’t have to board it up, call in a repairer and then pay for the repairs.  But even if it does break it will still afford protection from wind and rain, until a glazier can come out and fit a new window.

In simple terms (and simple terms are always good, especially at the start) the work of the classroom can continue while waiting for the repairer.  And then the repairs normally only take 15 minutes, meaning only a short part of one lesson is lost.

Implied Benefits

Unfortunately sometimes benefits and features can become confused with each other.   For example, the fact that a text book covers the whole syllabus contains an implied benefit.  That benefit is that you only have to buy one book for each of your students, which could save money, and which helps students know which book they need for homework etc.  There is only one book, so they choose the right one. 

The fact that the book is highly illustrated is, by itself, a feature.  The illustrations only become a benefit when they do something for the teacher or the student – such as help the student comprehend and remember the issue at hand, far more quickly.  

(And if you are finding yourself drawn to an assumed benefit, you might like to do a spot of research on the topic.  It will cost you very little, and really will make your advertisements stand out, since most people do not quote any research at all.)

Thus for the advertisement to work most effectively the benefit of the feature must be spelled out.   As in, “If you’ve ever heard students announce that they had brought the wrong book to a lesson you’ll know the frustration that can cause.  Which is why having the entire syllabus in one volume can be so helpful.   There is only one book; that’s all the student has to remember!”

Moving away from the book, if you are selling a product that cleans up the floor of the school hall or the gym, the fact that it does the job of cleaning is the feature.  The fact that this one product will clean the average sized gym five times, is a benefit.  The fact that it allows the floor to be cleaned in half the time, is a benefit.  The fact that the floor can be used half an hour after cleaning, is a benefit.

This may all sound very simple, but the fact is that over 80% of advertisements sent to schools do not focus on benefits but instead focus on features.  Now partly it is because most people who write advertisements don’t understand the power of the benefit, and partly it is because teasing out benefits from products you have been dealing with for some time, is not quite as easy as it might seem.

Yet this is worth persevering with, because this approach gives any advertiser who is going to focus on benefits a huge advantage.  Because if you can do exactly that, and focus totally on the benefits, you will already be way ahead of your rivals in terms of sales.

Also if you follow our advice and put the benefits in the email and the features on the web page just before the order form, you will not only increase sales, but also get more people visiting your website, which will, in itself, slowly take your website up the Google rankings.

Part 2: But we sell chairs, they don’t have a benefit

Benefits tell us why a person should buy one product and not the other.

Everything has a benefit somewhere, even if is takes a bit of finding.  The chair might be easily stackable (the benefit of which is that they can be put away if the room is required for other purposes), it might be cheap (which means that it enables more chairs to be bought for the same price), it might last ten years rather than the average three (thus saving on expenditure in the long run), it might come with an individual identification number which means it can be traced if it gets moved to another part of the school. 

It might be more comfortable than the normal school chair which stops fidgeting (remembering here that the comfort is not the benefit because that doesn’t benefit the teacher at all – the reduction in fidgeting is however a benefit).

Now the problem here is that it can be tempting to put these benefits as bullet points on your web page, but that itself is rarely the best approach.

Generally speaking bullet points turn people away from an advertisement (despite the fact that so many firms use them).  If a benefit is of value it is worth putting in a sentence.  As with

“There is nothing more annoying than chairs that make a noise as they move.  They destroy the focus of other pupils and students, and above all waste time.  Which is why it is always worth considering classroom chairs that simply make no noise when moved…”

In short it is often necessary to spell out the benefit so that the teacher is clear as to what the reason is for buying this product or service. 

And if you feel that the result of this “spelling out” is something that looks highly condescending or too simplistic for words, by all means send it over to us.  We’ll have a look, in complete confidence of course, and give you our feelings.  No charge.

Part 3: One benefit at a time.

Sometimes it is possible to come up with a number of benefits for a product, and the temptation might be to put them all in your advertisement.  But generally speaking, it is better to stick to one benefit at a time. 

Teachers skim the advertisements they receive, so invariably won’t take in everything you say in your email advertisement.  But if you have one clear benefit, which is suggested in the headline outlined in the opening paragraph, and then explored further, that rams the message home, even if the teacher skips through the rest of the text that can be remembered.

A good way to focus on the benefit is to ask an open question (which is to say, a question that cannot be answered by “yes” or “no”.   So you might choose to open your email with…

What is the most effective way of reducing unwanted interruptions by pupils during a lesson?

The point about questions such as that is that all teachers need to know the answer.  Many teachers will believe that they know the answer, but they will still read what’s below just to see what you have to say.

Part 4: So where do the features go?

Advertisements to teachers and school managers work best when the benefits go in the email or covering letter, and the features go on the website.

By working this way around the teacher or manager can be enthused with the idea of what the product will do for her or him, and then having been enthused can see exactly what is to be had for the money.

What this means is that you need to set up a page on your website which is specifically set to receive readers from this advertisement.

Now that may seem rather frightening if you have a situation in which an outside agency handles your website and charges a lot of money for each change and each new page.   If that is the case, and it is too difficult to change the situation, you can easily set up a new website with this page of features on it.   And if you can’t put that on your website, put up a second website (they really are very low cost these days) so that readers move to this site, before clicking a second link to take them on to the ordering page of your existing web site.

The customer will not normally even notice they are moving between websites, and this simple tactic can overcome the problem of a website where the designer has vanished or is making a profit out of minor changes.

Part 5: What about pictures?

As a rule, the pictures go on the website.

The email or sales letter is there to get interest by stressing all the good things that will happen if the teacher or school manager buys a particular product or service.

For example, let us imagine that you are selling minibuses to schools.  The temptation might be to put a picture of a lovely shiny exciting minibus in the email, and yes it might look nice.  But really, a teacher or school manager is not suddenly going to think, “I’ll have one of those.”

It is of course true that all car brochures have a picture of the car they are selling as the focal point of the brochure, because by the time the potential customer has picked up a brochure she or he is already thinking about not just buying the car but buying this car.   But when your email arrives at the school, the teacher or manager is certainly not thinking about buying a minibus.  

So the issue of pictures relates to where the potential purchaser is placed in the run of events that could lead to a purchase.  Normally when responding to an email the teacher is interested in more information but doesn’t have much time.  What will get them engaged is an email with benefits.   Then they can to the website where a picture or a set of pictures can be available.

But, you may be thinking, isn’t “A picture worth ten thousand words?”

That is an interesting phrase, in that it is a phrase.  Surely if a picture was worth 10,000 words then we wouldn’t have that phrase, we would have a picture.

In fact the phrase was invented by an advertising and design agency in Chicago in the 1930s, and it was very successful – but it is not actually true.  The headline “What is the most effective way of taking your GCSE music students up one grade?” will be worth infinitely more than a picture of students sitting an exam.

In essence, make pictures relevant and informative, and save them for the web site.  Never put in a picture because you think pictures are good.

Part 6: When benefits go wrong

The only time a focus on benefits goes wrong is when the advertiser focuses on the wrong benefit.

The all-time classic example in school advertising came with the campaign run on behalf of the government to get more teachers into schools.  The agency, which had no background in dealing with teachers or schools, suggested that teaching was a good place to start one’s career, not least because after four years in teacher one could move into the business world as a manager.

The problem with that approach was twofold.  First it was not actually true that it was easy to move from being a classroom teacher into becoming a manager in business.  And second what schools desperately needed then (as now) was experienced teachers.  Teachers who had worked in schools for four years and could handle the stress and demands of the job.

As a result of that campaign schools found themselves employing teachers who saw teaching as a staging post in their career.  And since teaching is not that easy, many dropped out of teaching very quickly – long before their four years.

It is a reminder that we should not be selling any old benefits, but benefits that are actually there and which relate to the teachers’ daily experience.  Which is why research can be helpful.

Of course research is an issue in its own right, so we’ll deal with that in a separate briefing paper which will appear shortly.

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