Common Marketing and Branding Mistakes to Avoid: #1 Communicating Features instead of Benefits

November 12, 2009

Introduction to New Series:  Common Marketing & Branding Mistakes to Avoid

One of the things that I enjoy most about being a marketing and branding consultant is helping others solve their marketing questions.  When I was working as a full-time marketer for other companies, I didn’t find many people outside of my place of employment asking me for marketing guidance.  As one would expect, now that I am a consultant, I am finding that I get asked a lot more questions and receive a lot more requests for help from a wide variety of businesses and not for profit organizations.

A lot of the questions that I answer or challenges that I help solve are ones that I think a lot of brands and businesses face.  As a result, I’ve decided to start a blog post series that addresses some of the mistakes or pitfalls that I am seeing, and I try to suggest ways that each can be avoided or corrected.  This post is the very first of the series.

Mistake #1  Communicating Features instead of Benefits

One very common, but critical problem that marketers can face is understanding the difference between a feature (also known as an attribute) and a benefit.  As a result, marketers can fall into the trap of promoting features to their target customer instead of benefits.  This is a big mistake that can ultimately impact a brand’s success. As Phil Kotler and Gary Armstrong, renowned marketing gurus, state in their book Principles of Marketing, “Consumers do not buy attributes, they buy benefits.”

So to help clear up this problem, let me distinguish the difference between a feature and a benefit.  A feature or attribute is a characteristic of a product or service.  Examples of features are:  high quality, durable, well-built, etc. Features don’t do things for the target customer or make him feel a certain way.  Features don’t fulfill a customer’s needs.

However, features can be translated into benefits that are meaningful to the target customer.  Benefits fulfill the target customer’s needs or desires.  Benefits are the reasons why a customer chooses a brand and buys a product or service. Examples of benefits are: ‘makes me look like I have good taste’ or ‘won’t break so that I won’t have to buy another soon’.  Benefits can be functional (what the product/service does for the target customer) or emotional (how the product/service makes the target customer feel).

The key to translating a product or service’s features into benefits is understanding the target customer’s needs.  By understanding these needs, a marketer can identify the relevant benefits that fulfill the needs.  The benefits are based on the product or service’s features/attributes.

So with all of that said, marketers should look at the messages that they are using to grow their brand and promote their products or services.  Are the messages communicating the benefits to the target customer?  Or are they really just communicating the features?  Benefits are much more meaningful and impactful than features, so if features are being communicated, the brand is not realizing its full potential.  Marketers can stop making this mistake by translating the features into benefits for their target customer.

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