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

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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”

features vs benefits

 

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:

features vs benefits

Note: Try sharing the above image by right-clicking it and the choosing “add to Buffer” with the Buffer browser extension, it’s one of our most shared updates, ever

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

features vs benefits

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: Start a conversation, explore your interests, and be in the know.

features vs benefits

Twitter has used a few different benefits in their tag line 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: Saving energy is a beautiful thing.

features vs benefits

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 something about what makes the product unique (it’s well-designed; it’s “a beautiful thing”).

LinkedIn: Be great at what you do.

features vs benefits

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: Build software better, together.

features vs benefits

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 the comments below.

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:

P.S. Only last week we launched brand new Buffer analytics, with Google Analytics support, fan and follower growth options and more. Check it out and see if it can help your social media efforts.

About the Author

Belle Beth Cooper

Belle is the first Content Crafter at Buffer and co-founder of Exist. She writes about social media, startups, lifehacking and science.

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  • E-r-d-i

    This is a great approach to marketing but its also a great approach to business. You’re not just selling your company and its numbers and successes. You’re giving the customer a clear vision of where they will be with you and your work. This is a pretty neat approach.

  • themanuelrc

    Brilliant post. Thanks Buffer ;)

  • Heather YamadaHosley

    Ah, now I see why you were asking about examples yesterday. :) In the Nest one, the image says, “Saving energy is a beautiful thing.” But you mention “money” in your text…

    This is an excellent topic to write on as a majority of relationships, whether they be between individuals, companies & individuals, or companies & companies, are all about displaying your benefit to the other party either in an obvious or subconscious manner. Thanks for covering such an interesting area, Belle!

  • http://sukofamily.org/ Caleb

    Great take on this Belle! Now I’m thinking how can I apply that to fundraising? Any ideas?

  • Chris Conner

    Belle, Thanks for posting this. Of all the things I have read about marketing in the last year, “People buy better versions of themselves” is the one that sticks with me. I keep it in mind for myself as well as my clients.

    But why does it work?

    Because the features may be impressive, or interesting, but a benefit is satisfying. It has a stronger emotional impact. The customer feels what it would be like to use the product or service. Making customers feel something, as Steve Jobs did so well, is the key to great marketing.

  • Clark Lagemann

    Another awesome post… the old saying I continuously think of: Features tell, benefits sell.

    Buffer has the best business blog. Keep it coming.

    • http://www.jasonfrasca.com/deconstructing-tech-blog/ Jason Frasca

      I am borrowing that one for sure @clarklagemann:disqus!

    • http://www.praverb.net/ Praverb

      Great point Clark.

  • Wilfredtr

    Buffer. Once, and for all.

  • http://www.mealime.com/ Jeffrey Bunn

    Great post Belle – love the examples. You mentioned Jason Fried – but as a product example, I think any of the 37signals sites are excellent.

  • http://glassduffle.com/ Eric White

    Nice work on this one Belle. I especially like the Nest Thermostat claim. Good copy is hard to write. Good AND short even harder. They killed that one.

  • Sandy

    I have heard the 1/4″ hole quote before and did an oh, duh when I realized “it is what you can do with our product”. Thanks, Belle!

  • Violetta L Wong

    Thanks. I just need it.

  • Kim

    Not sure who said it, but I find “You’re not selling a bed, you’re selling a good night’s sleep” always helps me to remember the difference between features and benefits!

  • David Schuller

    This is an excellent post. I was struggling with how would be the best way to market some products on my blog. This answered my question.
    Thanks

  • Dave from scarborough

    And once you are used to selling in this manner how do you adjust to the critical thinker?

  • Lemna Mano

    People are smart! Wow kind of feeling! It is nice to see things happening smarter around the world!
    And @Buffer – You are doing a wonderful work! This is the first day I am going through your blog and it is really cool! Keep going!

  • Ange Andria

    I think we could dig even deeper, being more specific, because it helps to define who our customers are even better. At least 5 levels of “So that”.

    “They want quarter-inch holes” > I kind of disagree in the sense that I don’t think that a quarter-inch hole is a benefit either. You don’t achieve anything because you made a hole. You don’t reach a better version of yourself. Also, not everyone needs a quarter-inch hole to achieve the same thing.

    So at each level we could define our customer’s persona event better (qualify or segment).

    They want quarter-inch holes > **So that** they can put a shelf on their wall
    They want to put a shelf on the wall > **So that** they can put their favorite books on it
    They want to put books on a shelf in their living room > So that they always have the books that they love in front of them and think about reading those
    > So that they read more often and can relax, take time for themselves, enjoy that quiet place in their *home* while the children are asleep/or after sunday’s lunch, siesta time, etc etc…

    If that fits with our customer’s persona, we could say “You’ll be reading your favorite book in no time” with that kind of visual : http://www.visualphotos.com/photo/2×3228134/woman_on_sofa_reading_book_600-01111294.jpg

    I would say that’s closer to what a potential customer could imagine. That’s what triggered his need for access to his books, a shelf, a hole, quarter-inch bits.

    I would love to hear your opinion about it.

    • Ange

      woops, sorry. I didn’t think the image would be embedded and displayed that large

    • andrewjgrimm

      No matter what drill bit I buy, I won’t have the cleavage that model has. Sex sells? No thanks.

    • Graham

      i agree that nobody wants a hole any more than they want a drill bit. however, when you pursue that path to the end you always end up with “be happy”, which is not very helpful to the product manager at black & decker.

      so the question is, when do you stop?

  • Konrad Sanders

    Top notch post here Belle – and some great, inspiring taglines, thanks! Being a copywriter I of course agree with all of this. Verbs like ‘imagine’ and ‘picture’ are commonly used in my field (and powerfully so) to help customers visualize how awesome their lives could be with your product or service. PS. I’m loving this Mario analogy!

  • Chris Bicourt

    Simon Sinek. “Start with Why”.

  • http://blog.wishpond.com/ Krista Bunskoek

    Excellent post, Belle. Tech-heavy innovations or not, it comes down to ye old showing people how your stuff gives them the faster horse.

    The simpler you can relate your message, the better.

  • http://www.sociallysorted.com.au/ Donna Moritz

    Great post Beth. I just love watching Steve Jobs presentations – they all feature the benefits – the laptop that fits in an envelope, the ipod that carries 1000 songs in your pocket. The man was THE genius of SIMPLICITY and cutting straight to our “why”. Thanks for sharing this post – brilliant examples.