Features vs. Benefits: How to tell a story that speaks beyond technical specs
Updated: Jun 25, 2022
What makes strolling around the big blue box of IKEA so much fun?
For starters, you don’t just walk through a lumber yard of blank, flat-packed cardboard boxes.
The creatives at IKEA go out of their way to curate immersive, eye-popping living spaces that you can touch and explore. Plop down into a SÖDERHAMN loveseat, grab a fake book from a BILLY, and toss your feet up onto a TRULSTORP.
Kick back and experience what your sunny weekend reading session could feel like!
These living dioramas really get your brain churning, inspiring you with great ideas for chair arrangements, color combinations, and layers of plushy pillows and throws.
When you’re brainstorming how to communicate technical features to a non-technical audience, you must think of yourself as an IKEA curator.
You’re telling a meaningful story about a loveseat beyond its 83 cm x 198 cm dimensions and samsta grey polyester. Your words need to weave a story that speaks beyond the technical specs and builds a lively experience your reader can truly feel themselves inside of.
Features vs. benefits 101
Many companies, especially in B2B and e-commerce, treat their website as the back index of a product catalog, listing out features like size, weight, color, or capacity and quickly moving on to the next project. They forget to pluck out the benefits, the exciting stories behind a product’s technical specs—the real selling points that get us excited to buy or learn more.
What is a product feature?
A feature is like a SÖDERHAMN love seat flat-packed into an unmarked cardboard box. It’s a surface-level tidbit, light on description, declaring some aspect of the product. It doesn’t provide much context—you need to open it up to see and feel what it really means to the product experience.
What is a product benefit?
On the other hand, a benefit is like a well-curated living space.
It’s a tidbit that showcases how the product can improve your life experience.
Out of the box comes the SÖDERHAMN!
Next to it is a fluffy and verdant dieffenbachia plant. Placed artfully on the side table is a copy of National Graphic. Now we can really feel how this sofa can make our weekend mornings more relaxing!
Use the power of “benefits” to help your reader test-drive your product experience
What are most people wondering as they stumble across your article or website?
I wonder what time the burrito shop closes tonight.
Do I have tomato paste? I’m craving that braised short rib ragu recipe I just saw on Instagram…
Is there a new episode of ‘9-1-1: Lonestar’ this evening?
How can I make it to both the birthday party and the baseball game this weekend?
Why is my boss calling right now?
It’s your responsibility as the writer to pull the reader out of their own head and into the world your product or service lives in.
When a frenzied businessperson reads that your cell phone data plan is capped at 50GB per month—you’re immediately assuming they know how much data they use per month. When faced with a tricky question—exactly how much data *do* I use every month?—shopping for cell phones starts to feel like homework.
So we push the new project further down the to-do list and vow to come back to it at a later date. Most of the time, we never do.
That’s the risk of focusing exclusively on features and ignoring their benefits. You often raise questions that ultimately drive people away from your product.
Capture attention right away by opening up the SÖDERHAMN box.
Turn the 50GB feature into a meatier benefit the reader can really sink their teeth into.
For the social media fashionista, share how many Instagram hours, YouTube makeup tutorials, and stylish Netflix documentaries hog 50GB of data. For the businessperson, show how many Zoom hours and exchanged emails 50GB can support. By building a little world of benefits around one feature, you can help your reader immediately picture themselves using your product.
Don’t be afraid to tell the story behind your product
Some people believe that telling the story behind a technical feature means you’re “dumbing it down.” This couldn’t be further from the truth! One of my favorite books, Marketing the Moon: The Selling of the Apollo Lunar Program, gives insight into how leveraging the power of benefits can drive much-needed interest in highly technical endeavors.
NASA didn’t garner public attention and build an awe-inspiring allure of space exploration by steamrolling readers with endless data points. While this stuff is captivating to some readers (like me!) NASA needed to find ways to tell the stories of space to expand fascination beyond tech-heads.
They wrapped the spirit of Western frontier exploration into compelling narratives about the stars, distilled advanced tech specs into easy-to-use toys like the Apollo Mission Analyzer, and purposely portrayed astronauts as accessible public figures—not untouchable sophisticates.
Astronaut Gene Cernan highlighted the celebrification of interstellar explorers, and the strategy behind shifting their personas from erudite engineers to influencers sharing the benefits of space exploration. Why was glad-handing adoring crowds and answering questions about how you go to the bathroom aboard a spaceship just as important as training in the simulator?
“You had to give them a little something,” he remarked. “You couldn’t turn your back and walk off. Everything depended on how you related to people.”
Everything depended on how you related to people.
By using benefits in our writing, we can relate to people and their experiences.
For spacecraft hardware manufacturers, capturing the media’s attention required a bit more creativity. Realizing that reporters would need to interpret complex data for readers and viewers in accessible language, several contractors included creative visual representations of esoteric technical information in their press kits.
Grumman included a multi-sheet graphic that dissected their lunar module. A series of cutaways printed on layers of clear acetate sequentially revealed the detailed inner workings of the spacecraft, providing a comprehensible visualization of the lunar module’s construction.
NASA understood early on that if people couldn’t understand the program, they couldn’t sell it to reporters, journalists, or the taxpaying general audience. Inspired by the need to connect with people who were not mechanically or scientifically trained became one of the leading tenets of the Apollo missions. They found ways to unpack the SÖDERHAMN and communicate something heavily technical in a way that created a lifetime of enthusiasm.