The Sweet Smell of Selling Benefits

Dave Marinaccio, Author, All I Really Need To Know I Learned From Watching Star Trek and Admen, Mad Men, and The Real World of Advertising

The Sweet Smell of Selling Benefits

Advertising is an intrusion. An unwanted interloper. A necessary evil. It’s the price we pay for television production and to hold down the cost of FIOS. It is the intersection of free speech and free enterprise.

Guess how many advertising impressions the average American receives every day? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

The answer is over three thousand. Way over. So how do you get your business or product to stand out in a crowd? Take a lesson from perfume, and find a way to sell the benefits, not the features.

Selling perfume is like selling snake oil. Splash on this magic elixir, and suddenly you’ll be attractive and desired. You will be transformed into Heidi Klum or Claudia Schiffer. Plunk down your money and change your life.

Put the same perfume in two different bottles, and you can sell it for two different prices. Selling perfume is as close to pure advertising as you can get. What’s on the bottle is more important than what’s in the bottle.

I cut my advertising teeth selling fragrance, and in the process, learned a lot about selling the benefits of a product rather than its features. This is a primary tenet of good advertising.

Here’s the difference between features and benefits, in a nutshell:

  • If you are describing a product, its smell, its taste, its ingredients, then you are talking about features.
  • If you are communicating how a product will make life better for the person who uses it, you are selling benefits.

Convincing someone that putting on a certain perfume will make them exponentially more attractive to members of the opposite sex is selling the benefit of that perfume. It’s a better selling strategy than telling someone the perfume smells like jasmine.

Selling benefits works regardless of the product. Here’s a story that I was told by an ad man with a long and successful career, who ran the Budweiser account for years. The story goes a little something like this: A man walks into a hardware store and asks to see the drill bits. The storeowner is quite proud of his extensive selection of bits and begins to describe the models he has for sale. One is made of titanium. Another has a special groove design. A third has a magnetic tip for holding screws. The owner wraps up his pitch by asking the customer, “Do you know which drill bit you want?”

“Oh, I don’t really want a drill bit,” the customer replied. “I want holes.”

Advertisers ignore this lesson all the time. That’s why you see ads that tout the speed of software, when you should be seeing ads that advertise finishing the job in half the time.

Pay heed. Customers buy benefits. Companies that advertise benefits will outsell those that advertise features.

While this observation seems self-evident, it’s not. Highly trained advertising brand managers making six-figure salaries commonly ignore this obvious truth. They believe a large picture of their product on a banner ad will prove endlessly fascinating to the great American public. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Perhaps this is the real reason we’re called Mad Men.

Every advertising problem has an infinite number of creative solutions. There is no best answer. At some point, you need to make a decision based on professional judgment, a subjective decision. Research-based decisions are no different. They are the subjective opinions of your customers. Data provides clues, not answers. Your professional judgment is still required.

That said, there is one piece of wisdom that always holds true: focus on the benefits, not the features. Do this, and you’ll see your advertising dollars yield better results.

About the Author

Dave Marinaccio is an international bestselling author, successful marketing business entrepreneur, and SVP, CCO of Laughlin Marinaccio & Owens in Arlington, VA. He is author of All I Really Need To Know I Learned From Watching Star Trek and Admen, Mad Men, and The Real World of Advertising