Features and benefits are the cause of some confusion when writing white papers. While many people believe the two words describe the same things, there’s actually a significant difference between the two. It’s important for marketers and salespeople to understand that difference, because one of the two is much more powerful than the other.

Features describe

A feature is some aspect of the product or service your organization offers. For example, when you buy a vehicle, it comes with many features — tires, seats, brakes, an engine, a steering wheel, radio … the list goes on and on. Many of those features have their own list of features. The steering wheel may be wrapped in leather, the tires may be an all-weather design, and the seats are probably adjustable. Those are all features.

Benefits sell

A benefit, on the other hand, describes what makes a feature good or useful. That leather-wrapped steering wheel enhances your grip for more precise control at high speeds. Having all-weather tires means you can expect superior performance no matter what nature throws at you. And the adjustable seats allow you to customize your vehicle’s comfort to your own size and shape (or lack thereof).

Features and benefits each affect the brain

Features are just important information. They tell you what’s there. Benefits bring features to life in white papers by explaining what users gain thanks to the features. If an automaker mentions stability control, that’s a feature. if the automaker tells you that you can drive down the roughest road with confidence, that’s a benefit. Features appeal to the logical side of our brains, but benefits grab the emotional side. Humans react much more deeply to messages reaching them at an emotional level, so benefits connect more strongly. That’s true even for serious, information-focused types like engineers and accountants. They have emotional reactions, too.

How do you identify benefits?

When someone tells you about a feature, or gives you a list of features of your company’s new product, ask yourself why anyone would want it. Your answer will reveal the feature’s benefit. For example, a bank may tell you they offer 24-hour ATM access. That’s a feature they provide. Why would anyone want that? So they can access their account whenever they want. That means the feature is 24-hour ATM access, but the benefit is banking whenever you want.

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