What makes a good benefit?

Free wine with dinner always gets my vote.

Ha. Ha. I mean it. I know what my product’s features are, but how do I translate them into benefits? People keep telling me I need to.

Well, they’ve got a point.

But do they really? When I’m buying a product I’ll often just look at the feature list. I just need to know it does what I want it to do.

Yes, but you’re coming into the sale with a lot of knowledge. It’s all about context, and the problem hierarchy.

The problem hierarchy?

Yes. The more knowledge you have, the more specific a result you want, the closer features and benefits become. As an example, say you’re after a suit. If you know about tailoring, you’ll be able to look at a label, see that it’s made from Super 120s wool and know that’s what you’re after. If you don’t know about tailoring, you won’t know what Super 120s wool means. You need to be told that it strikes a good balance between durability and lightness.

So it’s about being able to make the connection?

Exactly. Features become benefits when your customer knows they want them. Regardless of how much knowledge you’ve got, you’re looking for the same result – a suit that’s comfortable to wear, but that you can still get a lot of use out of. But people have tunnel vision. They only see what they’re looking for. So your knowledgeable customer is specifically looking for Super 120s wool, and that’ll hook them in your advert. Your less knowledgeable customer may know, in theory, that certain grades of wool are better so they could work it out, but what they’ll be looking for is an explicit assurance that their suit will be comfortable and durable.

But if they can work it out, why do we need to state it?

Because then you’re making the customer do more work. People don’t like that kind of thing. You’ll basically never go wrong assuming your customers are incapable of independent thought.

OK. That actually sounds pretty simple.

In principle it’s not hard. A neat trick is to make sure you use the word ‘so’. Your product has FEATURE so BENEFIT. The word itself isn’t important, but it forces you to think about why the customer will care. Although – fair warning – there’s something else you need to consider too.

Of course there is. God forbid this stuff should ever be easy.

There are reasons why copywriters get paid a lot of money. Anyhow, understanding that the benefit is what the customer wants is the easy part. The trickier part is understanding exactly what the customer wants. Even most customers don’t know that.

Customers don’t know what they want?

Not often. Most people don’t. What they think they want is informed by how they’d like to be; what they actually want is determined by who they are.

That sounds like psychobabble.

Fair point. The thing is there’s certain desires people have that they feel guilty about having, handily summed up by the seven deadly sins. Which does make some sense – if people didn’t want them, they wouldn’t need to be sins, and we’ve been brought up thinking of them as sins so we don’t like to admit to wanting them.

Do you have an example?

Why yes, Virginia. Let’s go back to the suit, and think about pride. You might look at a suit and think you’d look great in it, but the price tag says £500. You know you can’t really justify spending that amount just because you could feel proud about how you’d look. You’ve likely got plenty of other clothes that make you look good already. So instead, you think up all the other reasons you ‘want’ it for. You’ve got an interview coming up. The material’s good quality. It’ll last a long time. It’s discounted. A good copywriter writing an advert for that suit will SHOW you that you’ll look amazing wearing it, and TELL you about all these other ‘benefits’. You let yourself be swayed by them, because then you feel like you’re buying it for valid reasons, not just pride. The benefit you REALLY want sells. The benefits you think you want justify.

That’s… that’s fucking insane. People are broken.

Welcome to the human race. It’s quite fun once you get used to it.