Benefits vs. Features is Content vs. Product

I’ve been looking for a succinct way to differentiate the kind of messaging that should be contained in content marketing versus product-centric digital information. I’ve tried imagery – there’s a bad paragraph on my hard drive somewhere of me clumsily describing a rock going into a pond and leaving concentric rings… it is really terrible- and specificity. I’ve tried developing models related to intention and audience, but they all feel very obscure and theoretical. It wasn’t until I was re-reading Chris Guillebeau’s “The $100 Startup” when I came across a paragraph on differentiating between benefit and feature messaging that went a long way toward explaining what I’ve failed to explain for a long time. “More than anything else, value relates to emotional needs. Many business owners talk about their work in terms of the features it offers, but it’s much more powerful to talk about the benefits customers receive. A feature is descriptive; a benefit is emotional.” (Chris, if you happen to see this, please take it as an homage and not a rip-off.) I agree with this 100%, but when thinking about digital content marketing specifically, I have one minor tweak – features describe the product or service while benefits speak to a person’s need – a tension in their life that needs to be relieved. I make this distinction for a couple of reasons- 1. Emotion is a bit too vague – it’s conceptual and ephemeral. It also smacks of a starry-eyed or brooding bond, which may be the case, but certainly is not the only case. 2. Need takes many forms. People need information and education, they need entertainment and a sense of belonging. Need can be a manifestation of curiosity. Need is more pointed and can create a more direction connection from benefit to features. When I work with clients on developing their approach to content, I rarely recommend they spend a lot time, money or effort in defining and expounding upon their product features. Instead, I recommend that they spend time exploring the needs of the people they want to reach. Spend time defining the problem your product solves, the practical, real-life experiences of the audience you hope to solve or help with. In short, when you begin thinking about your content approach, focus on the challenge – the needs of customers – and let your product be a natural extension, an obvious solution.

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