You may have heard the following phrase, or some variation on it, over and over again: "Sell the sizzle, not the steak." In other words, emphasize the benefits of your products and services in your marketing copy instead of simply trotting out a laundry list of features and expecting those features to get your target audience excited enough to buy from you. I've made similar statements myself from time to time, and the basic principle is a sound one. But there's more it to than that, because features and benefits actually make a great tag team when they're used in the service of each other.
Common marketing wisdom holds that no matter how much compelling data people receive, their decision to buy is ultimately an emotional one. As impressed as they might be by a lengthy set of features, their purchase is fueled by a desire to experience some great end result that replaces their current distress or frustration and with a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. If you're just going on and on about all the things your product or service can do instead of describing the benefits of those actions, you're likely to slam up against what I call the So-What Factor. Readers are scanning your marketing content with the overriding thought, "What's in it for me -- how will this make my life better?" Answer that question with the right benefit statements, and you've got genuine sales content (and hopefully sales) instead of just information.
So are features unimportant? Hardly! Obviously you wouldn't have a business without features, since they represent the specific things you provide and the specific tasks those things perform. If you claim to provide a bunch of benefits without illustrating how you can make those benefits happen, you've got no credibility. So features are definitely important for lending legitimacy to your marketing content -- but they're not what you're really selling. What you're really selling is the promise those features provide, from a fresher-smelling home to a more productive workplace. The features are a means to an end for the buyer; the benefits are that end.
How do you make these two great tastes taste great together? Wherever possible in your marketing content, a feature should be tied to a benefit. For example: "Our new mop has [feature] nano-tubular microfiber static-cling head strands for [benefit] quicker, easier cleaning." Whenever you spout out a feature, be quick to follow up with an explanation of what that feature really means in terms of making your target audience's life better. By addressing the So-What Factor right away, you're keeping your readers' eyes on the prize and helping them envision the final result of owning that product or using that service in everyday life. This approach is especially critical if you offer jargon-heavy features such as legal services, high-tech equipment or medical procedures that require clarification foe the average Joe.
Can you introduce the benefits first and then tie them to features? Of course you can -- and in fact, that's probably the most effective order in which to proceed. Start with the emotional hook of "How much better would your life be if...." or "Imagine solving X problem more easily than ever before" or "Wouldn't you love to have...." This whets the reader's appetite to find out just how such a Shangri-La is possible, at which point you back up your promises with the features that turn them into a reality.
Anyway, don't think in terms of features vs. benefits. Think features and benefits -- because with the aid of this dynamic duo, your marketing content will pack a powerful one-two-punch!