Features vs Benefits in the software world

You’ve probably heard this age-old piece of marketing wisdom before:

“Sell benefits, not features”

In general, this is good advice. But in the software world, it is not always the best approach. In some situations, pushing your features will sell better. I encountered a situation like that a while ago.

It all depends on your product, your target audience and your sources of website traffic.

Product

Let’s say you are launching a completely new type of product, a smart piece of software that solves a problem that is not being solved by any other program. Then yes, you will need to describe the software in terms of benefits. Explaining which problem it solves, describing the benefits of using the software and why it is so great to have that particular problem solved.

But for most of us, the software we sell is not that unique. You probably have several competitors who make the same type of program. Examples: Text editors, FTP clients, file managers, image editors, etc…
You may even be up against the big guys, creating your own email client, MP3 player or file compression software.

In that case, there is less need to describe the benefits of using the software (if at all), especially if you can assume that most of your visitors are aware of the competing products (which of course also depends on your audience and your traffic sources).
If your average visitor knows about the other programs, you want to push the features that set you apart (because of course your software is better). If you are competing against one or more well-known competitors in your market, you can go as far as creating a feature comparison table between your program and those alternatives.

Target Audience

If your audience is tech-savvy, then selling in terms of features can work better too. These visitors don’t need to be told about the benefits, they already know them or can easily deduct them from the features list.

And then there’s the ultimate tech-savvy audience: developers.
Are you creating developer tools? Then an honest and to-the-point feature list may be the best way to sell your software. These guys may even be allergic to benefit-style bullets 🙂

Computer-savvy / internet-savvy users are also more likely to be aware of alternatives and your competitors. They have probably done several Google searches already, found several options and are now visiting your site to determine how well you compare.

Traffic Sources

Which automatically brings us to the third factor: the sources of your traffic. Where do your visitors come from?

If they arrive at your website after a laser focused Google search, clicking on your Google ad, then you can safely assume that they know exactly what they want and why they want it. They don’t need to have the benefits explained to them. And Google has probably given them a nice list of your competitors too.
So for that type of visitors, focus on explaining why your features make your product the right tool for the job.

On the other hand, if you have a lot of traffic that is less targeted (e.g. from Google’s Content Network, from banner ads, organic search engine listings) then you may have some benefit-explaining to do.

For example, let’s say an ad for my DVD cataloging software shows up on IMDb through the Content Network. IMDb’s visitors are interested in movies, so they are somewhat targeted. But they may have never considered cataloging their DVDs on their computer.
So if those visitors click my ad and arrive on my Movie Collector product page, I need to explain to them why they would need (or at least want) to create a personal DVD database. E.g. to prevent duplicate purchases, to make sure they don’t loose sight of loaned DVDs.
And I can’t suffice with telling them that my software automatically downloads all DVD details and cover images (which is the main feature). Instead I will need to push the benefit of being able to catalog your entire DVD collection in just a few hours, without typing.

Now the above two traffic sources are two extremes. In practice, it isn’t this clear-cut.

Looking at keyword-driven search engine traffic, visitor types are usually different depending on the keyword.
Some keywords bring highly targeted visitors that need feature lists. Other keywords brings visitors that are still in an early phase of their search and you may draw them in by telling them about the benefits of your solution.

Let’s take a look at a Movie Collector example again. Consider two searchers, one searching Google for “dvd database software”, the other typing “movie collection” into the search box. I use Adwords to bid on both keywords, with separate ads of course. Now these visitors are two completely different kinds of animals.

If someone searches for “dvd database software” and hits my site, do I need to bother him with the benefits of having his DVDs cataloged in a database? Of course not, he knows that he wants and why he wants it. He just needs to know that my product is the best software to do the job. A feature list will do just that.

A “movie collection” visitor is different. He probably owns a lot of movies, collects them even, but he has not yet realized that cataloging his collection would solve his problem. In fact, he may not be aware that he has a “problem” yet. So let’s tell him about his problems first, then present the solution with all its benefits 🙂

Sell features or sell benefits?

Now what should we do, sell features or sell benefits?

Easy: just do both.

Create two landing pages for each product. One explaining the benefits of your solution, one clearly listing its features. Then send your traffic to one or the other based on the traffic source and the keyword.

Not all traffic can be funneled to the ideal page, but your Adwords traffic can.
That is, if you have your Content Network and Search Network nicely separated into different campaigns and if you have your keywords grouped into focused ad groups with their own landing pages. But of course you have…

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