Explaining Features, Benefits, and Value

By Joel Barker

When creating marketing messages, particularly for technology and software, the industry standard has been to break down the conversation to features and benefits.  The argument is that we simply list the elements of the product and call them features.  Following that, we affix a significance to those features and call those benefits.

When developing that language, I have often been involved in some confusing conversations.  What is a feature, really?   What is a benefit? Why do we talk this way?  What does the audience get out of that message?  Often the discussions go back and forth:

“Is that a feature? I think it is a benefit.”

“What feature is related to that benefit?”

It can really stir people’s emotions.  Developers are proud of what they built and want to see their efforts called out.  Often, sales wants to pare down the features to what they see as the selling points of the product.  It can bring up really good internal conversations.

I have been working on messaging for a feature rich software platform.  It is targeted at a particular audience.  Like a lot of products these days, it uses technology in an innovative way to solve a problem.  We went to the features and benefits model to create the messaging.  In order to really nail the relationship, we got really deep into the relationships between features and benefits.  The Great Guy Greenbaum and I came up with the following statement to define features and benefits:

A benefit is the promise of value created by features.

I really like this.  It introduces an end goal of features and benefits:  Value.

We developed this snazzy graphic (OK, I used a boilerplate from PowerPoint 2007 to create it) to visualize the relationship: