Off the Shelf: The Benefit of the Benefit

In a yesterday’s post, I cited research that experiences give us more satisfaction than things, so it’s more effective as a communicator to sell experiences than products.

But what if what you’re trying to sell is a product? Is your pitch simply doomed to be less effective?

Fortunately, no. In fact, in the example I cited, Sam Mendes’ FaceTime commercial, the thing being sold actually was a product, the iPhone 4. The ad simply focused on the experiences that this product enabled.

You can (and should) use the same approach for every product you sell. As Chip and Dan Heath note in Made to Stick, you should focus on “the benefit of the benefit.” The first benefit in that phrase is an experience, while the second is the product that enables it. For example, the Heaths write, “people don’t buy quarter inch drill bits. They buy quarter-inch holes so they can hang their children’s pictures.” (This example is a concrete, emotional adaptation of classic piece of marketing advice from Theodore Levitt.)

As the Heaths note, citing copywriter John Caples, “companies often emphasize features when they should be emphasizing benefits.” In the words of Caples, “The most frequent reason for unsuccessful advertising is advertisers who are so full of their own accomplishments (the world’s best seed!) that they forget to tell us why we should buy (the world’s best lawn!).”

This focus on your own product is understandable—you’ve spent a lot of time perfecting “the world’s best seed.” But as we’ve seen many times before, effective communication involves shifting the spotlight off of yourself and onto your audience, crafting your pitch to appeal to their interests, even if those interests happen to be different from yours.

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