Early in my career I came across one of the most iconic advertisements in existence: the one David Ogilvy, possibly the best copywriter to have lived wrote for Rolls Royce.

It looks like this:

Now this, what you see in the headline is a technically a feature – actually the whole advertisement is a properly edited list of features, at least at first glance.

Later on I realized that it is actually a brilliant way of communication features and benefits. Let’s look at the headline for example.

“At 60 miles an hour the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock”

From this one short sentence alone you instantly learn the following:

  • The car is a Rolls Royce.
  • It can do 60 mph (keep in mind, this ad was published in 1958).
  • Not only it can do it, the engine is not even struggling (since it is quiet).
  • The car is really, really quiet.

What seems like a simple list of features actually gives a tremendous amount of information about the product. Also, it uses very few adjectives, no fancy words, and certainly no exclamation marks.

This is because Ogilvy spent months researching the audience of the advertisement. He concluded that they don’t need magic tricks with words, they need the facts.
About what? Read that second sentence:

„What makes Rolls-Royce the best car in the world?”

There is a presupposition in there: that the brand is in fact the best, the only question is how they do it. And this hook will pull the target audience right in to the article.

As simple as this advertisement may seem, it is a carefully crafted masterpiece, worthy of analysis. And the reason I am telling you this?

Realizing how features and benefits are different (and not in the way I thought), and that I can present them carefully so my target audience will have no chance but to dive into the copy, this was one of those moments when I fell even more in love with copywriting.

In this article I will teach you how to identify and distinguish features and benefits, what style you should use, what you should include in your email copy and more. Let’s start with the basics?

This article is the fourth piece in our Email Copywriting series. If you want to dig deeper into email copywriting, read other articles below.

 

Features and benefits are not what you think they are

Let's just stick with cars for a minute.

In the above example Ogily's copy makes it clear that the car is not only fast but that driving it even at a great speed is a smooth and rewarding experience.

This is what makes the difference. The speed itself is only the feature - along with horsepower, the number of years on the guarantee or the inclusion of power steering and so on.

Someone who like sport cars won't really look for the fastest one, but the car that will give the greatest experience while driving. While horsepower and speed are simply features, the benefits are

  • the adrenaline rush you get when you go from 0 to 100 in a few seconds,
  • the ease of driving the car even at great speeds,
  • the comfort they feel while behind the steering wheel,

and so on like this.

Go beyond the physical and communicate the functional product. Not what they can see with their eyes, but what they will feel when using your solution. What your product does, not what it is.

I love this very simple image which illustrates the difference perfectly:

Source: HelpScout

But how do you find benefits?

Finding the benefits: yes, you must do research

Every single great copywriter started with weeks or months of research before they wrote down a single word. Your research has to be about two things:

  • The product itself
  • The target audience

Researching the product

Just today in a copywriting Facebook group I spotted a post. This is what it said:

What happens when you say, "Sure, I can write a flier for you" though you've never actually written print copy before (at least, not for a paying customer).

Customer: "In your research you found out exactly what our users need and crafted a compelling message."

A copywriter's job is not really writing. Yes, it is the tip of the iceberg, but what we do resembles more the routine of professional athletes, who train for months and years to reach peak performance for a couple of seconds at the right time.

Ogilvy himself spent months to examine the car in the ad this article starts with. He tried it, looked at it, talked to those who designed and built it. He found out everything there is to know about the product.

If you know your own product inside out, think again. Spend, if necessary months using it, trying out every little feature, bringing it to it's limits. Try to break it. Find out when it doesn't work. It may not be a mistake or a bug, but it might be important.

Source: WebEngage Monk

In the past years I myself spent a lot of time trying out products of my customers. Testing software or analyzing websites, online services is one thing, but I also brought home special soaps, dog poop bags, magnet printing devices and so on.

During this period make notes, lists. Mark what you think is important: why is it comfortable to use your product, how did it improve your life, what other products can you stop using, because this is a better solution?

These will be the true benefits which you can later communicate.

If you can, assemble a team for testing: give the product to colleagues, family, friends, and ask them about their experiences. Write down everything that might be important.

The "so what?" method

Okay, so you have a comprehensive list about everything that might sell your product.

When you write sales letter, after every sentence, ask yourself: so what? Because that is what your readers will do in their head. This way you can sort out the real benefits.

Let's say I want to start an email copywriting course. So, the method would look like this.

I started a new email copywriting course.

So what?

I will teach you how to effectively communicate with your target audience.

So what?

With this knowledge you will generate higher open and click-through rates, drive more traffic to your landing and product pages.

So what?

You will be able to sell more to more people and generate a higher revenue.

See, we are getting close to why it is truly good for the recipient. Do this every time.

Research your target market

Last year a software developer company asked me to write a landing page for them, targeted at team leaders at other software developer companies. They create personalized solutions in a certain framework to solve specific problems their clients have.

What they thought their main advantage, their USP (unique selling proposition) were their methods and experience. But after speaking with a few people who would be likely to pay them for what they do, I realized it's not what the company really does for them.

Team leaders, project leaders care little about how you complete the job. They want it to be finished fast, for it to work fine and to cost as little as possible. And that is because this is what they get credit for. They want to look good in front of clients and superiors.

In the end the main message simply became:

If we provide the reinforcements, you will be able to develop your projects faster – and have full control over the process.

By mentioning full control I implied that the job will be done properly and also addressed a possibly problematic issue while I emphasized speed.

In my experience there are a lot of methods for gathering information about what your audience really wants without spending your marketing budget on research.

  • One-on-one interviews are always the best. However you have to spend quite some time on them and you also have to carefully select who you sit down with. And you may also need a larger sample.
  • You can go with surveys. Include them on your site, send them out in email or ask members of your Facebook groups to complete them. Keep in mind that you should let responders express themselves freely. If they have to pick from predetermined answers you will be none the wiser.
  • Initiate a conversation about your product in social media. Ask your followers or group member what they really like about it, what are their personal experiences and so on.
  • Pay attention to customer service. The questions that potential customers ask, the problems they have with the product may give great ideas.

Formulas for presenting your benefits in your landing page and email copy

Below I will give you a few copywriting formulas that you can instantly utilize. You can find some of these elsewhere, some of it are my own orI borrowed them from my colleagues.

The goal with these is to give you a toolset of course, but also to tech you how you can phrase you copy so your benefits will get the highlight.

[Action] may cause you to [unexpected result]

The reader is invited to take an action which may bring a surprising, seemingly unexpected, but desired result. Phrasing will imply causality.

Examples:

  • Opening this email may get you that promotion.
  • Buying this management software may let you finally catch up on Walking Dead.
  • Taking this course may let you fire your boss.

I won't tell you [product] will [bring desired result].

But there you are doing it. A simple little persuasion technique: say that you won't claim your product will completely solve a problem, but later on tell them nonetheless, in other words.

Example:

  • I won't tell you this insulation will get rid of your family's health problems.

[Reach desired outcome in an unexpected way.]

Simply for catching the attention of the reader by arousing curiosity.

Examples:

  • Convince your leads while not speaking a word.
  • Get your family Christmas gifts by not shopping at all.
  • Get all the content you need for your campaign without actually creating any.

What if you could [reach desired after state]?

When telling your audience that they can solve a problem is expected to meet resistance, use a conditional stance.

Examples:

  • What if you could smile without fear?
  • What if you could turn off your phone as soon as you left the office?
  • Imagine if you could relax in Spain right this weekend.
  • What would happen if you started your own company?

An [adjective] way to [reach desired after state].

I heard an example for this at the Digital Marketing World Forum: hungryhouse used to use the tagline "The easy way to takeaway." This did not bring the best results, and after some research they found out their audience likes the word "simple" more to describe their service. This is a really minor change but you can see how important it is to do your homework and properly get to know your audience.

The best adjective will be the benefit of course.

Examples:

  • Take care of your dental problems painlessly.
  • Enjoy your holiday like a billionaire.
  • The effortless way to amaze your girlfriend.

[Verb] [application] [differentiator]

This is the VAD formula, a basic one for copywriters.

Examples:

  • Increase your email open rate by changing only one word.
  • Get rid of your junk while sitting on your couch.

How this [product] will help you [reach desired after state]?

Notice that this is a statement wrapped in a question. It helps soften it and for the reader to subconsciously accept it. The solution you have will bring you the benefit, the only question that remains is how it will do it exactly.

Examples:

  • How will this article make you a better writer?
  • How is this site going to eliminate all the frustrating tasks you have to deal with?
  • How is this car going to get your family anywhere while keeping them entertained?

Now these are really just a few formulas out of thousands out there. They are effective, so you can start by practicing these. After you have identified your true benefits, you can get to fine tuning how you should present them to the audience you have.

Author
Daniel Benyo

Daniel Benyo

Senior copywriter with 7+ years of experience