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Forget Benefits, And You Will Sell More

What's the single, most important element in copywriting?

Let me say it another way.

You've done your research. You found a starving market. Your product fills their needs. And your sales copy shines with benefits. If so, then why is your product still NOT selling? Is it the price? The offer? The competition?

Maybe. But not necessarily. The fact is, these things are not always to blame for being unable to sell an in-demand product, even with great copy.

It has more to do with one thing: FOCUS. (Or the lack thereof.)

In fact, the greatest word in copywriting is NOT "free." It's "focus."

And what you focus on in your copy is often the single, greatest determinant of your copy's success. Similarly, the most common blunders I see being committed in copy is the lack of focus in a sales message on:
  1. The individual reading the copy; and,
  2. The value you specifically bring to them.
In my experience as a copywriter, I find that some people put too much emphasis on the product, the provider and even the market, and not enough on the most important element in a sales situation: the customer.

The individual reading the copy at that very moment.

Don't focus your copy on your product and the features of your product - and on how good, superior or innovative they are. And don't even focus on the benefits. Instead, focus on increasing perceived value.

Why? Because perception is personal. It's intimate. It's ego-centric.

Let me explain.

When you talk about your product, you're making a broad claim. Everyone makes claims, especially online. "We're number one," "we offer the highest quality," "it's our best version yet," etc. (Often, my reaction is, "So what?")

And describing benefits is just as bad.

Benefits are too broad, in my opinion. You were probably taught that a feature is what a product has and a benefit is what that feature does. Right? But even describing benefits is, in my estimation, making a broad claim, too.

A claim always looks self-serving. It also puts you in a precarious position, as it lessens your perceived value and makes your offer suspect - the opposite of what you're trying to accomplish by making claims in the first place.

Therefore, don't focus on the benefits of a certain feature. Rather, focus on how those features specifically benefit the individual.

There is a difference. A big difference.

The more you explain what those claims specifically mean to the prospect, the more you will sell. It's not the features that counts and it's not even benefits. It's the perceived value. So how do you build perceived value?

The most common problem I see when people attempt to describe benefits is when what they are really describing are advantages - or glorified features, so to speak. Real benefits are far more personal and intimate.

That's why I prefer to use this continuum:

Features   business startup  Advantages   business startup  Benefits   

Of course, a feature is what a product has. And an advantage (or what most people think is a benefit) is what that feature does. But...

... A benefit is what that feature means.

A benefit is what a person intimately gains from a specific feature. When you describe a feature, say this: "What this means to you, Mr. Prospect, is this (...)," followed by a more personal gain your reader gets from the feature.

Let me give you a real-word example.

A client once came to me for a critique of her copy. She sold an anti-wrinkle facial cream. It's often referred to as "microdermabrasion." Her copy had features and some advantages, but no benefits. In fact, here's what she had:
  1. It reduces wrinkles.
  2. It comes in a home kit.
  3. And it's pH balanced.
  1. It reduces wrinkles, so it makes you look younger.
  2. It comes in a home kit, so it's easy to use at home.
  3. And it's pH balanced, so it's gentle on your skin.
This is what people will think a benefit is, such as "younger," "easy to use" and "gentle." But they are general. Vague. They're not specific and intimate enough. So I told her to add these benefits to her copy...
  1. It makes you look younger, which means you will be more attractive, you will get that promotion or recognition you always wanted, you will make them fall in love with you all over again, they will never guess your age, etc.

  2. It's easy-to-use at home, which means you don't have to be embarrassed - or waste time and money - with repeated visits to the doctor's office... It's like a facelift in a jar done in the privacy of your own home!

  3. It's gentle on your skin, which means there are no risks, pain or long healing periods often associated with harsh chemical peels, surgeries and injections.
Now, those are benefits!

Remember, copywriting is "salesmanship in print." You have the ability to put into words what you normally say in a person-to-person situation. If you were to explain what a feature means during an encounter, why not do so in copy?

The more benefit-driven you are, the more you will sell. In other words, the greater the perceived value you present, the greater the desire for your product will be. And if they really want your product, you'll make a lot of money.

It's that simple.

In fact, like a face-to-face, one-on-one sales situation (or as we say in sales training, being "belly to belly" with your prospect), you need to denominate as specifically as possible the value of your offer to your readers.

In other words, express the benefits of your offer in terms that relate directly not only to your market, but also and more importantly:
  1. To each individual in that market
  2. And to each individual's situation.
Don't focus on your product. Focus on your readers. Better yet, relate the benefits of your offer to the person that's reading it. And express how your offer benefits your prospect in terms they can intimately relate to.

Look at it this way:
  • Use terms the prospect is used to, appreciates and fully understands. (The mind thinks in relative terms. That's why the use of analogies, stories, examples, metaphors and testimonials is so important! Look at "facelift in a jar" I mentioned earlier, as an example.)

  • Address your reader directly and forget third-person language. Don't be afraid to use "you," "your" and "yours," as well as "I," "me," "my" and "mine." Speak to your reader as if in a personal conversation with her.

  • Use terms that trigger their hormones, stroke their egos, tug at their heartstrings and press their hot buttons. You don't need to be hypey. Just speak to your reader at an intimate level. An emotional level.
Because the worst thing you can do, second to making broad claims, is to express those claims broadly. Instead, appeal to their ego. Why? Because...

... We are all human beings.

Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising (one of the best books on copywriting), once noted we are not far evolved from chimpanzees. "Just far enough to be dangerous to ourselves," copywriter Peter Stone once noted.

He's not alone. My friend and copywriter Paul Myers was once asked during an interview, "Why do people buy from long, hypey copy?" His short answer was, "Human beings are only 2 feet away from the cave."

(Speaking of Eugene Schwartz, listen to his speech. It's the best keynote speech on copywriting. EVER. You can also get a copy of his book, too, at - just scroll about halfway down to the clip entitled "Hear legendary copywriter Eugene Schwartz teach his proprietary system for writing breakthrough advertising copy").

People buy for personal wants and desires, and for selfish reasons above all. Whether you sell to consumers or businesses, people are people are people. It's been that way for millions of years. And nothing's changed.

Your message is just a bunch of words. But words are symbols. Different words mean different things to different people. Look at this way: while a picture is worth a thousand words, a word is worth a thousand pictures.

And the words you choose can be worth a thousand sales.

Copyright 2004 by Michel Fortin - All rights reserved
About the Author:
Michel Fortin is a direct response copywriter, author and consultant dedicated to turning sales messages into powerful magnets. His specialty are email, direct mail and web sales letters. Get a complimentary copy of his ebook, "The 10 Commandments of Power Positioning," when you subscribe to his monthly email newsletter, "The Profit Pill," at!

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