Writing Benefit-Driven Copy

Posted: July 25, 2011 in Marketing

You’ve identified the benefits you offer your customers, but how do you turn a list of benefits into engaging copy?

As a copy writer, many of the projects we’ve undertake are for completely new products. The client has some general ideas about what they’d like to convey, but they need someone who can fine-tune their message, and create copy which engages their readers. As a result, over the years I’ve developed a process for doing this effectively. There are four main steps:

  1. Identify benefits
  2. Identify how you deliver these benefits
  3. Prioritize your benefits
  4. Write the content

STEP 1 – Identify your benefits

Branding aside, most new product introductions are about selling. Customers don’t want to know what you can do; they want to know what you can do for THEM. That means the first question you should ask is, “What benefits do I offer my customers?” This is usually the first step toward identifying the key message to be conveyed. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t describe your products and services. You just need to make sure it describes them in terms of benefits to your customer.

STEP 2 – Identify how you deliver these benefits

Of course, you can’t just claim to deliver benefits and stop at that. You need to support that claim. You’re going to need to convince your audience that you actually do deliver these benefits. Anyone can say they deliver benefits, but few can say it persuasively.

From step 1 you’ll have a list of benefits. Now you need to think about how you deliver each benefit in that list. This is where you start talking about features – price, product highlights, distribution channel, competitor weaknesses, external factors, USP’s, etc. It’s helpful if you draw up a table with one column for benefits and one for the features which deliver those benefits.

You’ll probably find this process much easier than identifying benefits. In fact, you’ve probably got most of this information written down already… somewhere. If not, chances are you uncovered a good portion of it when you were brainstorming for benefits.

TIP: If you’re having trouble identifying supporting features, before filling out the table, try listing everything you can think of which relates to what you do and how you do it. Don’t worry about the order. Just brain dump onto a piece of paper, a whiteboard, a Word document, anywhere… Don’t leave anything out, even if it seems unimportant. If you start getting lost, think back to the question you’re trying to answer: How do you deliver your list of benefits to your customer? Once you’ve done your brain dump, read through it and decide which specific benefit each feature delivers.

STEP 3 – Prioritize your benefits

Now that you’ve identified all the things you COULD say, it’s time to figure out what you SHOULD say and where you should say it. This is where your benefits-features table comes into play. Read through your list of benefits and prioritize them according to how compelling they will be to your reader.

The reason for this? Priority determines prominence. The most compelling benefits will need to be prominent.

TIP: Be aware that your list may include some benefits which everyone in your business category could claim. In other words, they’re not just specific to your company, but apply to the type of service you offer. For example, if you sell a Content Management System (CMS) for website creation, you may list “Greater control for marketing managers” and “Less expense updating content” as benefits. Every CMS vendor could claim these benefits, so you’ll need to question their importance. Will they differentiate you from your competitors? Generic benefits can be useful if none of your competitors are using them, or if you feel you need to educate your market a bit before launching into company-specific benefits.

STEP 4 – Write your content

So now you know what you’d like to say, it’s time to decide how to say it. This is about three things:

  • Subject – What is the subject of your site; features or benefits?
  • Structure – How do you structure your site such that your customers will read your most compelling benefits?
  • Words – What words should you use to best engage your audience (and the search engines)?

Subject

What is the subject of your marketing piece; features or benefits? The answer to this question lies in audience identification. If your audience knows a bit about the type of product or service you’re selling, lead with features (e.g. processor speed, turnaround time, uptime, expertise, educational qualifications, wide product range, etc.). But make sure you talk about their benefits, and make sure the features offering the most important benefits are the most prominent.

Here’s a simplified example…

Cool Widgets offers:

  • Standard Operating Environment – Significantly reducing the complexity of your IT infrastructure
  • System upgrades which are less expensive to license – Providing excellent TCO reductions

In cases where you’re selling to an audience who knows very little about your product or service, lead with benefits (e.g. if you’re selling something technical to a non-technical audience).

Here’s the same simplified example, reversed for a novice audience…

Cool Widgets offers:

  • Reduced complexity of IT infrastructure – We can implement a Standard Operating Environment for your organization
  • Reduced TCO – We can upgrade your IT to systems which are less expensive to license

Structure

How do you structure your piece such that your customers will be sure to read your most compelling benefits? The answer is, keep it short ‘n sweet. And make it scannable. This doesn’t mean you have to cut features or benefits. You just have to structure your piece to accommodate your message.

While every piece is different, as a rule of thumb it’s a good idea to introduce your main features and benefits on your early on. Summarize them – preferably using bullet points, but at the very least, clearly highlight them so that your audience can scan-read (e.g. bold, underline, color, link).

Conclusion

Effective marketing communication is about far more than just clever words. It’s essential that you identify the benefits you offer your customer, and that you can convince your customer you actually deliver those benefits.

I hope that the guidance and tools provided in this article will help you on your way to engaging copy which converts to sales.

 

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