Benefits vs. Features: Sell the Hole, Not the Drill

By Marty Schneck, November 11, 2015

Everyone loves buying things. At least, I know I do. Just recently I bought a sweet new camera.

When I showed my best friend and partner in crime, the first thing he asked was, “Why would you buy that one?”

Well… because the camera fit all of my needs.

Camera shopping is extremely confusing for someone like me. I’m content with Instagramming my artisan bread and Snapchatting my duck faces to people I haven’t seen in months. I had no clue which camera was best, I just wanted a fancy new camera so my artisan bread would look just a little tastier on Instagram.

Most of the cameras I found online focused on their high megapixel count, low shutter speed, sharp screen, and variety of new and exciting features. They all sounded professional, but I’m not a professional. They just confused me.

My online search led me to a promotional video for Samsung, highlighting their new camera’s ability to take perfect, crisp selfies, with a screen that turns around so you can see what you capture. It showcased stylish amateur photographers easily carrying their compact, hipster camera. I could also share it with my phone and easily upload to Instagram or Facebook immediately after taking the picture. Perfect!

While the video listed a few features of the camera, the focus was on the user experience, and how those features could be used to benefit the people using the camera. This artsy camera will make my next trip or friendly outing complete.

Their tactic worked; I went with this camera. Other models focused on what the camera could do, rather than what it could do for me. Sure the other cameras “reduce image noise,” but I just wanted to share my delicious food with all my friends, and look cool doing it.

I wanted what the camera could give me, rather than the camera itself. This situation shows why emphasizing the benefits of a product is infinitely more important than blatantly listing its features.

What's in It for Me?

People buy things because they solve a problem. I bought a camera because I wanted higher quality selfies and food Instagrams. This is such a stupid problem, I’ll be the first to admit that, but it’s still a problem. I didn't buy a camera because it had xx megapixels and xx shutter speed. That means nothing to me. I bought this camera because it lets me feel like a hipster photographer with an arsenal of fancy selfies and food pictures. I bought the camera for that reason.

This is the importance of marketing the benefits of a product, rather than the features. Features are unique to a product -- they define what it is and what it does. Benefits are how those features help you or me - what does the camera do for us?

Features are still an important way for people to measure your product against the competition, but they have their place outside of marketing. When marketing your product, consider what benefit the feature provides to the buyer.

Here are examples of product hooks that are feature-based, alongside their benefit-oriented counterparts. 

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As you can see, the features are great ways to define what a product is, but the benefits speak right to the people buying your product, and communicate how the product makes their lives better. These are all very simple and concrete examples, but people are still making these mistakes.

Do You Want the Drill or the Hole?

One of the most famous quotes in marketing comes from Harvard Business School professor Theodore Levitt: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want to buy a quarter-inch hole!” (click to tweet) 

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You don’t buy a drill for the drill, you buy it for the hole it drills. Kinda confusing, but not really. You buy the drill because it makes the hole you need, not because it’s a drill.

This can be extended even further! Do you really want the hole? Perhaps you drill the hole while you’re making a deck for your backyard. So you buy the drill for the deck. But why are you building the deck? Maybe you’re excited to have large family gatherings in your backyard this summer. Ultimately, you are buying the drill because it helps you make the perfect deck for memorable parties over the summer.

So the benefit of the drill is that it leads to fun family time.

You can even see examples of this in commercials. Cheerios commercials have a grandmother bonding with a baby while eating Cheerios. Rice Krispies have similar scenarios, making fun Easter eggs with your children. Next time you watch TV, take note of what commercials are illustrating. Every detail is there for a reason, mostly to make you feel.

Ultimately you are marketing the benefits of your product, and those include the end experiences associated with your product. So yes, people want the hole, not the drill. But they also want so much more than that. And you want to show them all that your product can give them.

So Keep It Simple

People like simple decisions. Rather than naming off features of your product using buzzwords and jargon, emphasize its benefits and illustrate the experience a customer can gain from purchasing your camera, or yogurt, or cereal. Never assume the benefits are implied, because you never want to confuse people.

Even if you have to say “this camera completes your perfect vacation,” do it. It’s probably better to paint the picture though, literally.

So remember, be sure to connect your product to the final experience, or to what the person is looking to gain by buying it. I’m not looking to buy a camera for the sake of buying a camera. I want those great memories and experiences saved. I want top notch pictures of food for my Instagram, and gorgeous selfies for my Facebook. Figure out what your target consumer wants, and give them that. It’s a win-win for everybody.

This article was originally published in May 2014 and has been updated with new information.

Marty Schneck

Marty Schneck

Marty is the former Digital Content Specialist for eZanga and a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he studied marketing. He thinks he’s a reality show superstar. (We think so, too.) Marty describes himself as a “foodie, beer ethusiast, coffee connoisseur, and Kardashian.” Not necessarily in that order. More Articles by Marty Schneck