Market the Benefits Not The Features—The Neuroscience Behind The Marketing Wisdom

In the Spring, I went to a Tedx talk in Bend, Oregon about our brains and the power of marketing. The 18-minute talk made clear exactly why it is that successful marketing writing focuses on benefits not features.

Marketing writing is effective when it makes readers say “yes,” and the best way to do that is to stress a product or service’s benefits not its features. Features describe the product—what it does, how it works, etc. Benefits explain how those features solve a problem or ease a pain. Now to be sure, it’s essential to know who your customers are and what matters to them, but once you do, benefits-focused marketing really works.

We know this is true—but why? That’s the question Patrick Renvoise answered during his Tedx Talk in Bend, Oregon (he also has a book on the same subject). According to Renvoise and others, benefits sell because our reptilian brain trumps the rational brain when it comes to making decisions.

Marketing Writing ExerciseAs Renvoise explains, our brains have three parts: reptilian (instinctual), middle (emotional), and new (rational). The reptilian brain is the oldest, by millions of years. It is fast, present-minded, effortless, unconscious, and uncontrollable. In contrast, the rational brain is slow and deliberative, aware of past, present, and future, requires effort, and is conscious and controllable. These differences give the reptilian brain an edge in decision-making. The rational may think it’s in charge but, like the Wizard of Oz pulling strings behind the curtain, the reptilian is truly the boss.

The final step to understanding why benefits sell is recognizing what gets the reptilian brain’s attention. It’s pretty simple, actually. The reptilian brain responds to 6 stimuli: 1) anything related to “you”; 2) contrast (e.g. clean/dirty); 3) things that are tangible; 4) things that are visual; 5) beginnings and endings; 6) things that trigger emotions.

Now, consider these examples of benefits-focused marketing writing:
  • Browser-based software.
  • Equipped with 6 side airbags.
  • 100% waterproof shoes.
  • No software to download or update—all you need is an Internet connection.
  • You and your loved ones will be safe during a side-impact accident.
  • Your feet will stay warm and dry in winter.
Benefits are fully focused on “you” and answer the question, “what’s in it for me.” They present clear contrasts, they make features tangible (and visual when you include an image), and they tug at your emotions.

No wonder why benefits sell. No wonder it’s so important to stress benefits not features in your marketing writing.

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