Back to basics: Features versus benefits

This is a classic mistake. It's also an easy mistake to make.

Why do perfectly normal, talented and astute advertising professionals confuse features and benefits?

Wow, there's a $64,000 question. I have a theory.

We're moving too quickly. We're moving so quickly that we don't stop, think and reflect. We assume we know what a benefit is. It ends up being a product feature instead.

What does this have to do with writing a creative brief? And how do you avoid this mistake?

I thought you'd never ask.

If you confuse features and benefits, you'll never find, or write, a great Single-Minded Proposition (SMP). And if you don't write a great SMP, you'll never write a great brief.

So, that changes things a bit doesn't it? No pressure. We've got it covered.

Remember this:

Every SMP ever written began as a product benefit.

Okay. What's the difference?

This is how I explain it:

A product feature describes an attribute of the product. A product benefit describes what that attribute does for you.

I'll use a car as an example. Every car is loaded with product features. Turbo-charged V-6. 35 MPG. Aerodynamic body. Back-lit instrument panel. Power steering. Power door locks. Power everything. Leather interior. Real (or fake) wood trim. Electric sunroof. Rain-sensing wipers. This list of so-called "standard features" is a mile long.

And the big hint is that little phrase, "standard features." Every car manufacturer uses the term. It's the reason why I chose cars as an example. These things all add up to a car full of great features. They are attributes of the car itself.

But they don't tell you one tiny thing about why this car is any better than another car.

Every feature has a benefit. If you don't know what that benefit is, you have to figure it out. That's one reason why you have a job.

You can't count of your client, the product manager, to know what a product's benefits are. Chances are she does. But maybe she doesn't. Or maybe her description is lacking, weak, uninspired.

Let's take one example: A premium sound system, say 12 Bose speakers with a CD-changer and a port for your iPod. Pretty cool, huh?

This is the trap. The feature itself sounds so cool you write it down as the benefit. You think the thing in itself is all the creative team needs to know.

We creatives know better. Or we should know better. Sometimes we don't know better and then one mistake leads to another.

Remember this:

The benefit is how the feature makes you feel.

The benefit of having 12 Bose speakers with a CD-changer and a port for your iPod is...

Well, you have to figure it out. As the brief writer, you have to come up with a superb sentence that describes how the target audience, the soon-to-be-owner of this car with the Bose premium sound system, feels when he's driving it to work.

The feature talks to your head. The benefit talks to your heart.

List three or four spot-on, right-between-the-eyes benefits of your car, described with vivid heart-wrenching detail, and one of them will be your SMP.

That bears repeating: One of those benefits will be the springboard to a killer Single-Minded Proposition.

So, next time you're multi-tasking and scanning back and forth between your smart phone, your tablet and your desktop with its three monitors, while you juggle the phone, take a deep breath, relax and think.

Do you know the difference between a product feature and a product benefit?

You do now.