Copywriters will tell you that to sell a product, you need to talk about its benefits rather than features. Nobody cares about a feature unless it's tied to a benefit. In fact, some products are so bloated with features that they just get in the way of benefits.

Copywriters will also tell you that you need to get to know your target market to identify the benefits that matter most to them. Talk about the wrong benefits, and nobody listens. And then, of course, nobody buys.

Last month, over at the Makepeace Total Package, Daniel Levis wrote about how to use customer interviews to unearth benefits that sell: can see how probing questions were used to drill deeper into the initial response. What you're looking for is emotional content. To be even more specific, you're looking for things that protect or enhance the prospect's self image.

This focus on your prospect's self image reminded me of a point I came across in two books by Chip & Dan Heath that I reviewed here last October. From my review of Made to Stick:

Appeal to a person's identity ... People will often act against their own individual self-interest in order to remain consistent with who they believe they are and want to be.

If a person's identity is so important to them that they'd act against their own interests to be consistent with it, how powerful is a marketing message that promises to protect or enhance their identity?

Think about Apple products and how they're marketed: iPods, iPhones, iPads, etc. People buy them as much for how they make them feel as for what they do.

So how do you identify "self image" benefits? In Daniel's article, he gives an example of asking probing questions. If you ask someone why they bought your product, and the answer isn't connected to their self image, keep probing deeper till you find the connection.

Reader Comment:
Antone Roundy said:
Yeah, I wasn't sure whether I should put the "Blog Riff" logo next to the quote from my own post or not! :-) Seriously though, referring back to your own previous posts is something a lot of blogging experts recommend. You've got that old content ...
(join the conversation below)

If you have a time-saving blogging product, "I bought it because it saves time" isn't the benefit you're after. Why is important to save time? "Because I've got a lot to do, and can't spend a lot of time blogging right now." Why is it important to you to blog if you're so busy? "Because I want to post every day like the A-List bloggers, but right now, I need to focus most of my time on product development."

Now we're getting somewhere! This person want's to be like an A-List blogger -- that's the identity they're after. You might dig even deeper into what it means to them to be like an A-List blogger. But the crux of the matter is to show them how your product can make them more like an A-Lister in their spare time.

I've read where other people have recommended always drilling down 7 questions deep (or some other specific number) to make sure you're getting at the heart of the matter.

Of course, you never know whether it'll take 2 or 7 or 20 or 100 questions to find a core benefit. Daniel's suggestion to probe till you find benefits that touch the prospect's self image may be a better guideline.

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