Which one wins the sales race? Features or Benefits?
It’s a question as old as selling itself. A question that has plagued marketers for generations.
Ok, maybe that’s all a slight exaggeration. The truth is that many marketing people and even more sales people hardly seem to give it second thought. Some probably couldn’t even tell you the difference. Nonetheless, I would argue that the best salespeople out there not only understand the difference but are also able to weave just the right story to convince you why you must have their product.
So, which is more important?
Benefits! Hands down! Not even close, in my opinion.
Let me tell you a little story that I think illustrates the point.
You may be familiar with the high-end luggage brand RIMOWA. This is the brand that created those iconic aluminium cases with the ridges on them. Around two years ago they introduced a new case that featured a digital screen on the side of the bag, right beside the handle. You can see it clearly in the image above. The idea is that you can send a digital version of your airline luggage tag via Bluetooth to the screen. Thus, there is no need for those big ugly white loopy luggage stickers we have today. A very cool idea! As you might expect, these bags were sold at a premium over those without the special digital screen.
But last week I walked past a RIMOWA shop and saw that they were now pricing these bags with the screens at the same price as those without. Huh? So, I started wondering why. Why would a bag with such a cool Feature be the same price as the standard bag? This digital screen Feature clearly had a Benefit too – no more luggage tags. So why would it be the same price? I think I know.
What’s In It For Me?
The biggest failure here is that the primary Benefit – ie: no more luggage stickers – doesn’t really benefit me, the bag owner, at all. It’s the airlines that will save the money and time related to not having to print and apply the old luggage stickers. The only possible Benefit to me as the owner of the bag is that I don’t have to worry about the sticky residue that is sometimes left behind on the handle when that sticker is removed. Not exactly a significant Benefit for me. Certainly not one that I would be willing to pay extra to receive.
It seems like the assumption that RIMOWA made was that the customer would be willing to pay for what is really just a Feature for them, but a Benefit to the airlines. When you look at it like that, it doesn’t really make much sense.
The Inconvenience Truth
You might argue that there could also be a convenience Benefit for the customer. Check in time could be reduced if the customer can check in online. Then these luggage e-tags are just sent to the traveler’s smart phone. The customer can then send it to their suitcase via Bluetooth and just go straight to the Bag Drop counter. Thus, avoiding the check in queue altogether.
The problem with this is that airlines are notorious for their cumbersome legacy administration and support systems, like the check in system. These cost millions to install and historically, airlines haven’t shown a great eagerness to modify these systems in any significant way. This might explain why to date only four airlines have signed up to the RIMOWA program. Unless you fly on one of those airlines, you can’t use your digital luggage tag Feature at all. So, for most, no Benefit.
Low Cost Conundrum
Ironically, the airlines who have shown a desire to adapt and do things differently are the Low Cost Carriers. These companies would probably get very excited about the possibility of a system that allows them to save on printing millions on luggage stickers each year. The only problem is that the passengers on Low Cost Airlines are not likely to be willing to pay $1,000 for a fancy bag with a digital luggage tag Feature.
And thus, we end our story on that word again – Feature.
If it’s just a Feature, it can be a hard sell. Benefits are what really get people motivated to make a purchase.
PS: If you are curious about this concept of Features vs Benefits, these two articles might be of interest…