Look beyond the obvious, and you’ll cook up a storm

I’ve been de-junking (again). First to go were the old pullovers with funky designs, that now look so yesterday. Then the jeans I hadn’t worn for ages, the smart work shirts (why did I ever think I’d need them again?) and the mohair overcoat (don’t go there). They all went to the Red Cross. Then it was the turn of the novels I swore I’d read again, but secretly knew I wouldn’t. They were in every room in the house, to the point where they were beginning to take over. And since I’m now a zealous e-reader convert, physical books are like funky pullovers. So they went to the British Heart Foundation. Next on my list were the hundreds of leaflets and flyers that I’ve hoarded over the years. Just in case I really want a conservatory, or an attractive bright orange fence, or even a TOWIE-style crazy-paving patio. Not to mention the service leaflets. Cleaners, tree-fellers, plumbers, sash-window repairers, window cleaners and gardeners. Reflexologists and knife sharpeners, party organisers and personal trainers. I couldn’t bring myself to throw them all out, so I decided on a simple but effective system. If they sold benefits, they were in. If they sold features, they were out. If they gave me convincing reasons to use them, they were in. If they simply listed the services they offered… well, you get the picture.

Supersize me

The idea for the features/benefits challenge came to me when the latest leaflet landed on my doormat. It was for something I definitely don’t need – Slimming World (‘you need fattening up’, says the woman at the Italian delicatessen whenever I drop in for some pasta sauce). So then, how do you sell the benefits of Slimming World? Simple – you don’t focus on the problem (being overweight) or the process (the self-denial, the exercise regime, the hunger pangs) but on the result. And the result is this: Sara (does she even exist, I wonder?) is ‘the mum I’ve always wanted to be’. But what exactly does that mean? Well that’s the genius of this particular line: it means whatever people read into it. Perhaps she can keep up with the kids, or compete with the yummy mummies at the school gate, or not embarrass her daughter. Maybe she gets less tired, can do more, smiles a bit more often, feels better and communicates that to her daughter. Or maybe not. Each reader will have their own interpretation of Sara’s line. But the important thing here is that they’re not selling the sausage. In fact, I imagine sausages are off the menu for a very long time. Instead, they’re selling the sizzle – the anticipation of what’s to come, the promise of something that has you imagining what it’ll feel like. In other word, the benefits, not the features.

A game of two halves

I sorted my leaflets and flyers into two piles. And the features pile (A) was much, much larger than the benefits one (B). Most people just listed what they did, and left it at that. And the contrast between A and B was striking: Cleaner A: Reliable and experienced cleaner available for home or office. References provided. Cleaner B: Free up your time and enjoy your house. Leave the hard work to us. > Gardener A: All types of trees lopped, topped, pruned and felled. Hedges & shrubs lowered, trimmed and shaped. Gardener B: We take care of all the garden chores so you can enjoy the view. > Sash-window company A: Sash windows repaired or replaced. Wooden or PVC frames. Sash-window company B: Add value to your property, reduce your energy bills and improve security. > Now let’s be clear here: it’s not that the benefits people don’t talk about the things they do. Just like the features people, they list them so that prospective customers can see exactly what they’re offering. But they don’t just leave it at that. They also tell a story, which almost always comes back to one of the three things that people want to save: money (even if it’s actually spending money to add value), time (which you can never get enough of) or effort (we’re all lazy at heart). Add a dash of aspiration, and a little imagination (this is what you’ll feel like) an you’ve got a recipe for success. There’s always a place for features, but they play a secondary role. Centre stage should be occupied by the benefits every time. It’s the difference between pile A and pile B. I know which one I’d rather be in. And so do you.