Features and benefits have an enormous impact on both what we buy and what we are willing to pay. Why do some people pay more for organic coffee? It’s not how the beans were grown. As they pay more, people think about living longer. Here’s the problem you face as you write marketing material. When we’re writing about our businesses, we often talk about features. We do this for two reasons. First, we spend a lot of time developing and perfecting features. Second, we’re able to translate the features to benefits in our heads. We leave the step of translating for our potential customers out. If you translate your features into benefits for your customer, you will be able to grow your business faster with less effort.

Let’s start with features.

Features are fantastic, but features just don’t sell products. What are features when it comes to coffee? Think about the caffeine strength, the type of brew, type of bean, how it is brewed & how the beans are grown. Organic is just another feature that coffee might have. Do you find yourself getting interested when you think about stronger coffee? If so – you just translated the benefit of more caffeine to feeling awake and energetic.

Understanding benefits.

Benefits are the why behind your features. They are the reason you develop features in the first place. Again, if you link the purchase to the benefits, you will make more sales more easily.

If you can’t identify the benefits, ask yourself, “What will happen if my customer uses this feature?” Let’s briefly consider the size of a truck’s payload. The benefit of a larger payload might be fewer trips when bringing supplies to a job site. This is a tangible benefit that is exciting to the right people. Let’s return to coffee for our next example. People don’t get excited about how the beans are grown until they translate that to the benefit of a longer life. Consider what SFGate.com has to say about the benefits of organic coffee:

Organic_Food_Healthy_SFGate

How do you feel about drinking regular coffee after reading that ad? Most people would probably feel a bit anxious. So you just need to pay a few more pennies a cup and you reduce your chances of getting cancer.

Let’s look at how this is positioned in modern society today. People are bombarded by negative health messages on a daily basis. Consider what you see on television on a daily basis: prescription drug deaths & lawsuits, stories about a celebrity passing away from cancer & news stories about health problems. If you drink organic coffee, you feel safer for a short while.

In this blog post excerpt, the author minimizes the costs, enhances the sense of risk we already feel and then alleviates the anxiety by highlighting the benefits of drinking organic coffee. Not a bad deal.

Here’s another excerpt of the same blog post:

Environmental_Benefits

Now this is a brilliant marketing message. So, in addition to feeling better (and lower odds of cancer), you get to make the world a better place. If you make the world a better place, you feel better. For the price of a cup of coffee, you help the environment and make life better for farm workers.

Translating features into benefits.

When you are developing marketing messaging, translating the features into benefits is key. If you do this correctly, it will broaden the audience that finds your material appealing.

Take a quick look at this ad:

Plumbing2

I see some potential mistakes in the messaging. For some people, being treated like family may not be a good thing. The author likely wanted to convey a sense of safety; however, some families are not safe. The ad would be a little stronger if the author translated the feature (how the employees will treat you) to the benefit: feeling safe and comfortable with a plumber in your home.

Again, let’s look at how the ad is positioned in the broader world. When people buy plumbing services, it typically involves paying a lot of money for something they would rather avoid thinking about. Plumbing is worse than boring; it’s a little (or very) repulsive. If you want to position yourself as a safe and trustworthy person who can solve these problems, you need to highlight these benefits.

Let’s review the features mentioned in this ad: arrives on time, polite & cleans up. How would you translate these features to benefits? Again, consider the why behind the feature. Here are a few examples based on the plumber scenario:

  • Arrives on time = you don’t sit around waiting.
  • Polite = you feel more comfortable and safe inviting them into your home.
  • Cleans up = less work for you.

Use features to support benefits.

Which is more powerful?

  • Feel safe inviting our plumbers into your home.
  • Feel safe inviting our polite plumbers into your home. (They even take their shoes off!)

Polite plumbers and taking their shoes off are both features, but they provide depth and proof that people can feel safe. As you move forward writing material for your website, consider the benefits and features of your service. Use them both to support your overall marketing message.

How do you define benefits and features? Tell me in the comments!

Do you want to get more leads or sell more, while doing less? Online marketing can help you do just that, but it doesn’t always work. Before you invest time and money in updating your website or automating your marketing, you need to have a strong online marketing plan. You can build a social media presence while you automate your marketing.

Before you do any of this, you have to develop the right messaging around the unique value your business provides. In today’s competitive world, you have to understand:

  1. What you really sell (Hint: it’s deeper than features or benefits.)
  2. Why your customers buy.
  3. How to match what you really sell with why they buy.

What do you really sell?

Marketing often looks at features and benefits. Features tell us about the product or service, while benefits are the results of the product. People buy benefits more than they buy features. For example, a parent will be more interested in an mp3 player that protects their child’s ears, while the teen will be far more interested in the image that the mp3 player projects. If you want to build a successful marketing automation program, you need to go deeper than that.

As an expert in human behavior and communication, I understand why people purchase your products or services. Understanding what you really sell is the first step to connecting with your customers and selling more with less.

Benefits are logical and we like to think that we’re logical creatures, yet research shows that most of our purchases are driven by emotions. The other night, I was at an event that promoted a local soccer team. The promoters talked about the power of soccer in the international arena. They talked about the feeling of connection in an international world. They were not selling me tickets to a soccer game, they were selling me membership in an international tribe. It worked. They sold me a sense of belonging. I woke up this morning and followed the club on Google+ and started watching the news about the World Cup more closely.

If you want to trigger these types of emotional responses in your customers, you need to understand what you really sell. It might be safety, success, a sense of belonging or mastery over their world. Understanding what you really sell will help you communicate with your customers on a deeper level.

Why do your customers buy from you?

Before you start to automate your marketing, you need to understand your ideal customer. If you don’t, your messaging won’t connect. I often start with the customers I want to fire and then compare them to my best customers. Consider your customers in a few areas:

What are the demographic differences? Look for trends in demographics between the two groups. If there are any that stand out, explore this further. Does this tell you something about how to reach your ideal customers OR how to avoid your worst customers?

Why do they purchase your products/services? Compare your worst customers to your best customers. Why did your worst customers purchase your goods or services? Does it have more to do with a need (or perceived need) than a true passion or desire? What motivated your best customers to purchase your goods or services? What about you/your product/your services draws out the best in them?

Do they need or want your products/services? While there are few true needs in the world today, it makes sense that we purchase needs over wants. But we don’t. We go for wants every time. Lots of people need to lose weight and should eat healthier. Burgers win most of the time. Most people dieting are not happy about it.

Why are they really buying? Think of the brain as having three basic parts. There is the older brain, which is focused on survival and procreation. This part of the brain pays attention to the sexy ads on TV and messaging about the world ending. There is the emotional brain, which is focused on how we’re feeling. Then there is the thinking part of your brain, which processes decisions.

We like to think we’re logical and that we reason through purchases, but the other parts of your brain often (if not always) know first. Your messaging needs to focus on each part of the brain and tie it all together.

How is your business unique?

Sales and marketing professionals often talk about a USP or a Unique Selling Proposition. The idea is that you need to differentiate yourself, your services and your company from the market in an advantageous way. Understanding how your company stands out is important and even helpful. Benefits alone are not enough to stand out in today’s competitive market. It’s certainly not enough to develop the systemic organization of messaging required for automated marketing.

Features and benefits are easy to copy. You aren’t. Look at larger companies. Apple, Amazon and Samsung offer similar phones with similar features and similar benefits. When one gets ahead the other companies catch up relatively quickly. Amazon’s phone will offer a better integration with Amazon’s services. Samsung offers an excellent integration to Gmail and other Google products. While Apple has a high performing phone and offers membership into the Apple experience. Each of these companies is positioning their products to be the best fit for their ideal customers.

You (or your staff) offer a unique benefit to your customers. The question is: what is that unique benefit? Remember: benefits are easy to replicate. Who you are and how you do business is much harder to copy. Unfortunately, it can also be difficult to pin down. Consider how you are the perfect solution to your ideal customer’s problems. What is it about your background and personality that makes you ideal? If you get stuck, ask some friends and customers for some honest and direct feedback in this area. If you are stuck, you can always contact me. I’d be happy to help you sort it out.

Successful Approach to Online Marketing

Match what you really sell and your unique personality with what your prospects really want to buy, you have a foundation to begin developing the communication you will use in automating your marketing.  Develop marketing materials that tie your strengths with what they really want. If you can connect these dots, you have a great foundation to get started with marketing automation.

Is social media the answer to your marketing problems? The internet has created dramatic shifts in how marketing and sales work. Companies have historically interrupted potential customers day to present a sales message and close a deal.  TV and Radio present a mild form of interruption, while telemarketing and email are more intrusive. People are fed up and just want to be left alone. There is a National Do Not Call Registry. The CAN-SPAM Act allows you to unsubscribe from updates with one click. Dish has introduced the ability to skip commercials. Combine these trends with the failure of newspapers and print media and the result is a real problem for your business. How do you meet, connect with and sell to new customers? Social media may help you solve these problems, but it is more complex than you might initially think.

Starting in social media

social media sign postAs you bring your company into world of social media, leave your old interruption marketing tactics behind. Think about all of the networking events you attend to market your visit. If you walked around the room saying “I’ll give you a free guide to implementing an x,y,z strategy” as you walked by people, would it work? It won’t work well online either.

Social media is social. It is all about conversations. Send out updates with valuable content, but realize that you need to be present and have a conversation.

Let’s consider Twitter.  Go to hashtags.org and find a hashtag that you find interesting. Enter that hashtag into the search box on Twitter. How many of those updates are actually interesting? Look at a few profiles. Are they interesting? Do they invite conversation? Look at their tweets. Are they a stream of information put out like a robot? Does that invite you to make a connection? Now, start talking with people. How many respond? How does that experience differ from just watching the stream of updates fly by you. Consider the difference between these two approaches. Which experience would lead you to purchase from someone? Here are some more tips on how to publish updates on different social media networks.

Social media is not free. It never was.

Many companies approach social media as the new free way to get new customers. It is not free and it never was. At a minimum you will spend time developing and publishing valuable content. As social media platforms monetize, this will impact your approach.

For example, as Facebook begins to explore monetization more seriously, companies are complaining. Some are even leaving the network altogether. The business reality is that it may or may not make sense for you to be on a given social media network. You need to look at the business case and the first question you need to ask is: “Are my customers spending time here?” You have to start by finding the right social network for your business.

Consider the business ecosystem around you. All of the social media platforms want to monetize. Would you provide access to your key resources for free? They won’t either. So you can expect that each social media platform will begin to monetize. Consider how this could impact your business strategy. In some cases, having to pay for exposure and new leads could mean that Facebook is no longer a viable place for your business to market.

You need a real social media strategy.

Your strategy should start with your customers. Ask yourself, “Where do my customers spend time?” They might be on LinkedIn, Twitter or Google+. The odds are that your customer is on Facebook. The next question is, “Can I develop a business relationship with my customers?” B2B companies may struggle to sell on Facebook, but find it easy to sell on LinkedIn. When you find the right network, start testing. Learn how to develop a presence on more than one social media network. What if the rules change and that social network is no longer a viable way to  meet customers?

Next test how much it costs to get a customer on this network. Measure the time you spend and how long it takes to get a lead. How much does it cost to get your first customer? Remember that progress in social media tends to be exponential. It is easier to get your tenth customer than your first. Your 100th should be even easier. That said, measure this and be sure that it is true for your business.

Your strategy absolutely must include developing your owned media platform. Social media should become your distribution and feedback channel. You want to develop audiences on each platform, but the key point is to drive them back to your platform. You also want to collect emails, names and phone numbers. Many b2c companies capture leads with contests, while b2b companies offer white papers and guides in exchange for contact information. The next step is to develop a relationship before you start selling.

Your content marketing strategy does not (or should not!) stop when the sale is made. The moments after a sale is made offer the opportunity to have a profound impact on your business. The next few interactions could be the starting point of turning a customer into a raving fan. You just need to engage your customers in the right way. First, you need to understand why they really became a customer. This provides a foundation for your efforts. Next, create a welcome package that enhances your offer and allows your customer to benefit even more from working with you. Finally, be sure to stay connected and continue to offer opportunities for a stronger relationship. This includes email, events and social media.

Use content marketing to connect with your customers

What do you really sell? Among other reasons, we purchase things to feel safe, more attractive and belong. If you are a successful business, at least some of your services likely address these drives on some level. You need to understand this.

Research your customers. Send out short questionnaires and learn about your customers most painful problems. (Look for low cost opportunities to help them solve these problems!) Make sure you use sites like https://followerwonk.com to research your customers on social media. Take your 10 best customers out to lunch and ask them about what you do well, what you could do better and other problems that they experience.

Create a sense of safety. Point out how your customers are more safe when using your service or product. Just remember that safe translates very broadly. It could mean being more competitive at work, understanding the world better or saving time. You just need to understand how your product makes your customer safer. For example, saving time can be translated to living longer.

Make your customers feel more attractive. Highlight how your product or services helps your customer stand out, be unique or be more interesting. This falls along the lines of, “Be the first on your block to….”

Give your customers a sense of belonging. Your customers have a lot in common. Work on creating a community. This has the benefit of encouraging your clients to stay involved if only to maintain friendships. Host member only events, create an online membership forum or do something else to encourage a community among your customers.

Welcome your customers with helpful content

Create a welcome package. Your customers may experience buyer’s remorse after purchasing your product. You can ease their fears with a strong welcome package. This could include an autoresponder campaign, paper materials, instructions on your website or an online course about how to use your product or services. This is one area that I think copyblogger makes an error. This company is the master of the autoresponder campaign and I did not get the opportunity to receive an educational series of emails when I purchased three products.

Provide extra value. In your innovative process, create extra materials or services that you don’t advertise. Surprise people with this services. Zappos tells you your new shoes will arrive in a few days. They typically arrive the next day. Zappos smartly considers this a marketing cost.

Stay connected by promoting useful content on social media

Follow your customers on social media. Your market research and sales discovery process should include details about which social media networks your customers use and how they use these networks. Follow your customers and help them promote their business or any personal causes.

Continue to provide valuable offers. One main use of social media is to send out offers to potential clients. Be sure some of these offers will appeal to current clients. These can be white papers on areas of interest to your target market. One strategy is to put together two reports one for lead generation and one for current clients. If you create an offer that both parties see and that notes the additional material available to clients, you create a powerful reason to become your client.

Blog for your customers. Add two key areas to your blogging routine. Teach your customers how solve problems closely aligned with your services. A company that provides support to software development firms might post about managing developers, increasing productivity or valuable new services unrelated but aligned with your company. Also, teach your customers about the benefits of your services.

Ask for Referrals Properly.

We all think about growing our business on a regular basis and we typically think about this from our perspective: “It would be great if we had x more customers/$x more revenue…” When you ask from referrals you want to do three things: 1. create an offer highlighting the benefit for your client to refer, 2. highlight who they should refer and 3. encourage your client to become a brand evangelist.

The offer. You are selling your client on referring you. Most people want to introduce people to great services. We all like to talk about the great food at a certain restaurant, the great service at a store or the fantastic vacation we took. It’s all about us. Your offer should highlight the personal benefits of referring. “Help your friends learn Spanish.” “Make a difference by …”

I tend to shy away from offering a cash reward for providing referrals. It is not related to the cost (although lower cost is a benefit.) It is because I want my customers to develop an emotional connection to my company and to referring new people to my company.

How to highlight. You need to help your customer remember your name at the right time. Identify times or conversations that suggest you could be helpful. “Do you know someone who is frustrated with..” or “Have you met someone who complains about…” Add a call to action suggesting that your customer think of you when they see/meet/talk with someone in situation x,y or z. An accountant might ask, “Do you know someone who is upset about how much time it takes to file taxes?”

This can be used to broaden your market. Identify people who are not currently searching for a new service, but based on their personality or situation would be good customers. Restaurants might ask, “Do you know someone who enjoys going to the art museum?”

Create brand evangelists. This is an emotional process. It starts with someone willing to refer and turns them into a brand champion. Here you discuss how they can help. Two examples are: “We need your help” or “Help us grow.” Thank people for referrals and explain how they are making a difference in your life.

This post is part 3 of a 5 part series on creating lifelong customers. Social media has changed dramatically the marketing landscape. It is the new way to introduce yourself to potential customers. Companies also often do it wrong. We were using social media in the wrong way for our business. We were using the wrong platform. Your business will generate more leads with social media if you avoid these three key mistakes: going for the direct sale, using the wrong network and being inconsistent. Doing this right is also key to developing lifelong customers.

Avoid Going for the Direct Sale on Social Media

I think it is because social media is seen as the new magical answer for business to generate leads. Companies create an account and then start sending updates with products for sale. It’s a little bit like a man walking down the sidewalk of a busy street shouting about his new financial product. Lots of people hear what he is saying. Few listen. No one wants to talk with him.

I have seen people get to this place in one of two ways. First, they are sales focused, which is a strength in some situations, just not this one. They feel comfortable talking with people and pointing out the benefits of their product. They do it in sales meeting after sales meeting. They naturally start to do this in 140 characters on Twitter. Second, someone comes in never talking about sales. This person forms relationships and focuses on the social part of social media. They don’t get very much business so they begin to post offers. Soon they become comfortable and slip into number one. These are both normal ways to learn how to do social media.

You are better off just doing it right. 90% of your updates should be information that your target market will find valuable. 10% can be about an offer. The internet is a very low trust environment. Your offer should be designed to earn your potential client’s trust. Deliver before selling. I am blogging for a reason, but you haven’t seen any offers. There’s a reason.

Be on the Right Social Media Network

There are so many social media networks. Unless you have a lot of resources, it is a mistake to try to be on all of them. It’s also a mistake to be on the wrong one. It doesn’t matter what everyone says about the best social network. It comes down to one question: Where are your customers?

Facebook has 1.19 billion active monthly users. That’s 15% of the entire human race. Your audience is on Facebook. Facebook ads are becoming more and more necessary to grow your audience. Facebook offers excellent targeting options to target ads based on interest. You can target someone based on detailed interests in your city or across the planet. For more on marketing on Facebook check out Jon Loomer.

Twitter is a place to meet new people. Expanding your network is as simple as finding your target market, following them and waiting for them to follow back. The stream moves fast but it s a great place to network. I have done business with people who I’ve met on Twitter. Learn about marketing on Twitter by reading The Tao of Twitter.

LinkedIn is not just for looking for work. LinkedIn has become the social network for business. There are valuable sales tools and ways to contact potential clients. If you market or sell in the b2b arena, you must be on LinkedIn. One hint: Check out (or start) a few groups designed to attract potential customers.

Google+ will be a game changer. Google has ruffled some feathers over changes in how gmail works. They will allow you to email most people (but not everyone) . Whatever your point of view, Google has dramatically changed the entire company by turning Google+ into the hub that connects all things Google. I think it is a smart bet to start interacting on Google+. Google+ has Twitter’s advantage of being able to reach out and connect and Facebook’s advantage of a good medium to have conversations and develop relationships.

Do Social Media Consistently

It may take some trial and error testing to see which social network is the best fit for your company, You can monitor your content mix to ensure that you aren’t publishing sales content too often (or not often enough).  The real difficulty in content marketing is being consistent. There are a few tactics that you can implement to help including setting up an autoresponder campaign and working ahead to cover times when you are too busy. If you fail at this, you are constantly restarting relationships which is a little harder each time. I’ve found a few tricks that have helped me be more consistent.

Set realistic goals and build from there. It is not realistic to develop profiles and audiences on all of the major social media networks in a week. You could complete a profile, begin publishing useful links and connect with people on one network. If you set your goals too high, starting becomes even more daunting. You are better of setting realistic goals, following through and then adding more when it is easy.

Focus on your successes. Imagine sitting down to write a blog post and only getting 50 words done. Now focus on the failure. You only wrote 50 words. Not the magic 500 that everyone talks about. How motivated are you after that? Now, imagine yourself focusing on the fact that you started. You have words in the computer. Next time you’ll write more. Be excited about the victory of starting. How is your motivation now? I find that focusing on what I have done well motivates me to do more, better and faster. Focusing on my failures leaves me watching TV and wasting time.

Work ahead. We all get busy. There are times when we can’t write. Sometimes this is a predictable time crunch like the end of the month billing. Sometimes there is no warning. If you have a month of content scheduled, neither of these situations is as difficult as you might think.