A selection from the new book: Different Rules – the B2B Marketer’s Guidebook to Product Differentiation

Benefits or features: Which are more persuasive?

By Chris Wirthwein

Marketing experiments with consumer goods show features and benefits can both be persuasive, depending upon the situation. For instance, will the purchase take place in the near term or distance future? And is the mindset of the buyer oriented to theoretical, abstract thinking or tangible absolutes, so called “concrete thinking”? Several experiments shed light on this.

A study published in 2015 reported on four experiments conducted with several considered purchase (not impulse purchase) products: a notebook computer, a tablet computer, a GPS device, and a smartphone. Although consumer goods, these products share commonalities with B2B hard goods; they not inexpensive; they are expected to have a long life and are technical in nature. For these reasons, I believe the findings have applicability to B2B marketing.

The tests compared persuasiveness of benefit-oriented appeals versus feature-oriented appeals for a product that was to be purchased in the near future (one week) versus the distant future (six months). The study also examined persuasiveness of appeals when participants were induced to think one of two ways: abstractly or concretely. Results showed:

  • When a purchase was planned for the near future, feature-based and benefit-based appeals were equally persuasive.
  • When a purchase was planned for the distant future, benefit-based appeals were more persuasive.
  • When concrete thinking was induced, feature-based appeals were found to be more persuasive.
  • When abstract thinking was induced, benefit-based appeals were more persuasive.

Does the mindset of your audience lean toward rules-based, tangible thinking? Or do you appeal to more visionary, theoretical thinkers? Ask yourself, what is the tendency of our audience?

These experiments suggest that the more a purchase is thought of as real vs. theoretical, the more persuasive tangible features become. This research implies that theoretical, visionary appeals can be persuasive early in a customer’s decision making process. But in the later buying stages, when the actual purchase nears, the more persuasive the product’s tangible, feature-based appeals become.

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Chris Wirthwein is Senior Director for 5MetaCom, a marketing agency that develops strategies and campaigns to differentiate B2B technical and scientific products. He has authored three marketing books, including his latest, Different Rules: The B2B Marketer’s Guidebook to Product Differentiation. You can reach Chris on LinkedIn or at cwirthwein@5metacom.com.

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