So, What's in it for Me?
by Michel Fortin
In past editorials, I often declared that the Internet is not a communications medium. It's much more than that. I'm not alone as even the government thinks the same way I do. For example, my country's telecommunications watchdog -- the Canadian Radio and Telecommunications Commission (or CRTC, which is comparable to the American FCC) -- officially declared so in 1999 (see http://www.crtc.gc.ca/ENG/NEWS/RELEASES/1999/R990517e.htm).
In the wake of rumored proposals to regulate the Internet, the CRTC last year ruled out the possibility by declaring that the Internet is not a broadcasting medium. It based its decision on the fact that the web is interactive with its audience -- unlike the television, radio and other media. As a result, regulators concluded that the Internet could therefore police itself.
However, my point here is not a political one but a marketing-related one. It is based on the premise that many webmasters and online business owners look at online marketing as a mere communications process. And often, they do so by turning their web sites into billboard-littered graveyards. They tend to forget that their electronic stores are sales tools as well.
The greatest limitation of ecommerce is the lack of touch and feel online -- for example, people can not physically inspect the products they are buying. Moreover, the Internet is cold, faceless and impersonal. The lack of human interaction takes away the emotional element in the sale, as well as the ability to persuade others or overcome objections.
Understandably, a salesperson's enthusiasm for, and belief in, his or her product are easy to convey in person. That person's unique set of sales skills, product knowledge, personality and expertise is equally advantageous in offline selling. Most of all, her ability to slant presentations in order to meet specific client needs, goals and desires are also easier in the physical realm. But online, these abilities are virtually nonexistent.
Therefore, like a salesperson an online store must communicate those emotions that empower people to buy. It must also direct visitors to take some kind of action because, in actuality, the web is more of a direct marketing process than it is a medium. In both cases, the responsibility boils down to the words. Words as powerful online. As web copywriter Nick Usborne of http://forkinthehead.com
once noted: "Words make the difference."
Words should appeal to specific buyer motives. They should compel people to act. They should make web sites (and their offers) truly irresistible. And as common wisdom dictates, the first rule in doing so is to stress benefits over features. Sounds simple, right? Not really, for if it were the Internet would be literally filled with successful web sites. So in an attempt to provide you with some guidance, here's a tool to help you in developing compelling benefits.
Product Analysis Worksheet
Product benefits usually consist of four principal levels. They are features, advantages, benefits and motives. Each layer has its own set of attributes and characteristics, which varies depending on the product type and the market to which the product caters. To illustrate, here's a brief description of each layer:
1) Features -- what products have
For example, "This accounting software is application-rich"
2) Advantages -- what features do
For example, "These applications provide real-time, on-demand,
updated mission-critical information to key business managers"
3) Benefits -- what features mean
For example, "With needed, on-demand data, your managers are
able to keep the finger on your company's financial pulse"
4) Motives -- what motives do features satisfy
For example, "Cost-savings, control, efficiency, etc"
Obviously, benefits are essential to successful online selling. But describing them in a way that's appropriate for and targeted to specific audiences is a difficult process. A common problem among webmasters is to develop content using a language that only they can understand -- or "technolese." This is quite normal as we write in the way we think or talk.
Therefore, in order to simplify the process develop a complete product analysis worksheet -- a technique developed by Ronald Marks, author of the book "Personal Selling: An Interactive Approach." First, list all of the features of your product or service, including standard, technical, supportive or abstract features. With each feature develop a subsequent list of relative advantages. Perform the same exercise for benefits and motives.
Once achieved, look at your worksheet and then ask yourself, "Do the descriptions which I've given my product truly reflect (and cater to the needs of) my specific target market?" Also, "Is the language easy to understand -- especially for that market?" In other words, develop benefits that appeal to what Zig Ziglar calls your specific customers' "emotional logic." Zig, a renowned sales trainer, explains by saying: "People usually buy on emotion and then they justify it with logic." Therefore, appeal to their emotions first and foremost.
What follows is an example of a product analysis worksheet developed for IMC's private site at http://SuccessDoctor.com/IMC/,
of which I am a contributor. And if you read carefully, you'll notice that, while I've created it on a whim, in all likelihood some of the benefits that I've described are mentioned on IMC's front page somewhere. (Keep in mind that worksheets are usually placed in a table or column format, but for the purpose of illustration in this email newsletter the following example is described in a more linear fashion.)
Feature #1: Successful marketers share mistakes and experiences
a) Advantage: Strategies are therefore tested and proven
b) Benefit: Eliminates the risk of trying unknown tactics
c) Motive satisfied: Cost savings
a) Advantage: There's a pool of knowledge from which to learn
b) Benefit: Removes the need to search the web for information
c) Motive satisfied: More time
Feature #2: The private site has multiple topic-specific forums
a) Advantage: Members can obtain individualized consulting
b) Benefit: Removes much of the guesswork in online marketing
c) Motive satisfied: Profits
... And so on.
Nevertheless, remember that "features tell but benefits sell." And contrary to popular knowledge, benefits are not vehicles for creating hype or puffery. As illustrated above they are effective means through which customers can fully understand and appreciate a product's true purpose. As my mentor once told me, "Different words mean different things to different people." In other words, a complex, technical specification may be easy to understand for the seller -- but what does it mean to the customer specifically?
About the Author
Michel Fortin is an author, speaker and Internet marketing consultant dedicated to turning businesses into powerful magnets. Visit http://SuccessDoctor.com.
He is also the editor of the "Internet Marketing Chronicles" ezine delivered weekly to 100,000 subscribers -- subscribe free at http://SuccessDoctor.com/IMC/.
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