Are you looking at features when you should be thinking benefits?

Whether a product is digital, physical or even a service the features are the ‘buttons’ and ‘knobs’ that do stuff, while benefits are the advantages or rewards we get for pushing and twirling.  Like a rat in a laboratory experiment, if button A gives a treat then we’ll keep pushing it. It’s the same for a complex piece of enterprise software, just with more buttons and bigger treats. Now if our rat thinks that buttons=treats, and he has a choice between a box with one button or a box with 5, then which do you think he’ll choose? Of course he only needs the one button to get a reward but 5, well it’s better isn’t it?

In the perfect product every feature delivers a benefit to the customer, but to be valued those advantages and rewards must map to a real customer need. Features are just how you get from one to the other.

Some products appear to prioritise features over benefits, and who hasn’t been guilty of buying X because it had more bullet points in the brochure than Y? The interesting thing is that, no matter why we buy something, it is the benefits that keep us using it. And sometimes it’s all those features that make us stop – complexity sneaking in to mess things up and make us wish we’d bought the simpler, cheaper model.

There really is nothing for free in this world, and there’s always a cost for any benefit. And when I say costs, I don’t just mean money. Every product has some form of inconvenience, learning how to use it, installation, registration, payment, keeping it charged, cleaning it, servicing, the list is endless. For the customer utility only comes when the benefits outweigh that inconvenience.

I never ‘got’ the iPad. Yes it’s a nice object and clever (and I don’t mean technically but rather because it was based on the iPhone ecosystem, that was genius). I just didn’t get the point of such a big and heavy mobile device. I don’t have the evidence but I’m guessing that most are used on the sofa in front of the TV and never travel further than a few feet from the power socket. A great list of features but for me not enough obvious benefits to overcome the cost, literally in this case. Now Steve Jobs believed that a small tablet was pointless, but when the Nexus 7 appeared on the scene, it was smaller which made it more portable and cheaper. That was enough to make the risk worthwhile and for a long-time it became my constant companion. Small enough to go everywhere, powerful enough for my needs and just cheap enough not to matter. 7-inch tablets now dominate the market, including the iPad mini of course.

There is an unhappy epilogue to this story though, because although the Nexus 7 is still a regular companion, it’s no longer a good friend. It’s a problem unique to computing, as the software develops the hardware cannot cope. So nowadays my companion is rather slow and quite grumpy most of the time – and it’s all becoming a little too inconvenient.

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2 Responses to Are you looking at features when you should be thinking benefits?

  1. Aneet says:

    While I agree with your views on features vs benefits – many product managers/developers are so mired in the detail and competing on having more features that the consumer benefit gets lost along the way.
    But I disagree about the iPad (still the most successful tablet, which defined the segment). The benefits you missed are portability – browsing, videos, reading, skyping on the go on a decent sized screen, great on the tube/train.
    At home, instant “on”, apps for faster access to social media and ecommerce – I hardly use my home laptop.
    And finally the Apple ecosystem, of course.
    All benefits which fuelled its success.

    • parsot42 says:

      My point was that ‘I’ didn’t get it, that doesn’t make it a bad product it just means it wasn’t a good product for me. I have an ipad for work, and I still don’t get it or use it much outside of demos. I still prefer the 7 inch format and I’m writing this on my laptop because I find it easier to use on many levels. The key message though is that any product must address the needs of it’s customer, and ultimately that means addressing the needs of individuals 🙂

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