Adding F-A-B to Your Brand – Translating Features to Advantages to Benefits

Take time to find out what people really find fascinating (hint: it isn’t you).

FAB detergent boxBrands are often perceived in human-like terms. You would think most brand communicators would realize this, but it is surprising how often sales organizations exhibit the worst instincts of human behavior as they search for sales messages with consumer appeal.

Consider the Party Bore.

He’s that guy with the comb-over hair that latches onto you somewhere between the hors d’oeuvres and the interesting people you were trying to reach on the other side of the room.

Mr. PB believes one thing…you are FASCINATED by him, and you want to hear every detail of his existence, from the make of his car to his golf handicap. Worse yet, before he has heard a word of your interests, the bore is reaching for his business card to pitch you on some insurance.

You don’t want to be the Party Bore of Brands. So, here is a two-step recovery process to revamp your brand language from self-centered Feature Language to audience-focused Benefit Language.

Sales Message Step One: Get Your Attributes in Priority

The bore never takes time to think about your motivations; he just starts in with a run-down of his own accomplishments and traits.

Years ago our school had a Web page for potential undergraduate students that had a line something like this:

“Our program office has a records department that works with admissions paperwork and processing.”

Wow, really, no kidding? Do they also have a guy who sweeps out the break room? Why would a bright young high school senior or her parents be excited by that fact?

Our brand team at McCombs ran undergraduate program leaders through a simple exercise in which they were asked to create a comprehensive list of features and advantages (or attributes) of their department…

Not sure of the difference between a feature and an advantage?

  • Feature: “We have a records department that works with admissions paperwork.”
  • Advantage: “We therefore have the ability to process your application quickly and without error.”

We asked them to place each advantage on a four-square chart in which the horizontal axis, from low to high, was the degree to which that advantage or attribute was important to prospects in deciding to apply to the McCombs School. The vertical axis, from low to high, was the degree to which that advantage was unique to our university as compared to other institutions.

Brand Message Hierarchy Chart

For a better idea of how this works, see a Sample FAB Report for the Undergraduate Program Office. Advantages that landed in the top right quadrant were very important to their prospects, and very unique to the UT Austin experience.

Their team quickly saw that some advantages they thought were very important to mention in marketing materials were actually very low on the priority list of their audience. The fact that their program office team members were very experienced was NOT a high priority brand message. Being able to attend classes in a top-tier university at a very affordable tuition cost WAS a high priority for prospects and parents.

Sales Message Step Two: Move to Benefits Language

Next, it was time to show them how to speak in Benefits language.

Not sure of the difference between a feature, an advantage and a benefit?

  • Feature: “We have a records department that works with admissions paperwork.”
  • Advantage: “We therefore have the ability to process your application quickly and without error.”
  • Benefit: (Student Perspective) “I’ll have a safety net to help me get through my college application experience smoothly.” See chart at end of article.*

This step takes some time. We spent several long sessions working through their list of Features and Advantages, translating each to language that was audience-focused. We made it a point to state the Benefits from the prospective audience’s perspective, not the viewpoint of the school.

Outcomes of the FAB Process

I can’t show you that old Web page filled with administrative features, but I invite you to check out the new Texas BBA Prospective Students site (which was created by their team, not our brand professionals). The site is now filled with language like this:

  • “You will gain…”
  • “You will discover…”
  • “You will meet new people…”
  • And plenty of first-person testimonials about the benefits of studying at UT Austin.

C’mon, don’t be the Party Bore of Brands. Take time to find out what people really find fascinating (hint: it isn’t you), and then begin interacting with them in ways that accentuate their interests, fitting your sales messages to their lives and decision processes.

Other Branding Resources:

*What is a Benefit?

Think of benefits in terms of personal desired outcomes of interacting with your product or service. These might fall into categories such as:

  • Efficiency
  • Ego Reinforcement
  • Freedom/Independence
  • Enjoyment
  • Performance Advantage
  • Social Diversity
  • Confidence
  • Control/Orderliness
  • Money/Profitability
  • Thrift
  • Emotional Reward/Safety
  • Sense of Belonging
  • Power/Career Vitality
  • Rewarding Experiences
  • Fame/Recognition
  • Love/Acceptance
  • Health and Well-Being
  • Happiness and Satisfaction
  • Altruistic Feelings
  • Revenge
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