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Marketing Strategy: Is It A Feature, Or Is It A Benefit?

There is a marketing strategy “Achilles’ heel” that typically handicaps (pun intended) most technology organizations which is the inability to distinguish between a product’s “features” versus its actual “benefits” to the customer. Coupled with that, conventional thinking says “more features” will translate into a distinct competitive advantage. Having this advantage should, in turn, lead to a customer preference and more sales. However, my past experience has told me something quite different.

I remember vividly working for several technology product companies where I became indoctrinated as to how marketing specifications for new products were typically generated versus how they should be generated. As most technical marketers know, a marketing specification comprises a set of product functions and features that, if compiled correctly, reflect the true needs and wants of the customer. It is generated by the customer for the customer. Moreover, this customer-centric document can be translated into an internal engineering specification that guides the product development team.

Historically, the marketing planning meetings I recall involved participants (mostly engineers) generating ‘wish lists’ of product features based on the latest technical advances. These lists were usually quite impressive and, once completed, were the pride of the entire product team. Moreover, everyone associated with the project had visions of healthy bonus checks in their futures. Predictably, the team pronounced that it would offer the most technically advanced products in their class which would be fabulously received by the marketplace.

Well, they weren’t. And the reason they weren’t was due to two major miscalculations. First, these “technically advanced” product offerings turned out to be much more expensive than the competitor’s. Yes, while it is true that customers may prefer products with more “bells and whistles,” it is also true that “what customers like” and “what customers are willing to pay for” are typically two very different things. Secondly, the company’s marketing and engineering teams simply neglected to research and understand their target customers enough to determine which product features would translate into real customer-perceived benefits.

When formulating a marketing strategy, it’s important to understand that “more” is not always better and, in many cases, a careful analysis of the customer might indicate that “less” could be just the thing.

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