I can’t even begin to estimate how many hours I’ve spent in the last few weeks trying to help people tell their own story, and tell it in a way that will be compelling to others. I’m amazed sometimes at how hard this can be, even for people who have great stories to tell.
I’m not speaking, of course, about the kinds of stories that we tell one another as friends about how our weekend went, or what happened on our trip to the beach, or the funny thing that our son/daughter/neighbor/boss said. Most folks seem to manage those tales pretty well, though I’d wager we all know some who can’t. I can’t help them, and — thankfully — it’s not my job.
No, I’m talking about organizations that have to try to communicate what they are all about to a public that may or may not care. This is a far different task, and generally speaking, there’s much more at stake. So why, then, do so many organizations have such a hard time with it?
My hunch is that it’s because they just can’t see themselves from the outside in. Many of the folks I’ve been working with lately are at the pointy end of the pyramid for pretty large organizations. One would think that such a vantage point would offer them a pretty good view of what’s around them, but my experience tells me that the opposite is normally true. These folks normally look straight down, and as a result, they are often consumed with the nuts and bolts of their organizations. They think much about how things work (or don’t work) and little about how their goods and services are actually experienced by those who use them. So, when asked to tell their stories, they can talk all day about the features of their organizations — we have this, we have that, we have a good program in this, we have this many options available in that.
But in the long run, customers are more readily persuaded by benefits, not features. What’s the difference?
Well, think of it this way –suppose I’m trying to sell you a load of firewood. I could tell you that it’s seasoned. That’s a feature. But I could also tell you that it lights easily and burns clean. That’s a benefit. I could tell you that I’ll deliver and stack it. That’s a feature. But I could also tell you that you won’t have to waste time, money, and energy to get the wood where you need it. Just step out your back door, and there it is. That’s a benefit. See the difference?
Many many moons ago, a mentor clued me in to a pretty blunt instrument that helps a lot of folks make this translation. Simply name a feature, then tack the phrase “which means that” on to the end. When you complete that sentence, odds are pretty good you’ve isolated a benefit.
For a house painter: I use only premium quality paint (feature) which means that you can put off repainting for a much longer time (benefit).
For a web designer: I’m up to speed on the latest technology (feature) which means that your web site will look and work like those of the big boys (benefit).
For a … ahem … freelance writer: I have nearly twenty years of experience across all kinds of business sectors (feature) which means that you won’t have to worry whether or not I can tell your story (benefit).
If you want someone to truly understand the value of what you offer, be sure to take this extra step. Don’t think only about what you offer — think about what benefit that conveys to your clients and customers.