Does Your Copy Pass the “Forehead Slap” Test?

One of the most repeated rules of writing compelling copy is to stress benefits, not features.

In other words, identify the underlying benefit that each feature of a product or service provides to the prospect, because that’s what will prompt the purchase.

This is one rule that always applies, except when it doesn’t.

We’ll look at the exceptions in a bit.

Fake benefits

The idea of highlighting benefits over features seems simple. But it’s often tough to do in practice.

Writers often end up with fake benefits instead.

Direct response copywriter Clayton Makepeace asserts that fake benefits will kill sales copy, so you have to be on the lookout for them in your writing. He uses this headline as an example:

Balance Blood Sugar Levels Naturally!

That sounds pretty beneficial, doesn’t it? In reality, there’s not a single real benefit in the headline.

True benefits

Makepeace advises to apply his patented “forehead slap” test to see if your copy truly contains a benefit to the reader. In other words, have you ever woken up from a deep sleep, slapped yourself in the forehead, and exclaimed “Man … I need to balance my blood sugar levels naturally!”

I think not. So getting someone to pull out their wallet to buy that so-called “benefit” will be difficult at best.

Here’s how Makepeace identifies the real benefit hidden in that headline:

Nobody really wants to balance their blood sugar levels. But anyone in his or her right mind DOES want to avoid the misery of blindness … cold, numb, painful limbs … amputation … and premature death that go along with diabetes.

A high-risk person will want to avoid the terrible effects of diabetes. That is the true benefit that the example product offers.

How to extract true benefits

So, how do you successfully extract true benefits from features? Here’s a four-step process that works:

  • First, make a list of every feature of your product or service.
  • Second, ask yourself why each feature is included in the first place.
  • Third, take the “why” and ask “how” does this connect with the prospect’s desires?
  • Fourth, get to the absolute root of what’s in it for the prospect at an emotional level.

Let’s look at a product feature for a fictional “read later” app:

Feature:

“Contains an artificial intelligence algorithm.”

Why it’s there:

“Adds greater utility by adapting and customizing the user’s information experience.”

What’s in it for them:

“Keeps the data you need the most at the forefront when you’re in a hurry.”

Emotional root:

“Stay up to date on the things that add value to your life and career, without getting stressed out from information overload.”

Getting to the emotional root is crucial for effective consumer sales. But what about b-to-b prospects?

When features work

When selling to businesses or highly technical people, features alone can sometimes do the trick. Overtly pandering to emotions will only annoy them.

Besides, unlike consumers (who mostly “want” things rather than “need” them), business and tech buyers often truly need a solution to a problem or a tool to complete a task. When a feature is fairly well known and expected from your audience, you don’t need to sell it.

However, with innovative features, you still need to move the prospect down the four-step path. While the phrase “contains an artificial intelligence algorithm” may be enough to get the tech savvy reader salivating, he’ll still want to know how it works and what it does for him.

The What’s in it for me? aspect remains crucial.

For business buyers, you’re stressing “bottom line” benefits from innovative features. If you can demonstrate that the prospect will be a hero because your CRM product will save her company $120,000 a year compared to the current choice, you’ve got an excellent shot.

While that may seem like a no-brainer purchase to you, you’ll still need to strongly support the promised benefit with a detailed explanation of how the features actually deliver.

Remember, change can be scary to the business buyer, because it’s their job or small business on the line if the product disappoints.

Sell with benefits, support With features

We’re not as logical as we’d like to think we are.

Most of our decisions are based on deep-rooted emotional motivations, which we then justify after the fact with logic. So, first help create the emotional desire, then aid the rationalization process with features and hard data so that the wallet actually emerges.

What you’ve just read is an excerpt from our ebook on effective copywriting, one of 15 we offer along with a 20-part marketing course — all at no charge. Join 99,430 smart marketers and claim your free membership here.

About the author

Brian Clark


Brian Clark is founder of Copyblogger and host of New Rainmaker. Get more from Brian on .

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  1. “While that may seem like a no-brainer purchase to you, you’ll still need to strongly support the promised benefit with a detailed explanation of how the features actually deliver.”

    Great point! You know all that your product is capable of doing, but your audience does not. Why do I care about having better organized customer data? What is that going to do for me? What is that going to do for my company? Better organized customer data is a nice thing, but why does it REALLY matter?

  2. Great examples to show a true benefit vs a feature and how it plays to the emotions of the consumer. I appreciate that you took it a step further and differentiated what a business is looking for, not always emotionally rooted in the same way.

  3. As someone who’s always had trouble with benefits, this is a very helpful explanation of how they work, Brian. It also reminds me Lesson 14 (How to Write With Benefits) in James Chartrand’s Damn Fine Words writing course.

    When I couldn’t get the benefits right in the exercise, James told me to think of how a feature would change the reader’s life. How will it make his life better?

    For example, if an ebook is free… so what? So the reader can download it guilt free and not worry about spending money when he doesn’t have any to spare. There’s no need to further tighten your budget because there’s no financial investment – of any kind. All you have to do is download it and use it to do solve your problem and improve your life (whatever they may be depending on the subject matter of the ebook).

    Looking at a feature and weaving a scenario/story where the reader comes out on top works for me every time when it comes to benefits.

  4. Hi Brian,

    In many cases the rule “show benefits, not features” leaves really bad taste in a mouth like after eating a good portion of saccharin marketing fluff. The bad thing is that people don’t see it. People eat the fluff with a great pleasure, although it is not good for them at all in many cases.

    Of course, people are pretty much irrational (first of all because of emotions even if the emotions are not realized by the people themselves) when it comes to making decisions.

    And those marketers are successful who can balance between emotions (benefits) and facts (features) in their persuasive sale copies, considering a target audience of course.

    But those marketers are really good, who can do it promoting really good stuff (What to consider to be good stuff is another long story.)

    …but after all, I agree (with a large bit of sorrow) that it all goes to an emotional level, however logical and technical a person is. The facts and logic are needed for further justification of decisions which are made based on emotions.

    Even technical (read rational) people looking for a solution and actual features (not a consumerist fluff or some imaginary benefits) due to a lack of time to make a decent research and overload of information tend to fall for emotions when it is time to make a decision.

    And I’m sorry for that because emotions are so abused in our world. That’s why I tend to tell my friends to be more rational (as far as it is possible if they have time for that), because their feelings are already “cared about” by the army of marketers. (By the way, it regards only business or retail industry, but almost every sphere, e.g. politics, personal life etc).

    Thank you for the article.

  5. Our North American culture has been centered on the idea that our emotional response is the “truth”. We are told that we should always listen to our heart … blah blah blah.

    Meaning it is very rare that we make a logical decision, aside from reading Copyblogger of course :)

  6. I love the blood sugar example – because I’ve been writing product copy in the natural health industry lately. Confession – I have used that exact headline.

    One thing that might make this sort of copy even better is to remember the advice of Claude Hopkins.

    While advertising toothpaste, he realize people responded better to benefits of beautifying their lives rather than preventing something bad (Beautiful white smile vs fighting plaque and cavities).

    So how would you do that with blood sugar? (As a diabetic myself I have some knowledge)

    Unbalanced blood sugar makes you feel like crap.
    Low blood sugar = cranky, shaky and weak, dizzy etc.
    High blood sugar = fatigued, dehydrated etc.

    Having balanced blood sugar makes you feel normal/good. It’s an immediate benefit as opposed to preventing something long-term.

    It’s also important to remember your audience.

    “Balance Blood Sugars Naturally” – probably isn’t a strong headline no matter how you look at it. Agreed. But it does kind of communicate a benefit to people who don’t trust traditional medicine and might be looking for an alternative.

  7. Hi Brian,

    This is very timely for some discussions I’ve been having with a client in a very technical field.

    First of all, one of the things that struck me in your first blood sugar example is it is written from the viewpoint of what the *writer* thinks is important. The writer is impressed on how you can manage blood sugar naturally. This has nothing to do with what the *reader* is impressed with. I know this because I made this exact mistake for years (and couldn’t figure out why I never sold anything. He he)

    Secondly, I completely agree that sometimes the features are very important. Techy people want features and especially with products that rely on huge investments and sign-offs from multiple stakeholders, the emotional benefits become more diluted (although still in play to some degree–if only to prove how forward-thinking their technology is).

    The buying process, with multiple stakeholders, is a huge challenge. When a product requires a large buying process, each part of the team has their own investment in the process. For example, the technicians want ease-of-use, the medical personnel want customer (patient) satisfaction, the administrators want ROI. It’s very hard to form a simple statement about benefits.

    Thank you very much. I’m going to use this post to initiate more discussions.

    And please, excuse this comment for being “me too!” Basically I’m just repeating what you said. I’m just excited because you articulated many of the discussions I’ve been having in a very eloquent way!

  8. Fantastic article and very relevant to me. I’m taking a branding class right now that talks about communicating like this, but you phrased it in a way that is very easy to understand. I look forward to reading more posts.

  9. Just in time learning. I was just wrestling with this yesterday in the creation of a sales page. Pat Flynn and Jeremy and Jason over at Internet Business Mastery helped me out with this. The example Pat gave l was this:

    Take any feature that of your e-Book (maybe it’s a certain chapter), and add the words “so you …” to the end of it, and finish the sentence. You now have your benefit.

    Example: The house has solar panels, so you can save money on your electricity bill.

    A home gym that folds up and fits under the bed, so you save space in your room while you’re not using it.

    Try it out, it’s pretty cool!

    Lastly, here are some final tips you can use when listing your benefits on your sales page:

    • Make sure you actually list or bullet point your benefits.
    • Start with your #1 benefit, and end with your #2 benefit.
    • Stay on target; don’t go into benefits that don’t really matter to your target audience.
    • Lastly, there’s no need for fluff. Straight and to the point is all you need.

    The guys at Internet Business Mastery said something similar to what you are saying and gave me this:

    What is the solution that you offer?
    • How will you help them get rid of the pain?

    What are ten benefits of your solution? What are the benefits behind the benefits?
    • A titanium shaft on a golf club is a feature
    • Hitting the ball further is a benefit
    • The admiration of your friends after the golf game is the emotional benefit behind the benefit

    So this what you wrote just helped confirm how I wanted to word it. Thanks!

  10. Excellent points, Brian! Sell with the benefits and support with the features.

    It’s easier said than done, but it’s definitely the most effective route. I also hate when I read a headline or ad-copy that broadcasts false or misleading benefits.

    Your thoughts about selling your product from the consumer’s perspective is definitely spot-on right. What may make sense to you as a marketer to have may not always be obvious to the consumer, and it’s important to clearly label why they should buy it.

  11. Brian,

    I love it when you have the time to write.

    Yes, the advice is so obvious that we overlook or underemphasize it:

    “First, make a list of every feature of your product or service.
    Second, ask yourself why each feature is included in the first place.
    Third, take the “why” and ask “how” does this connect with the prospect’s desires?
    Fourth, get to the absolute root of what’s in it for the prospect at an emotional level.”

    The last is real challenging and involves getting into the psychology of the reader, root desire and motivation. These are difficult to pinpoint, and you may not get it just right. But the more time you spend trying, the better off your copy is. Thanks for the reminders.

    Darin

  12. This is a really great post. Sometimes it’s hard connecting the feature to the actual benefit, and the process you outline here is very helpful. I’ll have to spend some time on my site (and on my advertising) to walk through this. Thanks Brian.

  13. Nice points Brian :)