Why Brains Crave Beneficial Copy

Brian

You’ve heard it a million times if you’ve spent any time studying copywriting, marketing or sales—stress benefits, not features. People must be expressly told what reward they can expect when buying from or even paying attention to you.

This all boils down to basic psychology and an understanding of what truly motivates the person you’re trying to reach. But what’s really going on inside our brains when we’re presented with the right beneficial promise at the right time?

Recent neurological research reveals some fascinating things about how our brains react to anticipated rewards. It seems that a message that focuses on rewards can trigger the same brain activity that results from actually enjoying the reward itself.

Here’s an excerpt from Why Choose This Book? by Read Montague, professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine and a fellow at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study:

…we made some headway at understanding broadly the underpinnings of why certain messages might gain behavioral power. They come to act like rewards, and the rest of the brain adapts itself to predict and acquire them. Events that foreshadow these potent messages also accrue value because our brains are designed to transfer value to events that predict reward. Just like, “A friend of my friend is also my friend,” the brain has its own version, “A predictor of a predictor is also a predictor,” where the predictors predict future reward. This is exactly why even complex verbal descriptions like the “…salad of perfectly grilled woodsy-flavored calamari…” can set off reward seeking circuits. It’s a proxy for the reward to come.

So, when you focus on beneficial messages in your copy, you’re creating an anticipatory response that is no different from experiencing the reward itself. A dry recitation of features is not going to pull this neurological trigger, and that’s why copy that focuses on features alone fails.

You’ve got to tell people the story they (and their brains) want to hear.

The hardest thing for many people is mistaking features for the benefits that the features provide. A feature is a descriptive fact about your offering. The benefit of that feature is what someone gains or avoids losing as a result of that feature.

In other words, you’ve got to get down to the motivating emotional root in order to locate the true benefit. For help with that, check out this article on benefits from Copywriting 101.

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  1. Great and inspiring article, I wish I had time to write an article on these principles right now.

  2. What’s tricky about this is that lot of features have many benefits, but not all benefits are relevant to all readers. So when this gets really powerful is in the concept of niches – if you understand your niche and your audience, you can craft highly relevant content based on what you know about benefits that would appeal to your specific readership.

    But what should copywriters do in instances when they’re not armed with a lot of knowledge about the audience? Obviously, it’s best not to be in this situation, but it does happen. Is it best to simply highlight all benefits and hope something hits the mark, or is there another solution?

  3. Tiffany, I don’t think effective copy can happen without a good understanding of the audience. Observation of surrounding trends should at a minimum result in educated guesses about what motivates a certain demographic.

    But you point out something else that’s important. Too often we stop seeking all the possible benefits that are wrapped up in various features. If you work at it, usually you’ll find a lot more benefits than you thought were there.

    It’s important to find the ultimate benefit that people are looking for, and it’s usually tied to a root emotion –fear, greed, love, hope, exclusivity, redemption, etc. But beyond that, finding and communicating every benefit of your offering certainly won’t hurt.

  4. Good point, Brian. What do you think about where to hit on Maslow’s hierarchy when highlighting benefits? Will that be predicted by the audience, or are there typically a range of needs being represented in your readership? This whole subject is so fascinating to me.

  5. Hi Brian.
    I’m wondering if products that don’t necessarily have a benefit, like fashion, need copywriting at all. I can see the benefits of writing copy for camping and sports wear.

  6. Brian;

    Here’s how I like to distinguish a benefit:

    It has implicit meaning and requires no further explanation.

    Example:

    Feature: Glass display on front of MP3 music player

    Benefit: Eliminates scratches

    Mike

  7. Thanks Brian.

    It IS about tapping into what it is that will truly the person you’re trying to reach.

    You ‘ve got to give them a savory nugget that makes them WANT to continue reading more…and more…and more.

    You’ve got to know how to get (and keep) their attention by giving their brain SOMEthing delectable to wrap itself around.

    Brian…I enjoy all that you do. Keep up the wonderful work!

  8. This is the hardest construct for me. Benefits are tied both to needs and positioning. People are usually in a combination of those levels on the pyramid so that a need may be a desire to some and necessity for others.
    When one’s client base extends across strata…who are you aiming for?

  9. Sandra, I think fashion definitely has benefits, but you may be right that copy isn’t always the best way to point to them.

    Thanks for the post, I always love delving into monkey brain and how it relates to what we do.

  10. Hi Brian – this is so true. And this is the exact reason why I told Yellow Pages today that I won’t and never will let them write my ads for me.

    Yellow pages sales people in the uk suck. I can’t understand how anyone could have a job in sales – particularly selling advertising and not know the basics of marketing.

  11. Catherine, I have had a full page ad in the Yellow Pages for several years now and after reading copyblogger for a couple of months I am now cringing at what they’ve done for (to) me.

  12. That’s fascinating Brian.

    You know, I think Buddhists have known this for thousands of years. I’ve heard them say things like…

    “The anticipation of getting something you really want is even better than when you have the thing…”

    An example is like in that movie called the Peaceful Warrior. …The teacher says, let’s climb this mountain because I’m ready to show you something. The entire way up he’s on-top-of-the-world anticipating that something great is about to be discovered.

    And he doesn’t even know what it is! He just knows it will be beneficial for it.

    Well, it turns out his teacher showed him a rock lying in the grass and taught him that the journey was better than the destination.

    I think that lesson says a lot about copywriting.

    When people are looking for online money making opps and they’re reading some copy, you know it has to feel a ton better than when they crack open the product and find out they’re actually learning…

    With this psychological concept in mind it’s almost like you could just read great sales letters all day, and not buy the products, and feel pretty damn good about your life all the time. …If the sales letter is that good. =)

  13. Brian,

    Thanks for finding this info and sharing it. Thanks also to the great, insightful comments of your readers.

    Mike Bawden
    http://www.brandcentralstation.com

  14. Tap into those felt needs and do it with precision–that’s how you find copy writing success.

  15. I would say that thinking like a politician is a good way to write content that people want. A politician is skilled at saying things that people want to hear. They may be expressing their own opinions and idea, but they do so in a way that is crafted to appeal to as many people as possible.

  16. Thanks Brian, that’s a rather original approach to copywriting.

    Jason, I like your example of how the anticipation can dominate the result. However, writing good sales letter may become quite unprofitable, if people just read them and “feel pretty damn good”, without any intention to buy ;)

  17. Nobody can fully understand the Human Brain.Its a universe in itself………

  18. A feature is more like a specification or something physical like:

    “We have a 1-800 number now.”

    The client then says in his own mind “so what?”

    The benefit is the answer to the “so what” question:

    “Mr. Client you don’t pay long distance charges to call us ever!”

    Always answer “so what” questions before clients ask them…that’s benefit selling.

    Patrick

  19. @Patrick- thank you!!! That couldn’t be clearer. And it dawned on me, duh, that we are talking about individual offerings here not a whole package/branding effort..
    I was feeling as dumb as two planks here. :)
    All best, Jan

  20. That’s a good tip, Patrick.

    Another way to do it is to list the feature, and then say “which means that…” until you get to the root benefit.

    For example, “Our boots are waterproof (feature), which means that you’ll have dry feet (benefit), which means that you’ll be warm and comfortable (root benefit).”

  21. A very timely reminder for me. These basics are easily forgotten. I am used to writing formally for a professional audience and your articles are really helping me make the transition to writing for the web.
    Thanks
    Mark

  22. Brian,
    Excellent article. I also checked out the article on benefits as you suggested. It is interesting how headlines written in 2 distinctly different ways can have completely different results. I must admit, that I also look for the benefits first and would be quick to hit the back button if they were not readily displayed on a site. Features are all well and good but I want to know how something will benefit me. One person who impresses me in directly outlining the benefits in his headlines for his products is James Brausch. If you look up the sales pages for any of his products e.g. MuVar, Nemeas etc., you will see that he immediatly lets the viewer know what the benefits will be. No endless list of features and he is a very successful marketer. Most people are searching for a solution to something and what will make them take notice and stay and read further is if the headline contains that solution which ultimately is the core benefit. If they get excited enough by what they read, they will buy.

  23. Great article, Brian, as always. In fact, it reminds me of something David Garfinkel once said.

    A feature is what a product has. A benefit is what that feature does. But to me, it’s not just what the feature does.

    But my friend and copywriter David Garfinkel said it this way: a benefit is the experience of a feature. It’s not just what a feature does but what a reader does (or can do) with it.

  24. “It seems that a message that focuses on rewards can trigger the same brain activity that results from actually enjoying the reward itself.” This correlation between anticipation and reward makes a lot of sense. Seems to extend much further than neurological benefit— it really is a bit spiritual… sorry for being corny, everybody.

  25. Yeah i have read about this benefits versus features a lot recently, and when you think about it, the whole concept is right. People do care about the features, but to get them to get their wallets out and pay for your product, you have to tell them how they will benefit.

    I rewrote a few pages on my website with benefits in mind, and my conversion rate on orders from those specific pages went from 1.2% to 3.7% in a matter of days, so if you do it right, it definitely works!!

  26. Great to read your article,

    Good Luck ,

    Tracy Ho
    wisdomgettingloaded

  27. “Our boots are waterproof (feature), which means that you’ll have dry feet (benefit), which means that you’ll be warm and comfortable (root benefit).”

    Brian, that’s brilliant, right to the point satisfaction of the psychology behind desires. I’m glad that you reminded me that we have to spell these things out to people. People often don’t know exactly what need or desire they are attempting to satisfy when they search for a solution. Telling them exactly what something will do for them will not only demonstrate the benefits, it will often reveal the root cause of what they are searching for.

    I guess that in the field of copywriting, those who assume or expect the reader to do the work of making connections and revelations lose out to those who reveal those connections for the reader.

    Hey! I’ve suddenly wised up to something. Many thanks!

  28. i guess this happens because the person visualizes the reward in his mind which makes it appear to be real for the subconcious mind

  29. Very good reminder here. I’ve been writing quite a few pitches of late–this is a necessity.

  30. Give the readers a WIIFM (What’s In It For Me)… But, don’t give the WIIFM right out of the gate.

    Before you do, build a little anticipation through the story you are conveying that “hooks” the reader and makes the reader want to read the next line (regardless if it’s a blog, ad, article or anything else).

    Once your reader is “hooked”, then you give them a WIIFM or two followed by a Call-to-Action at the end… They should be eager to move to the next step.

    Example Real Estate Ad, Objective Lead Capture (Hook, Hook, WIIFM, Call-to-Action):
    “-Are you in the market for a new home but not ready to deal with a Real Estate Agent yet?
    -Would you rather start your real estate search online, and then contact an agent when you are ready?
    -For your FREE access to the Metro Online Home Search, CLICK HERE NOW.”