Linking Features & Benefits

Robert Abbott

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I'm sure that you've had those Eureka! moments, too. When a piece of information suddenly helped you see or understand something that hadn't been apparent before.

For me, one came when I discovered means-end analysis, a marketing concept that helps us understand why listeners or readers might respond - or not respond - to our messages. It does this by clarifying the relationship between product features and the benefits experienced by consumers.

I also believe it has great potential for developing communication strategies.

But first, let's review the marketing connection: Consumers know about products in three general ways:

* by the attributes (features) they possess;

* by the consequences of ‘consuming’ those attributes; and

* by the way the consequences help satisfy personal needs.

As the list suggests, these types of knowledge are linked, providing connections among attributes, consequences, and the value-fulfillment benefits we derive from them.

For example, a luxury car offers a number of attributes (features) that make it distinctive. Owning and driving one has some personal consequences, which might include showing others that the owner is affluent and successful. That, in turn, satisfies the owner's value-driven need to be seen as successful. . .

Now, let's look at the same example another way. A low-end car's attributes might include an inexpensive purchase price and economical operation. One personal consequence of owning a car with these attributes might be to have more money available for saving. And, that could provide value satisfaction by giving the owner a sense of accomplishment as she watches her savings account grow.

In developing a communication strategy, the means-end concept offers a couple of important tools. First, it suggests a way to structure messages. Start with attributes, link those attributes to personal consequences, and then link the consequences to satisfying personal value-needs. Second, it may help us predict the impact of our messages.

For example, say your manufacturing plant is about to buy and install a major piece of machinery, and you want employees to know about it. For the plant newsletter, you write an article, starting with attributes of the new machinery. Now, link those attributes to personal consequences: The new equipment enhances the long-term viability of the plant, which makes employees’ jobs more secure. And, secure jobs satisfy an important value requirement among employees, which is to provide their families with a good standard of living.

But, suppose you finish writing about the attributes, and you can't get a grip on the personal consequences for employees, or how it will satisfy their value needs. That should help you predict that the message will fall on deaf - perhaps even hostile - ears.

Given that knowledge, you can rethink what you're doing, what you're saying, or how you're saying it.

In summary, by linking features and benefits, we give ourselves an opportunity to understand and construct effective messages, for both marketing and other purposes.

Robert F. Abbott writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Learn how you can use communication to help achieve your goals, by reading articles or subscribing to this ad-supported newsletter. An excellent resource for leaders and managers, at:


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