Confident buyers need different websites

Features or benefits?Read any book on marketing and you’ll be told to focus on the benefits and ignore the features. Attend any talk on marketing or a lecture on sales techniques and you’ll get the same message; people do not buy the features of the products you want to sell, but the benefits your product will bring the potential buyer.

That’s all nice in theory – except, of course, it is theory – not necessarily the truth. Evidence suggests that some people do buy on features, rather than benefits. So, the theory is not entirely universally applicable it seems. Like much of what we are taught about sales and marketing, the reality is much more complex than the theory.

Before the Internet came along and sales staff were face-to-face with their potential clients, the complexity was actually rather well dealt with. Individual sales staff would listen to what their customer was saying and would focus the conversation on what mattered most to that person. And as many excellent sales people will tell you, there are plenty of people who “buy on features” rather than on benefits.

However, in the online world, where you are not holding a conversation with your customer but merely presenting them with a web page or an advert for your product you have no chance to find out exactly what makes them tick. So, the general theory comes into play and the online world concentrates on selling on benefits, rather than features. And that means you could be missing out on sales.

All those people who buy on features are passing-by those benefit-laden web pages. New research from the University of Chicago now complicates the matter even further. It transpires that we pay attention to marketing material based on our own confidence levels. People with high confidence levels are much more attracted to rather abstract messages about a product or service. Whereas people with low levels of confidence find concrete, more feature-based aspects of a product or service more appealing.

For example. imagine you are selling membership of a health club – one of the experiments conducted in the Chicago study. Confident people found the notion they could “gain long-term health” appealing – a somewhat abstract benefit. But the people with low confidence were more attracted to the specific feature of “daily workouts”. Similarly, when confident people were thinking about door locks they were attracted by the concept of “securing the house” whereas people with low confidence individuals found they focused on the rather more specific “putting the key in the lock”.

Clearly there is no way of knowing the confidence levels of the people visiting your website. But what this new research suggests is that you need more than one web page to sell each of your products. One web page for people who are the confident folks, where your content focuses on abstract benefits. And another web page for people who are less confident, where your sales copy is based more on specific features.

In the “olden days” before the Internet that’s what good sales people did; they adjusted their patter according to the person they were dealing with. We need to do the same online.

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