Business writing stories from the coalface … boring old benefits

You know how I always harp on, saying why you must always write about benefits, not features, in your marketing and other business writing?

Driving on English motorways is painful, says Suzan St Maur on How To Write Better

An English motorway (multi-lane highway) is probably more painful for a driver than a root-canal procedure without anaesthesia.

In fairness to boring old “moi,” any business/marketing writer or copywriter should tell you the same thing. If they don’t, they’re on their way to successful careers as street sweepers.

But every now and then there comes some sort of exception that sort-of proves the rule. Here’s the story…

Once upon a time…

I was asked to write the scripts for a series of videos, for a large chain of real estate agencies. These agencies offered many attractive features that their competitors couldn’t match.

Having established that I needed to spend some time brainstorming with staff at their Head Office, I realised that it was in a city in northern England about a 3 hour drive from where I live.

Now, a 3 hour drive in North America or Australia, say, is probably not that much of a big deal. Long stretch on the highway, music playing, glorious countryside to admire, easy pit stops for some coffee, a doughnut and a wee-wee.

The motorway from Hell

Not so in England. A 3 hour drive between 06:00 and 09:00 hours on an English motorway (multi-lane highway) is probably more painful for a driver than a root-canal procedure without anaesthesia.

So this sunny morning saw me drive painfully for 3 hours to the client’s Head Office, park up, and enter what looked like downtown Hiroshima 10 minutes after the Bomb.

Faces wracked with fatigue and despair. Endless empty coffee cups. Discarded sandwich packs. As I walked into the room, 6 or 7 faces turned to meet mine with expressions varying from relief to pustulating hatred.

Er, I’ll just get myself some coffee

..I said as I found a spare chair. I then introduced myself properly and asked them how they were getting on, as if I couldn’t tell from the glum looks and sweaty brows.

The objective had been to establish the benefits of the service this group of real estate agencies offered its clients, who consisted of people selling their homes.

Its features were many, and all were brilliant

The problem was not only how to make those features into benefits, but also then how to make those into one useful message to use in the videos. Each of the features converted to a benefit of its own. For example:

  • Well trained staff = people who know how to give you the service you want
  • Online mortgage calculator = find out in seconds how much you can borrow
  • Interactive website offering virtual home viewings = potential buyers can log on and tour your home, so you don’t have lots of tyre-kickers coming to view it in person … etc.

However, using all those benefits together would not have worked. That’s what this poor team of staffers had been agonising about for 2 hours before I showed up.

How did we solve the benefits problem?

As you know, one key overall benefit not only gets attention – it also provides a central focus for what your piece of writing is all about.

In many cases this is what the advertising industry calls the “USP” – Unique Selling Proposition. Of course, not all business writing is sales orientated (although nearly all of it is attempting to sell something to someone!)  But the key overall benefit is what makes your text worth paying attention to – what’s “in it for them.”

In the case of this real estate agency chain, the key overall benefit was the fact that because of all these wonderful features/benefits…

…NAME (the real estate agency) takes the stress out of selling your home

And having taken a good look at what these poor people had been slaving over, that’s what I suggested to them.

The reaction from those staffers?

They were incredibly polite, considering that this snotty-nosed southerner (actually a secret Canadian which, if discovered, would have been worse) showed up after they had been slaving for hours pondering something the snot-nose resolved in seconds.

And the ensuing campaign via video and other media ran successfully for many months.

Moral of the story?

Look for the big picture when it comes to benefits in business writing.

And avoid driving up English motorways between 06:00 and 09:00 hrs.

What experiences have you had when dealing with benefits?

Please share them!