Marketing Plan Writing

Focus on customer benefits

written by Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software

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Good marketing first identifies a market need and then fills that need. Too often we focus on what we have to sell and who we can sell it to.

Focus on Market Needs from the Beginning

Do it right from the beginning! The most successful planning process begins with a customer need. Your whole marketing strategy, from the product development stage on, is based on fulfilling that need better than any competitor.

Scene 1: Business Lobby
It’s a sunny late-spring day in 1987, in an office park setting in suburban California. Sitting in the lobby of a large office building, a young woman waits for her next appointment. There’s a reception desk, couches, potted plants, and a telephone. Some magazines are on a coffee table in front of the main couch.

The young woman caught waiting for her appointment is early. She expects she has at least 10 or 15 minutes to wait. She opens her briefcase and starts browsing through a small leather notebook containing appointments, names and phone numbers. She’d like to make a quick phone call but can’t find the right number. She flips the pages of her little leather book.

Did she file it under his name, or his company? Small notes fall out of the book, post-it notes from an office, receipts from business lunches, and business cards. She gathers them up off the floor. As she does, she looks at each one of them, hoping she might find the number she wants.

She’s visibly frustrated. She can’t find the number she needs. She stashes her notebook back in her briefcase, and stares dejectedly at the old magazines on the coffee table, deciding what she’ll read to kill the waiting time.

As you imagine that scene, think about the underlying market need. Ask yourself:

  • What is the underlying market need?
  • Who (what kind of person) has such a need?
  • How could this need be filled? What sorts of products or services would solve this woman’s problem?

Scene 2: Brainstorming
It’s 1993. The scene is a meeting room in a 12-story modern office building overlooking the Olympic Park in Tokyo, Japan. Eight people of different nationalities sit around a conference table, and a ninth is standing with a marker in his hand, writing on a white board. The notes on the board indicate the ideas they’ve been through. Top executives might use this thing, perhaps in their limos as they travel between appointments. Of course it’s expensive, so only a select few would really be interested. Maybe it would be used for some special applications, like meter readers, or airline maintenance.

They’re struggling. The task at hand is a marketing strategy for a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) that weighs more than a pound, is about as big as a running shoe, and costs $850. They’ve spent several hours in the room and they’re frustrated. Whose needs are solved by this product?

“This is not working!” one of them announces. “Look at what we’re doing. Isn’t this the worst kind of marketing planning? We’re not looking at market needs and how to fill them; we’ve got a product already built, and we’re trying to figure out how to sell it, and who to sell it to.” Everybody in the group agrees. They went out to lunch together, complained about the product and the project, then went back to their meeting. Eventually they had a marketing plan. The product failed.

Scene 3: A Need Filled
It’s 1999. A line of people stand waiting for tables at the breakfast restaurant in a packed downtown hotel. Most of them are dressed for business, and visibly unhappy with the 10 to 20 minute wait for a table. They have appointments and schedules. Several of them peer into their palm-sized personal digital assistants that are about as big as a deck of cards. If you watch closely, you’ll see them get telephone numbers out of the PDAs and dial the numbers on their cell phones. Some are reading downloaded news items on the PDAs while another is playing chess. The PDA became a product only after it served a real market need, at the right price. The people who made money with the PDA planned it correctly — or so it seems — based on customer needs. The process, apparently, was the right one, and included these simplified steps:

  • Identify the market need.
  • Build the product to fill it.
  • Market it by putting it where customers can find it, and telling them where it is.

Start with Customer Needs
Don’t get caught with a marketing process that begins with what you have to sell, then wonder who are you going to sell it to, and where to sell it. Start with the customer need and then design a solution to fill the need.

Features and Benefits Statements
Features and benefits statements are classics of standard marketing. For every product and every service you sell, develop your features and benefits statements. First, understand the difference between features and benefits.

The following example describes features and benefits of a hypothetical automobile:

  • Six cylinders
  • Four cup holders
  • Stereo system
  • Leather seats
  • Cell phone
  • 25 cubic foot trunk
  • Reclining seats
  • On-board GPS system


  • Prestige
  • Reliability
  • Safety
  • Comfort
  • Transportation
  • Storage
  • Sex appeal
  • Convenience

Now consider the distinctions. Features are characteristics of the product or service, while benefits are positive values to the purchaser. The features serve as a vehicle to offer the customer benefit. Usually people buy benefits more than features. The auto’s power, its aerodynamic smoothness, and its reclining seats are features while the purchaser’s gain in power and prestige are benefits. Product designers create features, but people buy benefits.

Good marketers understand features, but emphasize benefits. They use features to explain and develop benefits. There are exceptions to the general rule. Some markets and even some industries are feature-driven. For some buyers computers and personal electronics have this tendency. Sometimes the features and benefits merge together.

When communicating features and benefits, always emphasize benefits. Generally the benefits sell your product (or service), not the features. Engineers and product development teams love features, as do gadget-oriented buyers, but benefits sell while features really just deliver benefits

In the automotive industry, for example, advertising often sells different features and benefits. As you look at the automobile comparison, think about automobile advertising. Some ads push benefits, some push features. Think about ads you know and how they suggest benefits and specifically inform about features.

Benefits Marketing Example
Our first example below is Climate Insulating Products. This one sells you on the benefits of the windows advertised. Normally stressing benefits is a better way to take your message to market.

Commercial Window Film Features and Benefits

  • Enhances the value and appearance of your building.
  • Improves the comfort inside your building.
  • Makes your building less expensive to heat and cool.
  • Can improve the safety and security of your building.
  • Reduces damage caused by fading.
  • Read customer testimonials about the product.

Features Marketing Example

The second example shows a website marketing technique that lets  the visitor  choose several different models for side-by-side comparison. This may be appropriate for a feature-driven market; this example compares several cell phones.

Form Slide with landscape capture Monoblock Monoblock
Size 3.90 x 2.09 x 0.83 in. 4.41 x 1.98 x 0.68 in. 4.61 x 2.76 x 0.55 in.
Weight 4.55 oz 4.02 oz 5.29 oz
Input method Phone keypad Phone keypad QWERTY keyboard
Display colors Up to 16.7 million colors Up to 16.7 million colors Up tp 16 million colors
Display size 320 x 240 px 320 x 240 px 320 x 240 px
Talk time GSM up to 5 hours, WCDMA up to 3.5 hours GSM up to 4.25 hours, WCDMA up to 3.25 hours GSM up to 5 hours, WCDMA up to 5 hours, VOIP up to 4.6 hours

Combination Marketing Example

Research in Motion (RIM), developer of the BlackBerry®,  uses a classic approach of putting features and benefits side by side, relating the features to the benefits they create.

Features Available

The BlackBerry® Pearl™ 8100 smartphone has all the features you need:

Stay in Touch

  • Wireless email: Send, receive, forward and reply to messages, and view attachments in popular file formats
  • Advanced phone features: Speakerphone and Voice Activated Dialing, user-definable convenience keys and dedicated Send, End and Mute keys
  • Instant Messaging: Connect with your IM contacts using popular applications like Yahoo!® Messenger and Google Talk™
  • SMS and MMS: Send text messages and images in an instant

Enjoy Life

  • Media Player: Listen to your favorite songs and watch video clips
  • Camera: Capture the moment in perfect clarity with 1.3MP, built-in zoom and flash

Find the Info You Need

  • Browser: Navigate and browse websites with a roll and click of the trackball
  • Organizer: Synch and store your calendar data, address book and more
  • BlackBerry® Maps: Get directions and view maps while on the road
  • Corporate data access: Access your vital corporate databases and applications from anywhere

Maximize Convenience

  • 64 MB of built-in memory and expandable memory via microSD card
  • Bluetooth® capability for hands-free dialogue
  • High-resolution, light-sensing screen
  • SureType® keyboard technology in a QWERTY-style layout for fast text and email composition
Tim Berry

about the author

Tim Berry

Founder and President of Palo Alto Software and a renowned planning expert. He is listed in the index of "Fire in the Valley", by Swaine and Freiberger, the history of the personal computer industry. Tim contributes regularly to the bplans blog, the as well as his own blog, Planning, Startups, Stories. His full biography is available at Follow Tim onGoogle +


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