A Foolproof Way to Translate Technical Features into Business Benefits

February 6, 2013 by

As technology marketers, one of the tasks we routinely face is taking a highly technical product or service and showing how its complex features translate into business benefits that are meaningful to executives.

Because it's not enough to simply make claims that we provide such benefits. We have to prove to decision makers that we can deliver them. And that means making a strong, clear connection between those business benefits and our features.

That's why I'd like to share with you a little tool I use. It's a simple, foolproof method for translating technical features into business benefits in an orderly manner. And it's useful for any marcom project, from website content to white papers, space ads to direct mail.

The "So What" Table

I call this tool the "So What" Table. (You'll see why in a moment.)

To build one, open a document in your word processing program and create a three-column table with following headings:

So What Table 1

Now, fill out the first column, listing all of the technical features or benefits of your product or service. I use the heading "Technical Features/Benefits" here, because in many cases, especially with services, it's easier to identify and deal with a technical capability or benefit, rather than a discrete feature.

Let's say your company manufactures a new, solid state energy storage product. With the technical features column filled in, the top of our table might now look like this:

So What Table 2

OK, now it's time to fill in each horizontal row of our table. To do that, we want to step into the shoes of our target audience, look at our first technical feature, and ask ourselves…

"So what?"

That's right. So what? What does this mean to our business buyer? What is the commercial benefit here?

For the first feature in our example (smaller footprint, lower profile than competing technologies), we might reply, "Well, a smaller footprint and lower profile means the device takes up less space on the circuit board and less volume inside the product. So, it helps reduce the overall product size."

And since a smaller product size is frequently a competitive advantage in the electronics world, we fill in the box in Column 2 with that information.

But we're looking for a deeper benefit. We're looking for a benefit that will be compelling to our business buyer when she or he reads it in our marketing content. So, keeping our business buyer's shoes on and looking at what we've just written, we ask ourselves again… "So what?"

(Are you starting to see why I call this a "So What" Table?)

This time, our answer might be, "Well, reducing the size of the components inside the product creates the potential for smaller, slimmer, more richly featured products – products that will be more competitive in the marketplace."

That sounds more compelling, doesn't it? Sure it does. So, we write that down in Column 3.

Now, our table looks like this:

So What Table 3

And we proceed to fill in the rest of the table, a row at a time, asking ourselves the same question over and over again: "So what?"

A Fourth Column

I should mention that for some projects – direct mail, direct response ads, email and similar – you may want to add a fourth column to your table.

That fourth column is for a personal benefit for the decision maker. How will the feature in question – or rather, the commercial benefits is conveys – improve the life of the decision maker who purchases our product or service? When you get to this column, you look at what you wrote in Column 3 and ask yourself, "So what? What do I get out of it, if I purchase your product? What's in it for me?"

And our response might be, again using our example, "Well, a decision that leads to more competitive products might mean greater job security, perhaps a bonus or pay raise, maybe even quicker career advancement."

Again, filling out the table is just a matter of putting yourself in the frame of mind of your target audience and asking yourself, "So what?"

Then, once you have your table complete, it's time to put it to work.

How to Use a "So What" Table

As marketers, we've been taught – and told time and time again – to sell the BENEFITS of our products and services, NOT the features. We're taught to make big promises of the benefits we offer, and then to provide proof that we can actually deliver those benefits.

That's where this table comes in.

As you develop your promotion, keep your "so what" table at hand. Use the right-hand column – the deeper benefits column – to make your promises or claims. Use the two left-hand columns to prove your claims.

In other words, use explanation and evidence – test results, case studies, expert third-party testimony, etc. – to show how your technical feature in the leftmost column delivers the surface benefit in the second column. In most cases, that surface benefit can be linked to the deeper commercial benefit with a simple statement… if it isn't already blindingly obvious.

One other thing. When your table is complete, you may find the same commercial benefits in more than one row, i.e., for multiple features. That's fine. That gives you more ways to back up your benefit claims.

To see what I mean, let's take a look at the completed table for our example:

So What Table 4

Note how the features in the first and third rows deliver the same commercial benefits.

Now, let's look at how this table might be put to use in a white paper. In the following excerpt, the deeper commercial benefit has been listed as the first of a series of competitive advantages the technology offers. That's followed by proof drawn from the left-hand columns of Rows 1 and 3.

1. Greater product miniaturization potential.

Solid state batteries have a smaller device footprint and lower profile than either supercapacitors or coin cell batteries. Even in packaged form, they take up less board space and volume.
And, thanks to the unique properties of solid state batteries, many components that are typically used in electronics power systems can be eliminated, creating additional space savings.

Even greater miniaturization can be achieved by co-packaging these devices with other IC components, or by using advanced attachment methods. In bare die form, solid state batteries can be stacked with system-on-chip (SoC) ICs in the same package, either to save space in larger products, or to provide embedded energy for tiny system-in-package (SiP) devices...

More detailed evidence would follow, but you can see how this excerpt draws from the table above.

Linking your features and benefits together in a table makes it easy to link them together in your content. That's the power of the "So What" Table.

Take-Away Points

1. The easiest way to translate technical features into business benefits in an orderly fashion is with a "So What" Table.

2. To build a "So What" Table:

a. Start with technical features or benefits in the left column.

b. Put yourself in the shoes of your target prospect.

c. Ask yourself, "So what? What does this mean to our target audience?" and fill in the next column to the right.

d. Repeat step c. to fill in each row.

3. To use a "So What" Table:

a. Start from the deeper benefits to make claims or promises.

b. Prove your claims by building on the information in the leftmost columns of the same row.

If you would like help creating compelling content that links your product or service's technical features to bottom-line business benefits, call CopyEngineer at (+39) 011 569 4951. Or you can email me at info@copyengineer.com.

1 Comment

  1. […] its features. Therefore, your messaging platform needs to address the full list of your product's features and benefits. There are two ways to deal with this list in your […]

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