Anyone who has worked in sales knows that features are what something is, whereas benefits are what it does for you. And that's easy to incorporate when you're writing about your product or service.

But how do you write successfully when you're selling something intangible to people who aren't customers—but are almost as important?

Often this is what you face when you're writing marketing communications not for customers but for what some of us call “stakeholder” groups (although, of course, customers are stakeholders too.) If you can't quickly identify who I'm talking about, think employees, suppliers, share/stock holders, influencers, distributors, wholesalers, retailers, community members, etc.

With these groups, usually you're trying to persuade them to change their thinking rather than buy your product/service. Yet the success of what you write depends on converting features into benefits just like it does when you're selling cans of beans.

Only this time, it's feely rather than touchy, and that's more of a challenge. You've got to sell a sizzle. But there's no sausage.

The Poor Relation of Marcoms

Despite our increasing commitment to write honest, “you-oriented” text connected with every form of marketing communications, you still see a lot of pompous, boring “us-oriented” BS, both offline and online. And nowhere is this nonsense more commonly seen, than in stakeholder marcoms.

In customer marcoms, such BS usually gets noticed and chopped out before the message leaves the building. The stakeholder variety of BS, however, often sneaks through unimpeded.

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Suzan St Maur ( writes extensively on marketing and business communications and is the author of the widely acclaimed Powerwriting.