In marketing, we first focus on the benefits that customer desire (since this is what really motivates purchase decisions), and later, as a tactical issue, we focus on the product or service attributes that provide those benefits. In my experience, people have trouble understanding the difference between these various ideas, so the discussion below is my attempt to help.

So to begin, let’s consider how we can determine whether we are dealing with an attribute or a benefit. You might refer to the picture below to help you with some of the concepts



The first thing to note is that product attributes reside in the product, while benefits reside in the customer. For example, a car can have 4-wheel drive (a concrete attribute) and provide a benefit to a customer of being able to go various places. A computer can have a microprocessor with a fast clock speed (a concrete attribute) and provide the benefit of being able to get your job done faster.

You will note that product attributes tend to be concrete, but they can also be abstract. Think, for example, of a fast microprocessor. There is a more abstract way of thinking of this attribute by using the term "performance."

Benefits are always abstract, and they are often the result of a cluster of product attributes, some of which may be abstract attributes. For example, think of safety (say in a car). There is a cluster of concrete product attributes (e.g., air bags, brakes, and body construction) that give rise to the more abstract concept of the benefit of safety. But note that "safety" can also be applied to the car (so it’s an abstract product attribute). Many times, abstract product attributes are closely related to benefits. When they are, you do not get much benefit out of making a distinction between attributes and benefits.

Given this discussion, you can see that it is often easier to think about what a customer buys by thinking along the continuum of concrete versus abstract ideas, regardless of whether we label it an attribute or a benefit. Since we are primarily interested in the abstract ideas (since this is what customers really buy), you might use the term "factor" rather than attribute or benefit, just making sure that the factor is abstract. In this tutorial, however, we will tend to use the term "benefit" to refer to these abstract ideas (i.e., both abstract attributes and benefits).


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image of Allen Weiss

Allen Weiss is the CEO and founder of MarketingProfs. He's also a longtime marketing professor and mentor at the University of Southern California, where he leads Mindful USC, its mindfulness center.