Dear Tig,

I'm developing a low-tech “widget” for the computing industry. I'm receiving assistance from the MBA-trained venture capital types in the office next door. I love 'em, but I think they know jack about marketing. So when we had a boot camp session on my project last week, they insisted I was confused about the difference between the features and benefits of my widget. Well, I'm certainly confused now. Can you shed any light?


An Adelaidian

Dear Antipodal Friend,

This is easily the most common type of question sent in to the Dear Tig offices. People from different perspectives, industries, generations, countries, tend to use different terminology for similar things. And some among them – particularly teachers and high-level brand consultants – can be downright inflexible about it.

The staff at the office here has a bulletin board adorned with the choicest miffy emails criticizing past columns for lack of definition orthodoxy, all tending to contradict one another in various manners. Concerning your VC office neighbors, you should certainly adopt the strategy we find ever useful: nod your head earnestly.

Because (of course) there's an answer to your question – and we'll get to that soon – but the real matter here is that you need to “talk marketing” with these guys who are generously helping you out. And whether or not they're right or you're right frankly is irrelevant, so long as you can communicate.

For most people, a feature is a characteristic of a product, like a color screen. A benefit would be the fact that the video looks snazzy. The features are inherent to the design, and the benefits are inherent to how the market exploits and enjoys the product.

And here is the piece of advice that will prove useful for those practicing marketers out there: There is a threshold over which disagreeing people need to be corrected on marketing definitions, but it's a high threshold.

If your colleagues merely transpose definitions or use slightly mutated ones from your own familiar usages, you can decide to protest the definition or not, depending on how important it is, how much time you have and the predicted reaction of the corrected party.

If, however, your colleagues' definitions prove confusing to the marketing process or cause interminable cross-department meetings -- nuke them now, nuke them forever.


Dear Tig,

If you were to interview for a marketing position at a company in an industry about which you know relatively little, what points would you argue to convince a prospective employer that you could overcome your lack of specific industry experience?


Qualified (Sort of)

Dear Mostly Qualified,

Being an insider has its benefits, but it also leads to the same-old-same-old. Employers might be captivated by the idea that you could cross-pollinate a department with new ideas and a fresh perspective.

Study the company's competition and point out the faults in their marketing. Relate those faults to a lack of perspective those companies have. They don't appear to have tried Item A, and they don't seem to be competent to execute Item B, etc…. Be respectful of the marketing that passes in this industry, but strive to actively show an energy that insiders may lack. That's your card to play.

A Call for Stories:

In an effort to lower the usefulness but increase the entertainment value of books published on the marketing industry, I am collecting stories from readers and colleagues. These tend to be the craziest, most unbelievable, asinine incidents occurring in the marketing or related fields.

The collection to date indicates that it will be hard to top some of these events, but I hope that our audience will consider giving it a try. Marketing might be a thankless profession at times, but it does have the silver lining of providing its own entertainment, at least for those in the proper humor.

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Tig Tillinghast writes from the banks of the Elk River near Chesapeake City, Maryland. He consults with major brands and ad agency holding companies, helping marketing groups find the right resources for their needs. He is the author of The Tactical Guide to Online Marketing as well as several terrible fiction manuscripts.