The Evolution Of The Offer: Features vs. Benefits vs. Outcomes vs. Transformations

Hello, everyone, my name is Clay Collins and welcome, welcome to this episode of The Marketing Show. I am going to be outlining a hugely important trend that’s going on right now in the world of marketing and this especially applies to you if you sell information, if you sell courses or e-books or DVDs or membership sites, any kind of information. It also applies to you if you sell coaching or consulting of any kind.

So, I want to talk about the evolution of the offer, how things are shifting and why this is hugely important to your business. So what is the evolution of the offer? Well, really, it’s shifted from people selling features back in the day to people selling benefits, to people selling outcomes. And, finally, the evolutionary stage we’re at right now is that we are selling transformations. That might not make sense to you right now but I’m going to break this down, illustrate it, provide examples and show you exactly what I mean.

So back in the day, people sold features. So let me just give you an example. We’re going to use a consistent example here. A feature of a product might be that it comes with 12 videos, let’s say you sell an online course and it comes with 12 videos. So a feature might be that you have 12 videos. The benefit of these videos might be that you show someone; let’s say they’re your videos, that you show someone step by step how to set up a WordPress blogging platform or system for their business.

And what’s beautiful about the videos is that they are screen captures and you show people step by step exactly what to do, nothing is left to the imagination and they can see it happen. That’s the beauty of having these videos. So the feature is that there are 12 videos. The benefit is that after you watch them, you’re going to see exactly how to set up this blogging system for your business step by step.

Okay, so we’ve evolved from features to benefits to outcomes. Well, let me just explain that. Let’s say these 12 videos that show “someone” actually show a business owner how to set up a blog and blogging system for their business and further that they’re specifically created to show a cosmetic dentist how to start blogging and become local respected authority on cosmetic dentistry in their local market, to become the trusted authority on cosmetic dentistry in their neighborhood to build trust and to blow everyone out of the water. So the outcome of setting up this blogging system might be that cosmetic dentists on average double the number of clients they have as a result of becoming the trusted authority, using their blog to rank high on Google; all this stuff.

So the feature is that there are 12 videos in the course. The benefit of watching those is that you get step-by-step instructions; you get to see how to do it with your very own eyes. The outcome would be that you could double your business or double your client base.

So people have been preaching outcomes here for, I don’t know, a couple of years now, two or three years. What we’re seeing now is that the best thing to sell is really a transformation. And let me tell you about the difference between an outcome and a transformation. An outcome is selling a very specific end point as a result of the training you’re selling, for example. You are selling an externally verifiable outcome when you’re selling outcomes. And what I mean by externally verifiable is that other people can verify that you achieved this outcome.

So if you’re selling like eternal bliss, that doesn’t work. But if you’re selling an externally verifiable outcome, and this example, other people can see, they can look at your income statement, they can look at your tax statements, they can look at your business accounting and they can see that you at least doubled your client base, right, on average. Right, so obviously, this has to be true. But you’re selling an outcome, for example.

The next part of this and where we’re at now is selling a transformation. And the difference between selling an outcome and selling a transformation is that while an outcome delineates or is selling this endpoint, this externally verifiable outcome and endpoint, a transformation is selling the difference between point A and point B. So when you’re selling a transformation, you’re not only selling the end point, right, this externally verifiable outcome or end point as a result of using your training, your product, but you’re also describing the starting point; and that requires you to know a lot more.

When you sell a feature, you don’t have to know anything about your customer. You just have to know about the features of the product. When you sell a benefit, you kind of have to know what would benefit your customer. Don’t talk about always having an ice-cold glass of water when you come home from work if that’s not something that’s really a benefit to them, right? So this requires an even greater knowledge of your customer. When you sell an outcome, let’s say, increasing the client base of a cosmetic dentist practice, you have to know even more about the customer and where they’re looking to ultimately go.

It’s not just enough to say, we’ll make you an authority. You’ve got to provide them an outcome, what is being an authority going to provide, right, being an authority in your market is a benefit; the outcome is that you double your client base, hugely important.

When you’re selling a transformation, you not only need to describe the endpoint but the beginning point. So what you might say if you were selling a transformation is the average income per dentist will go from 100,000 to 200,000 per year to 200,000 to 400,000. Now, you could just say that someone is going to make 200,000 to 400,000 as a result of using this system, but that’s not a transformation.

A transformation also describes the beginning point; you know where they’re starting. And if you create marketing that is incredibly aware of where people are starting out and where they end, conversions will be much higher than if you just describe where people end up. Someone might have a course telling me that I’m going to make a billion dollars; but if I don’t believe that it’s created for someone who’s starting out at my particular point, then I’m not going to believe that they can take me to where they say I’m going. And a lot of people believe that when they are this specific in their marketing that they lose customers, but they actually gain so many more.

So we’re evolving from features to benefits to outcomes, where you just specify the endpoint in your marketing, to transformations where you specify where they are to where they end up. For example, if you weigh 300 pounds, this is a product that will get you down to 200. For example, if your business is currently bringing in 2,000 a month, we can help you bring you 2,500; that’s a transformation. If you just say you can help someone to get to 5,000, that’s selling an outcome. If you tell them that you can bring them from 2 to 5, that’s a transformation.

Anyway, I hope this has been useful. I hope you seriously consider implementing transformations in your life. I wish you all the best. Thank you for being here and I’ll talk to you next week. My name is Clay Collins and you are watching The Marketing Show. Take care.

  • I had noticed this in the marketing I’ve been looking at and exposing myself to, but hadn’t really thought about its effectiveness. Truth is,  I have been excluding myself from a lot more “offers” lately, and ignoring more marketing campaigns lately, because I wasn’t a good fit for the “starting point” as described.

    I can imagine a lot of other people seeing the same exact marketing messages and thinking, “Yeah, that’s where I’m at!” and signing up right away. So it’s a brilliant way to pinpoint your target market…assuming you know exactly who your target is. Just because it doesn’t speak to me doesn’t mean it’s not good marketing–in fact it could mean the exact opposite.

    Thanks for this! Now to apply it to my own campaigns…

    • Absolutely! You’re welcome.  And I totally agree with your end points about joining things, or not joining things, because the starting point does or doesn’t line up with where you are at the moment.

  • Tanutasir

    Splendid! Right on.
    Clay, thank you for another great video segment!

  • Boy, as usual, this is something I haven’t thought about. I’m far from the information business, but I think it applies across the board.

    This is going on Twitter.

    • Dude, Martyn, I’m really grateful.  Thanks for spreading the word.  That truly means a lot to me.

  • Brilliant. I enjoy your combination of observation (of what has been done and is being done in the marketing world), analysis and how to apply it to my own marketing efforts. So many times we shoot ourselves in the foot (and fail to get the desired results) without realizing how it happened.

    When marketing is vague (only focused on communicating features and benefits), we leave it up to the customer to figure out whether our product is right for them. When we get specific like this, when we describe the exact beginning and end point of the transformation we offer, we shine a spotlight on our target customer and they suddenly realize, “This is for me. This is EXACTLY what I need!”

    Questions for you: Are there products that don’t offer transformation? Products that don’t lend themselves to being marketed this way? What happens when you have a product that offers a number of possible transformation scenarios? How many different ways should you present it (that is, is there benefit to separate sales pages telling different outcome/transformation stories to slightly different target markets for the same product)?

    Great stuff, Clay. Glad I found you (thanks to Martyn’s tweets).

    • Great question.  Most products don’t offer a transformation in the strictest sense (there are lots of products that don’t provide a starting point OR an outcome).  If your product addresses different starting points, the figure out the largest categories of starting points, and create marketing for each of them.  Glad you stopped by, Teddi!

      • I know a lot of folks finding your website may be marketing online information products, so this is a great concept for them/us to get in our heads.

        Thinking out loud, here… Would it be safe to say that (since not every product offers a transformation) we should analyze each of our products and select the marketing approach that best fits it? Do you feel that the four selling points or marketing messages above (features, benefits, outcome, transformation) pretty much cover the gamut and we could simply “choose all the apply” to our various products?

        Not trying to ask stupid questions, here, just trying to understand where this concept fits with “everything”. I get the impression that with this concept a good product can become a home run (and without it, a good product could fail). But if transformation doesn’t apply to my product, then I should fall back on listing features and benefits and selling the outcome, right?

        • Teddi! Excellent questions.  Jump on a mentorship call with me sometime and we’ll talk about this for 20 minutes.

  • I’m Google Plus’ing this bitch!

  • Nice clear way to describe why we need to really know our prospect — where they are and where they want to be. Thanks!

    • Happy to help, Liz.  BTW this Minneapolis whether’s pretty great, right?

  • Great stuff, Clay!

    Your ideas on transformation-based marketing makes sense to me. By implication, it means that each product has to be tailored to a narrow customer niche. 

    Taking your example: if you were to market to dentists that they’ve be able to lift their income from 100k to 200 k – you automatically exclude all those who are already on 200k. They’ll think this course is not for them.

    So, how to work with that in your sales copy? 

    I can’t quite imagine saying something like: “This course will take your blog income from zero $5000 a year. Alternatively, if you are already earning $5000 from your blog, it will take you to $10,000 8-)”

    It seems to me that ‘transformation marketing’ is ‘outcome marketing’ with a twist. 

    What about using people’s dreams and hopes to describe the transformation? I’m thinking that most people buy stuff because they want to become someone or something they aren’t yet.

    • Great questions, Mary.  If you have a specific “real life” question about your business, that’s easier to answer.  Can you give specific examples of your questions from your business? (This would just help me a lot, because answering your questions in the abstract would require like 5 long paragraphs). Answering your questions with regards to your business, however, is much easier.

  • I love you Mr. Collins (don’t tell my wife!)

    What a simple way to change an outcome-focused pitch into a transformation…just add the starting point.  I’ve always thought of transformational offers as hyperbolic “your entire life will be completely different and you will become the sexiest, richest, and smartest person in the world!”

    …your approach is less dick-ish.

    You really have a knack for bringing solid theoretical concepts into the practical, real world, universe.  Thanks.

    • I love you too Mr. Weber (don’t tell my girlfriend).

      Thank a ton.  Yeah, a transformation doesn’t need to be metaphysical.  It’s just a matter of providing the path from point a (where someone is) to point b (where they want to be).  An outcome alone is less convincing, because those offers leave potential customers unsure of if the product’s for them.

      It’s been a while man.  Glad to see you back here.

      • Yep, I’ve been busy quitting, traveling to visit family, and finally devoting a good chunk of time to this whole world of entrepreneurial rebel-ism.

        I like being able to have this conversation: 

        “So, what do you do for a living?”

        “I sit on my couch, in my hot pepper pajamas, making my Macbook give me cash”


        Talk with you soon buddy.

  • Thank you Clay, for answering one tough question that’s been bothering me for years: “What does it *truly* mean to understand and know your customers?” After seeing this episode, now I know that it actually means to know what their current situation is. And if I am able to understand where my customer is right now, I can imagine what he/she must be feeling, what problems she could be facing, what thoughts he must be thinking. And as soon as I think of his thoughts, I think of the answers I could provide in advance. Knowing what  customers’ questions might be, is the toughest part of marketing for me. Now I feel like you’ve armed me with a precise, laser gun for all my marketing combats 😉

    I’m so Google-Plusing this too.

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