You’re selling an online course. Does your copy focus on what your course offers, or what your course can help learners achieve?

Recently, I wrote a blog post on copywriting tips that can help online educators sell their courses more effectively. One of the points I touched on was the difference between course benefits and features, and why speaking to course benefits is a good way to get learners interested in your course.

The difference between the two can be nuanced, so I thought it would be worthwhile to discuss it further, especially as understanding your course benefits is key to successful marketing messaging on a high level, and features are critical to helping you close.

In marketing speak, the difference between a “benefit” and a “feature” is that the benefit is a learner’s end goal. Features are how the learner will get there.

For LearnDash, we might say that a benefit of our plugin is that educators will be able to create online courses, earn an income that will give them more financial freedom, and share something they’re passionate about with the world. Those are all benefits that a successful educator can gain through building a course with our plugin. The features we offer to help them do that include things like “advanced quizzes” or “dripfeed content.”

Educators will need to understand both their benefits and their features in order to market their course. But knowing when and how to use them has a huge impact on how many learners a course will attract, and how effective an educator will be at selling to them. Here’s why.

1. Learners need a reason to care about the course before they will care about its features.

Imagine trying to sell a course by telling someone about all the amazing webinars, branching scenarios, and quizzes you’re going to offer, but without mentioning what your course is about? It sounds ridiculous, but it’s a problem many course creators fall into (although not to that extreme). They begin with the assumption that learners already understand the benefits of a course, without having established them.

The reality, is that some of your learners will understand the value of your course rather quickly, but others will need more of an explanation. They might see how your course would be good for someone—but not recognize how it might help them.

2. Different benefits will resonate with different learners.

Another important note about benefits: They won’t be the same for everyone. Say you’re trying to teach a language course: Some learners will want to learn so that they can be prepared for a foreign trip. Others will want to enhance their business skills. Still others will have academic interests, like being able to write or appreciate foreign media.

Emphasizing a range of benefits that your course provides can help you attract more learners. It’s also a good way to find subsets of your audience who might have different needs. Someone learning a language for travel will have a different learning path from one who is learning for business, and you can create different materials to appeal to each.

So when should sales copy focus on features?

Once your learners are all-in on the benefits you offer, talking about features can help convince them to sign on. The enthusiasm a learner has for reaching a goal will make them more interested in how you plan to help them get there.

1. Features will speak more meaningfully to learners who have done more research.

In marketing, we often talk about the “buyer’s journey,” or the path someone takes from being uninformed about a product to being ready to buy. The stages to from “pain aware,” to “solution aware,” and finally to “brand aware.” In practice that looks like this:

You might never have thought about wanting to take a course in meditation, but now that you’ve seen an add talking about how many people struggle to concentrate at work, you realize this is a problem you have, too. (Pain aware.) You learn that meditation can help free the mind of distractions by providing an intentional period of rest during the busy work day. You think about reading a book or downloading an app, but ultimately decide you want to take a mediation class. (Solution aware.) You research various online courses, and eventually discover one that offers daily ten-minute lessons that will fit into your lunch break. (Brand aware.)

Benefits-based language helps learners recognize a need and convince them of a solution. But the further a learner goes down the buyer’s journey, they more specifics they want to know before they will make a decision.

2. Features can help differentiate your course from the competition.

Specifics are important because they help a learner decide between two similar options. This is where features are crucial in closing a sale. Remember that many learners, especially online, will look up at least one other option before settling on a purchase. They want to be sure that what they’re looking at is the best solution for them. If you and a competitor are both selling similar courses, you are probably also talking about similar benefits.

However, the specific features can be what sets you apart. If you are offering something with your course that your competitor doesn’t, it can be the deciding factor in your favor.

3. Features are more concrete and specific, and that will make your benefits claims more credible.

Finally, while benefits are lofty and inspirational, features show that you have the means and the method to deliver on what you promise. Benefits are the destination, features are the map.

Benefits and features aren’t an “either/or” but a “both/and.” The key is when to use them.

As should be clear by now, you need to show earners both the benefits of taking your course, and the features that will help them get there, if you want to land a sale. They key is to make sure benefits come first. If a learner doesn’t see the benefit, they will never care about the features. But once you’ve shown the benefit, learners need to know the features to make the final decisions. Convince learners of the benefits, and the features can back you up.

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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