Understanding Emotional Benefits – Part 1

A lot has been written lately about the need to emphasize emotions, or more accurately, emotional benefits when marketing your product or service.  However, what exactly is an emotional benefit, which emotions should you emphasize and when is it appropriate to do so?

In this first of two-part series, I address the first question above and explain why “emotional benefits” can be so powerful.  Later, I will talk about how to identify the various types of benefits associated with your product or service and when it makes most sense to focus on emotional aspects.

The Benefits “Ladder”

Benefits Ladder

There are two main types of benefits customer may receive with a product or service – functional benefits and emotional benefits.  And, these two types are linked, along with attributes, in what is called the “benefits ladder”.


At the bottom of the ladder are features or attributes.  These describe the specific characteristics of your product or service and includes things such as the price, size, colors, materials used, construction method, design characteristics, etc. An 8’ beam and all-welded hull are examples of product attributes.

Functional Benefits

This is what customers “get” from the performance of a product or service (how it helps them) and are the result of one or more product features/attributes.  For example, an “all-welded hull” feature could deliver a drier/no-leaking benefit.  It might also suggest a more durable hull (another functional benefit).

Emotional Benefits

At the top of the ladder are emotional benefits which describe how the use of a product or service makes the customer feel about him or herself.  They are derivatives of functional benefits, not independent.  For example, a more durable hull (functional benefit) could lead to feelings of safety and/or make customers feel like they made a wise “investment” since the boat will likely last longer.

Why Emotional Benefits are So Powerful

Unlike functional benefits, emotional benefits reside at a subconscious level.  As such, they are more difficult to dismiss than functional or rational items.

You’ve all heard the expression “the heart wants what it wants”.  This is referring to emotions.  Unlike functional benefits, emotional benefits reside at a subconscious level.  As such, they are more difficult to dismiss than functional or rational items.

Let me give you an example.  Suppose a young family is looking to buy their first boat and stop into your dealership.  Dad has been pushing the idea of owning a boat but Mom isn’t convinced.  They want a pleasure boat and are “turned on” by the fact that the model you are showing them will comfortably accommodate the entire family and can be used to do watersports activities.  As the wise salesperson, you happen to know that these “functional” benefits link to feelings of growing closer as a family and creating fond memories for the kids and subtly suggest as such.  By reinforcing or reminding Mom of these (emotional) benefits, it will be much more difficult for her to resist the idea of buying a boat.  Now, they still might not be convinced to buy your particular boat or from your dealership (there are other functional and emotional items associated with these decisions), but you would have cleared a very important and necessary “hurdle” in the process.

And the same is true with all of us.  Even though I am a very left-brain (logical, rational) dominate person (hence, the name of my company), I too can be easily swayed by emotional considerations.  How else can one explain why I have so many bass fishing lures that I can’t even carry them all in my two large tackle bags?  But, if I feel that they might help me catch more or bigger bass someday, then I’ve got to have them.  As Kevin Roberts of the advertising agency Saatchi and Saatchi Worldwide once said, “Emotion and reason are intertwined, but when they conflict, emotion wins every time”.  In most cases, it’s a blow-out.

Concluding Thoughts

To recap, functional benefits describe what people “get” from the performance of your product or service and are a conscious consideration.  Emotional benefits, on the other hand, describe how your product or service make them feel about themselves and are a subconscious response or association.  While the two types are linked, emotional benefits can be especially powerful because they tap into what a person feels or values at their core.

Does this mean you should strive to only communicate emotional benefits?  Absolutely not – both functional and emotional benefits have a place and whether your business would benefit by focusing on emotional benefits depends on your goals and situation.

In my subsequent article, I will explain how to identify the different types of benefits associated with your product or service and provide a framework to help you decide when a more emotional appeal would be most appropriate.