The Most Important Concept in Direct Mail Marketing: WIIFM

How many times have you sat down at your computer to create an advertisement you hope will create massive demand for your product or service? You’ve no doubt written and rewritten those sales pitches over and over again, trying to get them just right. Yet, there’s one huge concept that, once you understand it, can simplify your job. It’s called WIIFM.

WIIFM stands for “What’s in It for Me?” That’s what customers and prospects want to know. They ask themselves: “Why should I buy your products or subscribe to your suite of services? What’s in it for me?”

This article shows you how to make every direct mail piece a powerful selling tool by showing your prospects and customers what’s in it for them. The secret to doing this is focusing on the benefits rather than the features of your products or services.

Features vs. Benefits

What’s the difference between features and benefits? Features are facts that describe a product or service. Benefits show the prospective buyer how and why they’ll be better off when they choose your product.

Imagine for a moment that you need to buy a lawnmower. You probably won’t think about the many decisions the lawn mower engineers made in designing the final product. However, you’ll likely find many of those show up as specifications printed in user manuals as well as in advertisements. They’ll include facts like Engine Manufacturer, Horsepower, Engine Displacement, Cutting Width, Fuel Tank Capacity, and many others. All of these specifications are features of the lawn mower.

Few people shopping for a lawn mower will make a decision based on specifications alone. They want something more compelling than a list of specs. Let’s take a look at one of the lawn mowers made by the Toro company. It’s a walk-behind mower that’s self-propelled, and Toro sends a powerful buying message by focusing on one particular feature (upright storage), then translates that feature into three benefits that will catch the buyer’s attention and imagination.

  1. Mower takes 70 percent less storage space in your garage or shed. The SmartStow feature allows you to fold the handle up over the deck of the mower so the entire mower can be stored vertically. WIIFM? More room in your garage or shed.
  2. Less time cleaning up. Standing the mower up vertically allows for easier cleaning of the blade and undercarriage. That means less time maintaining the mower and more time to do what you’d rather be doing.
  3. Fast, clean, and easy oil change. Changing the oil on many brands of walk-behind mowers means tipping the entire mower on its side and letting the used oil flow out from its fill tube, which is usually a messy operation that leaves oil spills on the deck of the mower or on the ground. The SmartStow™ feature lets you simply stand the mower up vertically to drain the oil. WIIFM? No mess, no heavy lifting, no balancing the mower on its side, and no environmentally-messy oil dripping on the ground or in your garage. An oil change is fast, clean, and easy.

The Toro company could have simply added “vertical storage option” to their list of specifications, but they chose a much better approach. They converted that vertical storage feature into three benefits any prospective buyer will immediately understand. They even gave it a trademarked name: SmartStow™.

You see, “features only tell, while benefits sell.” There’s an old rule that ad copywriters all live by, and it’s really just another version of that same idea. It’s the “show, don’t tell” rule. It reminds ad copywriters that showing a customer the benefit she or he will get is far more powerful than simply telling them about features of the product or service. When you elaborate on the benefits the customer gets — the WIIFM — you’re showing them why they should buy from you. You’re engaging their emotions. The more you can do that, the more you’ll sell.

How to Find Benefits Among a List of Features

In large companies it’s usually the Marketing Product Managers who focus on features and benefits, then translate product features into benefits. Using our example of the lawn mower, it’s clear that not every feature translates immediately into a benefit the consumer will agree is important. Whether a mower has a Briggs and Stratton or a Honda engine, although that’s a feature, is probably not perceived as a compelling reason to buy for most customers. The fact that it has a 163cc engine and 7.25 pounds of torque won’t make the sale either. Likewise, having 11-inch rather than 8-inch rear wheels isn’t likely to sway most customers.

But look more closely. The easiest way to discover the benefits that hide among the many features of your product or service offering is to simply ask “So What?” So what if the mower has 11-inch rear wheels?

Actually, larger diameter rear wheels make mowing over uneven terrain easier, especially when having to turn the mower at a corner or to make another pass over the lawn. Asking “so what?” can help you find customer benefits among even such seemingly small design features.

A tool you can use to harvest benefits from a list of features is known as a features/benefit chart. Simply list out your features and ask the “so what?” question to figure out the benefits.

Features Benefits
4-cycle Briggs & Stratton Engine, 163cc Uses regular gasoline, no oil/gas mixing required
Self-propelled, front wheel drive, variable speed up to 3 MPH Front wheel drive makes it easier to maneuver in tight spaces
No struggling to push uphill on inclines
Safer than a traditional push mower
22-Inch Recycler™ Cutting Deck Suspends and re-cuts clippings into a finer mulch for a healthier lawn
3-Year Guaranteed-to-Start Promise If your mower doesn’t start in 2 pulls, Toro will fix it for free

This brainstorming technique is bound to give you benefits you can use, but there are several other ways to uncover the benefits hidden in the design of your product or service.

Another Way to Identify Benefits

Abraham Maslow, a 20th century psychologist, created an entire branch of psychology when he published his Theory of Human Motivation in 1943. Today, it’s best known as the Hierarchy of Needs concept. He claimed that people have a number of needs that must be satisfied. The most basic are essential to life: food, water, sleep, shelter, and so on. Once those needs are met, Maslow held that a person then strives to meet psychological needs. Those include the need to feel a sense of safety, of belonging to social groups, of personal esteem, and of self-actualization (becoming all one can be).

You can use Maslow’s approach to human motivation in your advertising. One or more “needs” in the following list (adapted from plays a role in almost every buying decision.

  • Fundamental needs: Everyone must satisfy their biological needs for air, food, drink, shelter, clothing, warmth, and sleep.
  • Safety needs: Once basic needs are satisfied, we also need protection from elements, security, order, law, stability, and freedom from fear.
  • Love and Belonging-ness needs: We’re social animals, so friendship, intimacy, trust, and acceptance, receiving and giving affection and love are all desired. Affiliating, being part of a group (family, friends, work) falls into this cluster as well.
  • Esteem needs: We feel as if we are each at the center of our own universe, so esteem for one’s self (dignity, achievement, mastery, independence) and the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige) is important.
  • Self-actualization needs: For many people, realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, and peak experiences are necessary. As Maslow said, we have a desire “to become everything one is capable of becoming.”

Give thought to how your product or service satisfies these universal human needs. While most of the most fundamental needs may not reveal benefits you can use, those in the safety, love and belonging-ness, and esteem categories can apply to a wide range of products and services.

Practical Examples

Let’s put some of these ideas together and show how a small business can sell using the power of benefits. While most every company has some business-to-business sales component, for this article we’ll discuss companies that focus mostly on business-to-consumer sales.

For the sake of these illustrations, we’ll use a pizza store and an auto repair company. The pizzeria is essentially a product-based operation, while the auto repair shop is primarily a service-based business.

Pizza Stores & Restaurants

Depending upon the store, you may want to focus on the ambiance of your dining room, your menu, or your most popular/profitable food items. The sample below speaks to features and the benefits of your pizza.

Features Benefits
Ingredients may be organic, natural, fresh, first quality, etc. The healthiest comfort food you can get
Artisanal, heirloom tomato sauce, hand-crafted, etc. Unique, delicious flavor you can’t find elsewhere
Gluten-free Get your pizza the way you need it
Hand-tossed You get a more tender crust with each crispy bite
800-degree brick oven True Neapolitan pizza flavor every time

You can also look at how your pizza meets the needs Maslow identifies.

For instance, you might want to emphasize the comfort food aspect of your product. Most agree that comfort foods give one a sense of, well, comfort—which satisfies our safety needs.

More than just a pizza. It’s savory, satisfying comfort food!

Or, if you hand-craft artisanal pizzas, you could appeal to your customers’ esteem needs:

Nothing ordinary about this pizza. Artisan handcrafted for that one-of-a-kind taste (flavor profile, etc.)

Auto Repair and Other Service-Based Companies

Whether you operate a paint and auto body shop or a service and repair business, spend the time needed to identify the benefits, like those below, that you offer your customers.

Features Benefits
All technicians are ASE Blue Seal of Excellence Certified Your car care is in the hands of professionals who do the job right the first time, every time.
Free shuttle car service We’ll take you where you need to be.
Comfortable waiting room area, free Wi-Fi Relax with a free beverage and pass the time in comfort.
Staff is “AskPatty Certified Female Friendly” Women enjoy a safe, comfortable environment that promotes respect, honesty, and knowledge.
VIP scheduled maintenance plan Get special white-glove treatment to keep your car in top condition.

Then, turning to Maslow’s hierarchy, you can focus on both safety and esteem needs. Avoiding unexpected breakdowns speaks to the safety need. And VIP or customer loyalty programs can appeal to one’s need for status or prestige.

3 More Ways to Emphasize Benefits

Besides charts and psychology, you can also show your customers WIIFM through ad design, trust signals, and one-on-one conversations. It’s wise to use as many ways as you can to show customers the benefits you offer.

Show Benefits Through Your Ad Design

You can increase a prospect’s engagement with your ads by using graphics that illustrate the benefits. The picture of the Toro lawn mower standing upright leaves no doubt that it makes the customer’s life just a little bit easier. Adding graphics that show how easy it is to clean the underside of the mower, or showing that changing oil is a trouble-free, simple job, both prove further that the mower will improve a customer’s life.

Use Trust Signals to Emphasize Benefits

With nearly 10% of all retail sales in 2018 taking place online, the growth of e-commerce has spawned millions of customer reviews that address virtually every product and service you can imagine. You can capitalize on the positive reviews customers give your business by including them in your advertising. Google reviews, Yelp, Amazon, Angie’s List, and dozens of other websites post reviews you can reference in your ads. As you study those reviews, tie their wording back to Maslow’s hierarchy. As an example of how you can analyze a review, here’s one from Yelp for Giorgio’s Pizza in San Francisco.

“The crust had that nice crunch that is so satisfying and coupled with the stringy mozzarella, I was immediately glad we decided on the large instead of the medium. The pepperoni, sausage and mushroom were all fresh and high-quality. You can tell right away when the ingredients are average. This is the kind of pizza you crave days after eating it.”

The words in bold show that “nice crunch,” “stringy mozzarella” and “fresh and high-quality” all speak to the customer’s perception of his meal. Those aren’t simple features. They’re a customer’s WIIFM declaration of why he loves going to Giorgio’s. Further, the “so satisfying” remark ties into Maslow’s fundamental (food) and safety (security, order, stability) needs.

Then, the customer continued:

“Our server was attentive and checked on us throughout the meal and cleared our table when were done. It’s those little things that make eating there so nice.”

This mention of attentiveness comes directly from Maslow’s hierarchy, specifically the esteem category where the desire for reputation or respect from others (e.g., status, prestige) is important.

There’s yet another way you can use trust signals to engage your potential customer. For instance, if you are member of the Better Business Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, or another professional organization, consider including their logos in your ad. And, if you have sold to businesses or organizations that are well-known, adding their logos to your ad will build further trust and confidence.

Talk to Your Customers

Ask your customers an open-ended question: “Why do you buy from our company?” They’ll give you dozens of reasons and they’ll express them in the language of benefits. For example…

  • You save me money (versus the competition)
  • Your technicians do good work
  • Your staff is friendly; they make me feel welcome
  • You’re reliable and professional
  • You give me fast service
  • Your menu, your pizza, your restaurant is…
  • I buy from you because…

Once you’ve collected their input, use those WIIFM expressions in your advertising. (By the way, you can gather similar input by carefully studying online customer reviews).


The WIIFM attitude seems to be a universal human phenomena, so it’s essential that your advertising focuses on what the customer gets when they do business with you. Each of the methods for emphasizing benefits that we’ve outlined here do work, but perhaps the most direct (and easiest) way to discover benefits is talking to your customers and studying online reviews.

One final thought: be sure that the Call to Action in your advertising also gives something a customer will want — a specific benefit. For instance…

  • Get 10% off (for taking action)
  • Bring this coupon and get a BOGO
  • Get a free soft drink (or side item) with your next visit
  • Get VIP treatment with our white-glove service

Ready to go? Tell us what you want to accomplish with your advertising and get a free consultation with the experts here at Mail Shark.