Why It’s Dangerous To Sell Products/Services With Benefits Alone

by Steven Washer on September 30, 2014


Recently I got into a discussion with the great marketing strategist Sean D’Souza. We were talking about a sales video; which problems and benefits can be intuited vs. which need to be spelled out.

This is more nuanced than it seems and the answer will surprise you, because incredibly, no one talks about it. Yet knowing how to construct both problem and solution properly is a major key to communicating with your potential clients.

Here’s a link to that video:



It’s only a minute. If you take a look, then come back, the rest of this article will be much richer. Oh, and wait to download the app till after you’ve read this first. 🙂

Sean is not only great at revealing the problem in all its complexity, but in giving you a way to work out a solution for yourself.

Take it away, Sean:

Why It’s “Dangerous” To Sell Products/Services With Benefits Alone…

You know Dasher and Dancer
And Prancer and Vixen,
Comet and Cupid
And Donner and Blitzen.
But do you recall…
The most famous reindeer of all?

Sure, we’re talking about Rudolph
And notice how they talk about the “red nose” as Rudolph’s “problem”. And how that enabled Santa to use Rudolph as a guide to his sleigh, because of that bright red nose. But think about it for a second: was the nose always a solution? No it wasn’t, was it? It was a problem. Right before Santa figured out that the nose would stand out on a dark night, the nose was proving to be a real pain. It stood out; the other reindeer jeered. 

And yet, without that problem standing out, Santa would never have spotted Rudolph.

The same concept applies to your marketing
You may believe that your product or service solves an obvious problem. And so you don’t bother to talk about the problem, preferring instead to slide right into the solution; the benefit. Yet, that bypassing of the problem and getting right to the solution causes customers to miss the point.

Let’s say you’re selling a product that allows you to send personalised cards to loved ones
Let’s just say you’re a brand new service, and the cards aren’t anything like the cards you see in the marketplace. Instead of being generic, you can actually put in your own words, and in your own handwriting. You don’t have to lick the stamps or even mail the card—it’s all done for you. So where’s the problem? There is no problem, is there? 

The client can clearly see that the solution, can’t they?
Yes, they can. But let’s just change the scenario for a second. Let’s now assume that there’s not just a single card service in the market. Instead, there are 8000 other card services doing approximately the same thing. Now your business doesn’t stand out with just the “solution”, does it? Now your business/product/service looks exactly like the next one. Just touting the “solution/benefit” isn’t helping to get customers to buy from you.

And this is why the “problem” is critical to get the customer’s attention
Our business may start out working in a vacuum. But soon enough competition creeps up and within next to no time it’s a full on onslaught of competitors. The only thing that separates you from your competition is the way you describe the “problem”. And in the book, “The Brain Audit”, the method of how to get to the problem is clearly explained.

You don’t just dream up the “problem”
Instead you use the concept of the “target profile”. You speak to a single customer—not an audience—a single customer. They then tell you what they see as the problem. You then put that problem up and centre on your sales page, your brochure, your presentation. And then others with the same problem relate to it instantly.

Let’s take an example, shall we?
Let’s say you’re buying a camera, shall we? The solution for a camera is pretty darn easy—all you’re doing is taking photos. So there you are with your budget for this fancy camera with a zoom lens and all the bells and whistles. You have dozens of Nikon, Canon, Leica etc staring at you in the face. Instead you pick on the Fujifilm x100s. So why did you pick on that one? 

It takes amazing low light pictures, that’s why
The problem with taking pictures is that your best pictures are often at dawn and dusk—not in the bright, harsh glow of the day. You may also want to take pictures at parties, and weddings and all those special occasions. And now you reach for your fancy camera and guess what? You need a flash. That clunky add-on flash that weighs a ton. And you need to bump up the ISO (yes, technical term) way up, so you end up with grainy pictures. Yet, if you look at the Fujifilm x100s, you don’t need that crummy flash. In many cases, you don’t even have to bump that ISO (yes, technical term again) very high. You get crisp, yummy pictures in incredibly poor light.

The Fuji x100s—my favourite camera

I made you feel like buying a camera, didn’t I?
You had no intention of buying a camera, let alone the slightly expensive Fujifilm x100s. And yet, the description of the problem first—yes, long before the solution, made you feel like your next camera needs to somehow be the Fujifilm x100s. You noticed the solution only after the problem was brought out in great detail.

Too many of us expect clients to work out the problem
We think clients are smart—and yes they are. But they’re also busy; also inundated with far too many offers; far too many options to choose from. So when someone like you comes along, brings up the problem, then describes the problem, you are now creating that hook that a client will latch on to. 

But this “problem” isn’t just a marketing issue alone
It’s a biological issue as well. When we deal with “solutions/benefits” our heart rate may go up, but only marginally. Think of a cup of coffee for a second. That warm cup of amazing coffee calling out your name. And your heart rate goes up, doesn’t it? Now think of reaching the cafe and finding they’ve run out of coffee. Instantly your heart rate goes up. There is no cafe, no coffee, and no one has run out of anything—this is just a theoretical exercise, but your heart rate went up nonetheless. 

This is the power of the problem 
If you depend on the solution alone, you’re making a pretty big mistake. You’re allowing your clients to not feel this increase in heart rate. You’re assuming they will choose you instead. And yet, Santa didn’t choose Prancer. Or Blitzen. Not even Dasher or Vixen. He chose the reindeer that had the “problem”. But he had to work it out. And you can bet that your busy client has no time to “work it out”. If you don’t do the work for them by highlighting the problem, they may just end up buying the product/service from the competition.

Your product or service can’t be just any ol’ reindeer
It has to stand out. And the best way to stand out is to get to a “target profile”, speak to that person, and get that person to give you the “problem” they’re facing—and yes, how you can solve that problem for them. You then take that information and put it on your product, your sales page, your marketing material. And that will make you stand out from the other “reindeer”.

Be Rudolph. Be the Fujifilm x100s. Stand out with the “problem”.
It’s the best way to get—and keep—the attention of the client.






Sean D’Souza is the chief strategist at psychotactics.com, where he presides over a very polite, yet fiercely loyal group of happy marketers. He refuses to brag about this, but he has grown psychotactics into one of the most important blogs in the marketing world.




Special Note: Our first big training to celebrate the grand re-opening of the Video Brain Trust is on the 10th. Please don’t miss it!




{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Lucien Vaillancourt September 30, 2014 at 10:14 am

Steve, this is one of the best pieces I’ve read in a while. Ideas of how to use this concept in my business were popping up as I was reading. Thank you!


Steven Washer September 30, 2014 at 11:13 am

You’re welcome. I hope it proves very useful. It has been to me!


Bill Fisher October 1, 2014 at 7:24 pm

Steve this reminds of lyric “I was sitting in the dark with my mind in park when suddenly the light went on.” After going through this material three times – suddenly the light went on. It became clear how I could this approach in my business too.
Manny thanks!


Steven Washer October 1, 2014 at 7:50 pm

Awesome. I’m sure Sean would be honored by that lyric!


Bill Fisher October 2, 2014 at 1:23 pm

Steve here is quote I like: you don’t have to be brilliant to be wise but you do need to know the rules. Both you and Sean emphasize the power of using the right rules – start with the problem.

The rules are often called the elusive obvious. As you know nothing is more difficult to learn than the obvious. I think your work in video and Sean’s work in marketing do a great job of making these elusive rules obvious and highly effective.


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