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Introduction to product feature research

10 min read
Identify which product features your customers truly value and how you can use product feature research to develop and launch truly a successful product.


What is a product feature?

Product features are the product’s characteristics or attributes that describe what they are and make a product appealing.

Features can be distinct and unique, helping brands become instantly recognizable. For example, when Segways launched in 2001, their unique feature set – a two-wheeled transportation device that self-balanced and is battery-powered – made them memorable.

What’s the difference between features and benefits?

Product features and benefits are often used interchangeably by marketers, feature researchers and product managers.

But what’s the difference? Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc., highlighted the difference, when he said, “a great product isn’t just a collection of features. It’s how it all works together. It’s how they make you feel.”

Features are the physical attributes that make up a product’s description and describe what it does.

Benefits are the outcomes that customers get from using the product’s features. They describe why the features add value. For a feature to deliver a benefit, the customer’s needs must be met in a positive way.

Here are some examples of features with the associated benefit:

Feature Benefit
6 different connection ports on a laptop Connect any peripheral to your laptop and transfer data easily between devices
Twin airbags in a car Greater peace of mind for a driver
6,000 mAh battery Enjoy media on your phone all day – no need to plug in and recharge
Non-stick frying pan surface Keep your pans clean easily with no more scrubbing

By understanding the difference between a feature and a benefit, you can identify what features will create more value than others. Successful products have features that give customers the benefits they need. When you get it right, your product is likely to be a hit!

Types of product features

Product features are often grouped into these three categories:

1. Physical: What a product has

  • Its material and composition (Made from 9 Carat Gold)
  • The color, design or appearance (A limited edition ‘Rose Gold’ colored frame)
  • A state-of-the-art physical component (Uses an upgraded dual-lens camera)

2. Functional: What a product does

  • Its capabilities (This product works with multiple devices)

3. Added value: What a product comes with

  • An innovative production process (Made using 100% sustainable plastic)
  • Services and extras (A three-year warranty)

Why conduct product feature research?

If you’re looking to release new features for your product, you need to put the effort in to get those additions right. Although designing a new feature may not be as resource-intensive as creating an entirely new product, there is still a significant amount of investment that must be made. Basing your new feature releases on solid research will ensure that you’re not wasting your company’s – or your customers’ – time and money.

Ready to start researching? Try out our free product research survey template

Guide: How to develop good product features

1. Identify customer needs

First, build a picture of what benefits your customers want. Ideally, your product’s features should be a direct reflection of your customers’ requirements, since it’s your customers who will determine the product’s success or failure.

Some research methods you may want to try are:

  • Customer Needs Analysis – Help your customers decide whether they want to buy the product in the first place by using a means-end approach. This gathers information about a customer’s purchasing decisions, personal values, pricing sensitivity and deeper-level benefits.
  • Conjoint Analysis – Compare multiple product attributes with trade-off scenarios between different features. Customers’ choices reveal which features are most valuable to them.

Across all these methods, the XM Platform’s powerful analysis tool Driver iQ automatically surfaces the key drivers of consumers’ choices. This gives you an at-a-glance reference of which features will have the biggest impact on their decision to buy. For products that need improvement, you can also see which ones are not meeting their potential.

2. Come up with features that meet customer needs

The idea for a product feature can come from a range of sources. Maybe the customer feedback clearly points to a gap in the product range and an appetite for a new product. Maybe competitors are solving a problem that you haven’t addressed but that your existing customer base cares about.

Maybe it’s intuitive – people within your business can see an obvious application for certain skills, production capabilities or areas of knowledge where potential isn’t yet being fulfilled.

This second stage of development is an internal one, and it’s a chance to bring in as many people’s expertise and perspective as possible. Show and discuss your feature concept with partners and co-workers who can offer you perspectives on your idea.

This might include product managers, business analysts, marketers, designers and usability professionals, engineers, customer experience teams, and also people from any department who best approximate your end-user. (For example, if you’re designing a product for parents, seek plenty of feedback from colleagues with young children.)

This early feedback can help you assess your idea in terms of:

  • Revenue potential
  • Customer appeal
  • Usability
  • Similarity to other things on the market
  • Market niche
  • Innovativeness

It’s possible that after doing this, you’ll find a problem with your product concept that means it’s not possible to take it further. Although it might feel disappointing, this is actually a good thing.
It means you’ve saved the time and expense of doing external testing on an idea that wouldn’t work out, and ultimately saved the business from investing in a product that would be unlikely to be commercially successful.

3. Test potential product features with customers

With your best feature ideas in hand, it’s time to stress test them with customers. Conducting investigative or reflective research can help identify improvement areas or validate your product’s development.

You can understand how customers appreciate your product and its features using these two studies:

  • Product feature prioritization – Use this card-sorting technique with customers to help you understand which product features deliver the most (and the least!) value to your target buyer.
  • Product research development – Explore insights from different angles to fully understand the customer’s needs and wants. Research areas include user experience, pricing, product satisfaction and loyalty, and concept testing.

Try out our product research survey template – it’s free, and helps you to evaluate your consumers’ reactions to product features at every stage of your product’s development.

If you’re new to product feature testing, you can read the complete guide to Product Testing to get more information.

Which survey questions can I use?

When you’re ready to survey your customers for their thoughts on the feature, make sure you can understand the benefits your customers are looking for, by including questions on:

  • Usage context – This can be valuable for marketing, advertising or feature research. It reveals the physical location and the ‘mode’ your customer is in when using the product (e.g. relaxing, socializing, working etc.)
  • Top of mind imaging – This provides a snapshot of the customer’s positive and negative associations with the feature concept and your brand, along with the reasons they give you for those associations.
  • Product category – Customers are asked to group similar and dissimilar choices together, or consider substituting one brand or product for another. This places the product in context with its competition and identifies which features make a product more or less ‘swappable’.

Beyond features: Include benefits in your marketing communications

Don’t forget: at the end of the day, customers care more about benefits than features. Whether you’re a large or small business, including a focus on benefits in your marketing plan can pull out the value to your customers.

Using benefits instead of just features is more persuasive. Products become more powerful when they’re seen as a means to a desired end – achieving more money, having your beliefs validated or providing confidence, etc.

To start you off thinking about what to showcase to customers, gather information on these areas:

  • How features solve the problems of your customers
  • What your competitive advantage could be against other companies that have similar features
  • The marketing strategies that would support survey research at regular intervals
  • How your marketing messaging should develop, as your gain more insights and feedback
  • The product’s unique selling points and how to make sure these stand out
  • Tracking the on-going innovation for internal communications records and reporting

Then filter your data down to the core benefits that you want to promote more widely. You can check if these benefits are the right ones by carrying out customer surveys to explore the overall impression or individual opinions.

Product feature research in a nutshell

By understanding the features and benefits that underpin buying decisions, you can unearth the golden ticket to increase sales and promote successful product launches.

Good feature research gets your product and management teams looking beyond just the physical, functional, and added-value features. Benefits play a part in translating the real value of a product to the customer. Make sure you use both in your planning and research phases.

Introduction to Product Concept Testing