Are your customers mint chocolate chip, peach cobbler, or banana split?

My girlfriend and I are a well-matched couple. She’s a lawyer. I’m a PR guy. Our tastes are similar, as are our politics. Her cat and my dog even get along (for the most part). But our relationship has one significant rift that we have struggled to resolve…ice cream preference.

When we go to the store to buy ice cream, we have a tough time making a decision. Of course the simple solution would be for each of us to purchase the flavor we prefer, but we’re headstrong young professionals who are determined to reach consensus.

The first time we had this trouble, we attributed it to differences about what sounded good on that particular occasion. But after the third time we had a 10-minute negotiation in the frozen foods section, we realized there might be a larger issue at play.

Here’s the gist of it. I’m a features and benefits guy. She’s more into the entire consumer experience.

I want solid flavor base paired with a tasty mix-in. Things like mint chocolate chip, cookie dough or Heath Bar crunch.

She wants what she describes as “a narrative.” Things like Georgia peach cobbler, birthday cake bonanza, or Maine black bear.

I think her flavors are too complicated and trying to be something they’re not. If I want cobbler, I’ll eat cobbler. She thinks mine are too boring. Desert should be fun and adventurous, she says.

We’ve settled on banana split, because it is interesting enough to capture her creative spirit, and I viewed it as all of the standard components of a banana split merged into one package.

This exercise reminds me of a common debate in the world of marketing strategy. There are many marketing folks out there who will tell you features and benefits selling is passé. There are others who will tell you branding is just a gimmick.

The truth is they’re both important. In a world where our choices are limited only by our imagination, a strong brand will help your product or service stand out, be memorable, and resonate with target audiences. But brands that seem to be all style and no substance rarely succeed. Features and benefits still need to be solid, and they must be readily apparent to the customer who is looking for them.

Depending on the nature of the product and marketplace, it’s likely that one will be more important than the other, but in nearly every instance they both deserve attention.

When was the last time you stopped to ask what flavor your audience likes, and whether or not that’s the flavor you sell? It might be time to tweak the recipe.