Steps to Success – Using Laddering in B2B Marketing

Steps to Success – Using Laddering in B2B Marketing
Kate Headen Waddell - Mon Apr 19, 2010 @ 02:30AM
Comments: 77

LadderingI was enjoying a tasty bowl of Fruit Loops the other day, and of course reading the side of the cereal box to pass the time. Usually when you eat a kid’s cereal you get a few dumb jokes and few (funnier) tidbits about how the sugary concoction is “part” of a healthy breakfast that no doubt must also include chicken livers, steamed spinach, and a multi-vitamin.

I almost choked on my loops however, when I read the marketing copy on the side of this particular box. To paraphrase, it said:

Family life is better when your kids are healthy.

Eating whole grains is part of a healthy diet.

Fruit Loops contain whole grains.

I am no dummy, so I quickly connected to dots to conclude that Fruit Loops = better family life.

While the Fruit Loops box might have been a clumsy example, the technique brought me back to my business school days when we explored marketing theory – in this case, laddering.

At the most basic level, “laddering” means tying the emotional desires of your potential customers in with the attributes of your product through a series of steps. If done well, you can eventually get your brand to the point where it embodies the attribute you are going for (Nike =feeling good about yourself, Olive Garden = happy times with family, Harley Davidson = lone wolf masculinity).

The secret to developing laddering is actually acting like a two year old. You interview a group of customers, asking them first about the features of the product, and then keep asking them “why is that important to you?” until they can’t think of anything else. Their final answer is the abstract emotional need you are trying to tap into.

The only thing left is to patiently draw out a marketing campaign that leads your prospects through the same cycle until they associate fulfilling the emotional need with your product. Start with features, then tie those features into benefits, then tie those benefits into abstract concepts of health, happiness, stability, fun…whatever. If you have the time and the marketing budget, laddering slowly is more effective and credible. But if you only have the narrow side of the cereal box, then by all means go for it.

You may have noticed that I have only used consumer examples so far. That’s because laddering is a school of marketing that is used almost exclusively in B2C marketing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

B2B marketing often treats decision makers as ROI-obsessed automatons. While the underlying business driver is an important factor for many, getting to the heart of “why” can only improve your messaging. Does better ROI get her a bonus or a promotion? Does greater reliability make the staff happier and more productive, making the office a more pleasant place to work? Does outsourcing the boring stuff give him more time to focus on the pet project that will get him noticed by corporate headquarters?

The next time you are trying to develop some compelling messaging for a B2B campaign, try asking your interview subjects “why” until you get to the heart of the matter. What you find out may surprise you.

Have you used laddering for B2B? Share your stories in the comments section.

About the author: Kate Headen Waddell is a strategic copywriter specializing in web copy, white papers, case studies, solution briefs and other B2B marketing tools. You can visit her website at www.smartb2bmarcom.com. http://www.smartb2bmarcom.com

Comments: 77

Comments

1. Kristina Stiffler  |  my website   |   Mon Apr 19, 2010 @ 03:14AM

Great article! It's common to see companies making the "logical" mistake (i.e. making their copy all about the logic of the business decision and not devoting any time to the person who is doing the buying.)

I think one reason for this is because it's a bit easier. You start with features, turn those into business benefits and you have a logical argument for the buy. Building emotional commitment is a bit tougher. You have to start by trying to figure out what issues are making buyers crazy every day and what their needs are.

Your example of laddering is one of many reasons why buyer personas (when done well) can be so powerful for B2B companies. It allows them to hit that emotional component.

2. Kate Waddell  |  my website   |   Mon Apr 19, 2010 @ 03:45AM

Thanks Kristina - excellent point about the buyer personas. So few companies (even big ones) use them and it is a real shame. I think sometimes they are seen as a little fluffy and not worth the time and effort. Not true!

3. John Bottom  |  my website   |   Mon Apr 19, 2010 @ 10:02AM

Blogs like this make me think. Making me think teaches me things. The more I know, the happier I am.

Thanks Kate :-)

4. Jeff Ogden  |  my website   |   Tue Apr 20, 2010 @ 05:10AM

I admit I never heard of laddering before I read your blog article. But your explanation makes perfect sense. People identify with emotional issues. This is why your advice to keep asking "Why?" is ideal. Get to the heart of the personal reasons.

Jeff Ogden, President
The Fearless Competitor
Find New Customers "Lead Generation Made Simple"
http://www.findnewcustomers.net

Please add http://www.fearlesscompetitor.com to your blogroll. Thanks.

5. Scott Armstrong  |  my website   |   Wed Apr 21, 2010 @ 03:26AM

Laddering is a terrific way to understand more about your customers and their needs and I agree with you that this traditionally B2C tool has great application for B2B marketing! Your post does a great job a laying out why --awesome and thanks!

To answer your question we use laddering when interviewing customers and customer touch-points in order to "understand what your customer wants to know" and apply that insight to build more effective B2B marketing programs to attract, nurture and close more customers.

The BrainRider blog has a practical guide to how we use it for our B2B clients. I would love your feedback Kate. Just search “B2B Marketing: Understanding what your customers want to know” or go to this link http://blog.brainrider.com/2010/04/b2b-marketing-how-to-understand-what-you-customer-wants-to-know/

Great post. Thanks for championing laddering as a B2B tool.

Scott Armstrong
www.brainrider.com

6. Kate Waddell  |  my website   |   Wed Apr 21, 2010 @ 03:45AM

Thanks for all the great comments and additions. I look forward to checking out your blogs and other resources.

7. Carol  |  my website   |   Fri Apr 01, 2011 @ 03:39PM

Wow! The bounds that their marketing company would take to bring in more money. I used to think that cereals are healthy because of what it says in the box but then realized later on that they are just packed with artificial stuff. Laddering as I see is a very effective way of marketing.

8. ali anani  |  my website   |   Mon May 23, 2011 @ 02:15PM

Great article and is really comprehensive. I am a strong believer that emotion and understanding them are not only great differentiators, but also help the customer answer the question "what is in it for me?"
I published three days ago a presentation on slideshare on "Applied emotional laddering". The presentation gives four real examples of the role of emotions in business.

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