I 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