You’re likely familiar with the saying “get a leg up on your competition.” Did you know it refers to a jockey getting a boost from someone when mounting a large horse? Have you thought about how it applies to marketing?
A scan of the marketing and brand building efforts of many companies—especially those in categories where technology plays a key role, such as consumer electronics, telecommunications, software, hardware or pharmaceuticals—reveals a significant opportunity for savvy marketers to get a “leg up” on their competition. These companies tend to focus competitive positioning on rational, functional appeals based on features. By refocusing positioning to a more emotional, aspirational level, where key benefits and buyers’ motivations and values are at the center, marketers can better connect with buyers and influence buying behavior.
How do you move from features to benefits and values?
A time-proven method for formulating an effective brand positioning that appeals at an emotional level is to use a simple, yet powerful tool known as a Brand Ladder. Depicted in its generic form below, a brand ladder helps marketers in several key ways:
- Allows for focusing the positioning without sacrificing richness for the sake of getting a message across.
- Helps to clarify the relationships between features, benefits and customer’s buying motives.
- Shifts thinking and positioning to being about the buying proposition instead of the selling proposition.
How does the ladder work?
Starting with a tangible, functional feature, the marketer proceeds to look up the ladder and establish relationships between rungs by asking: “So why is that important?” As the ladder is populated, the marketer can validate choices by looking down the ladder and asking: “What’s the basis for that assertion or connection?”
Ultimately, a successful constellation of features, product benefits, consumer benefits and values “hangs together.” If the selections at any level fail to link to or support the other selections on the ladder, more work is required.
Which rung is the right one for brand positioning?
This is a common, but potentially misleading, question, since there is no “right” answer. A brand’s positioning is an outcome of the total system of meaning organized by the ladder – not one particular “rung.”
However, we can observe that the farther down the ladder you focus, the more you are basing your differentiation on the functional, rational appeal of your product or service. That’s a space that, inevitably, will be flush with competitive rivalry and, thus, is not the basis for a long-term advantage.
In contrast, the success achieved by companies from across various categories and industries who have demonstrated brand leadership over long periods of time (e.g., ING, Mercedes, Starbucks, Google, Michelin, Pfizer) suggests that when you forge your positioning higher up—where you are dealing more with what’s important in the customer’s life and where your benefit is more widespread—your ability to win against your competition is notably increased.
Try creating a brand ladder to help identify and focus on a more aspirational, emotional positioning for your brand. You likely find moving up the ladder helps you get a leg up on your competition.
For more on striking your brand leadership at an emotional level, see “Answering Why is Key to Building a Great Brand.”