[L/M NET] Tom Fishburne > Brand laddering

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“Brand Laddering” is one of the most common marketing tools. To drive growth and loyalty, marketers frequently work to elevate benefits of the brand from technical to functional to emotional.

But there’s a risk of over-reaching, particularly when brands aim for abstract emotional benefits not really supported by the product story. Brandgym founder David Taylor calls this phenomenon “brand ego tripping”.

I gave a talk this week at MARCOM12, the largest marketing conference in the Netherlands. I spoke just after Anne Charbonneau, a partner at Brandgym with David. In Anne’s talk, she mentioned a cartoon I drew way back in 2004 where I made passing reference to the idea of brand laddering to world peace. Her comment inspired me to expand this idea into its own cartoon (and I pasted the original at the bottom of this post).

David Taylor illustrates “brand ego tripping” with the trial and error story that eventually led to the famous Dove Campaign for Real Beauty:

“They originally developed three different “brand anthem” campaigns that tried to get women to stop judging themselves so harshly (‘Beauty Has A Million Faces One Of Them Is Yours’, ‘Give Your Beauty Wings’ and ‘Let’s Make Peace With Beauty’). However, as the planner from Ogilvy agency commented :

“‘Unfortunately, women were not impressed. They found our ideas patronising. The top-down approach seemed to lead to rather didactic, theoretical and distant work. So we decided instead to work bottom-up – product first, wrapped in beauty theory.’

“I love that last line: ‘Products wrapped in beauty theory’. Tell a product story, but in an impactful, emotionally engaging way. This led to the launch of Firming Cream, with the now famous advert of real ladies in their undies. It was fresh. It was honest. And it plugged a product: “As tested on real curves”. “Real-ness” and “honesty” was the brand’s personality, but not the idea itself.”

Tapping the right emotional benefit can transform how people think about a brand, and create distance from commodity knock-offs. I saw first-hand how Cheerios successfully laddered from the “first finger-food moment with toddlers” to stand for “nurturing” as a brand benefit, which drove ideas like including children’s books in cereal boxes and supporting literacy.

But the right emotional benefit has to be supported by the products.

Here’s the original 2004 cartoon, which goes through all 6 stages of discovering your brand promise:

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away one signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. I’ll pick one comment. Thanks!)


(ralf says:
Brands (ie. their managers) do that ALL THE TIME.
They have 3 reasons for that:
1. To reach everybody (and by that in fact nobody).
2. To have a more powerful brand promise than competitors.
3. Because the product has no tangible benefit.

And they are 3-fold wrong!)

Tom is cartoonist and founder of Marketoonist, helping organizations communicate with cartoons. He draws from 16yrs of marketing, most recently as Marketing VP at method. He speaks about innovation, creativity, and marketing, using cartoons to visualize. @tomfishburne