Brand Ladders: The Secret & Most Powerful Selling Tool

By Chuck Pettis

Back in the late 80s and 90s, I was a Principal with a high-tech agency that created all the “below the line” advertising for Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printers. At the time, HP was a leader in brand building, successfully getting 90% market share in the category.

Brand Ladders: The Secret & Most Powerful Selling Tool

Back in the late 80s and 90s, I was a Principal with a high-tech agency that created all the “below the line” advertising for Hewlett-Packard LaserJet printers. At the time, HP was a leader in brand building, successfully getting 90% market share in the category.

HP LaserJet printers are known for reliability. I used this HP LaserJet printer for almost 20 years.

One of the branding tools we learned from HP was the “brand ladder.”

Brand Ladder Explanation

Brand ladders are a method for modeling the mental and emotional process customers follow when making product purchase decisions. A directional model, brand ladders start with the product’s most important feature (e.g., reliable) and link it to its benefit (e.g., no breakdowns), the resulting job value (e.g., efficiency), and the emotional value to the individual (e.g., peace of mind, do a better job, feel safe & secure).

Features and Benefits

  • Features are factual statements about your product, such as what it can do, its dimensions and specs, etc.
  • Benefits tell the end result of what a product can actually accomplish for the customer.

For example, in the illustration above, the features are” Up to 40% faster” and “Uses up to 53% less energy.” The benefits are shown visually via all the printed output.

A Strong Brand Results in a Successful Exit

Early in my branding career, I had the pleasure being Director of Marketing Communications for my father’s company, Hi-Speed Checkweigher. A checkweigher is an automatic weighing machine installed in the production line of companies like P&G, General Mills, and other companies that package food products that you might see in grocery stores.

The sales and marketing manager at Hi-Speed was Jack Peebles, one of the best salespersons I have ever worked with. He had been trained in Xerox Professional Selling Skills, the skills used by world-class sales professionals to help customers succeed.

Together we determined the features and benefits that were most effective at selling and closing orders. Then, brochures and marketing communications were created that duplicated the optimal sales presentation.

For example, the key feature of a checkweigher is: “Automatically checks, classifies, and segregates products by weight… accurately, reliably and simply.”

The benefits of this feature are: “Protect against underweight problems and minimize product/product giveaway.”

We created a strong, consistent brand identity for Hi-Speed. When my father retired, he sold Hi-Speed to Toledo Scale, the largest US scale company at the time for a premium selling price. As a small equity owner in the company, I received a cash payout at the time of the sale. Thanks Dad! That got me started on getting equity whenever possible.

An Even Better Exit: The MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer

I also had the pleasure of working with my son, Bre Pettis, at MakerBot, the leader in desktop 3D printers, for several years. I was VP Marketing for the introduction of the MakerBot Replicator 2 Desktop 3D Printer. Here is the brand ladder that we created for one of the key features of the MakerBot Replicator Desktop 3D Printer.

Feature: 100-micron resolution

Tangible Benefits:

  • Print paper-thin layers.
  • Create professional-quality, high-resolution prototypes and complex models.
  • Get smooth-to-the-touch surfaces that don’t need sanding, finishing, or post-production.
  • Build realistic prototypes and models for demonstrations and presentations.
  • Choose settings that range from fast draft to finer resolution.

Emotional Benefits:

  • Satisfied
  • In control
  • Delighted
  • Productive
  • Smart
  • Empowered
  • Accomplished

Strategic selection of emotional imagery and rational messages is critical for successful branding. Once the top features and benefits have been validated, you then focus on how the customer will feel when the brand delivers on the features and benefits.

At MakerBot, features and benefits were used verbatim and consistently in all marketing communications. The graphics, look and feel, social media posts, and videos were all created to evoke emotional benefits.

For example, when parents see their child’s creativity unleashed with the educational, entertaining, and useful MakerBot Replicator Mini Desktop 3D Printer, they feel excited, proud, and thrilled.

Exit: MakerBot was sold to Stratasys for $400 million.

Summary

Brand Ladders, backed by customer research, are the most powerful and effective branding tool for:

  • Determining the most compelling selling messages (features and benefits)
  • Strategically selecting the emotional imagery that unconsciously gets customers to want your brand

Are you ready to build a strong brand and have a successful exit?


To connect with Chuck Pettis, visit his website, follow him on Twitter, check him out on LinkedIn, or read him on Medium.