Regardless of whether you’re competing in the B2C or B2B marketplace, understanding buyer behavior and what drives their decision to buy is essential—not only for sales, but also in the development of marketing messages.
When thinking about your product or service, don’t start with the features and benefits, think about the need of the customer or user. For example, think about motor oil. Does the customer begin by thinking I need a motor oil with all these various properties, or does the decision start with their desire to protect their car in winter weather? Or, a person’s goal isn’t to buy wood for a deck, its starts with their desire to have a wonderful backyard where they can relax on weekends. Or, the IT manager that wants the recognition (and possible promotion), because he saved the company money and made its employees more productive by selecting a universal docking station over an OEM snap-in station because it provided the company greater flexibility with the types of laptop computers that can be purchased.
A technique that can help you understand the linkage between product attributes and emotional values that has been around for a while, but is often forgotten, is called “laddering.” Regardless of whether you’ve seen it referred to Value Laddering or Benefits Laddering, laddering is a qualitative technique used in market research.
Putting it simply, the objective of using laddering is to understand why people buy and use products or services.
Laddering is helpful in the development of advertising, brand positioning, and communications messaging, as well as new product development.
Most of you reading this know that people buy products based on features and benefits that satisfy an emotional need. And, they justify buying those product or services based on their functional benefits.
There are four levels in the buying process that can be combined into two categories:
Features or product attributes
Functional benefits of those attributes – tangible benefits of the product’s attributes
Emotional or social (psycho-social) benefits derived from the functional benefits
Personal or emotional values derived from functional benefits
Understanding each one of these levels is important regarding why someone makes a buying decision.
As mentioned earlier, Laddering is a qualitative interviewing technique that helps uncover the emotions, consequences and personal values that drive the decision to buy and, in turn, insights into the messaging and communications you can deploy to influence them.
To accomplish this discovery, your moderator or interviewer takes the interviewee through a series of probing questions with a goal of uncovering the rational and emotional reasons to buy a particular product. “Laddering up,” if you will, from the product attributes/features to the personal or emotional benefits they derive from their decision, linking which attributes drive which functional benefits, which drive the emotional or special benefits that result in personal or emotional value. Identifying these links (map them out) will help establish a direction for messaging, positioning, segmentation and advertising.
While a little more subjective, laddering can also be accomplished using secondary research and what you may already know about your customer or prospect. The big difference is you’re making decisions and drawing conclusions without the voice of the customer.
Identifying the linkage between all four levels of buying decision can help you develop powerful messaging strategies and the communications to deliver them.
If you’ve not approached messaging using laddering try it. It’s a way to help you focus on what’s important and to think strategically about building communications messages that are relevant to your customer or prospect.