The First Step to Planning an Ad Campaign: The Message Ladder

The First Step to Planning an Ad Campaign: The Message Ladder

When looking to promote a product or business, it can be hard to know where to begin. As the old phrase goes, the most difficult step is often the first. Between product details, competitors, market conditions, customer perceptions, and so much more, there’s a lot to consider when creating a new ad campaign.

Luckily, marketers have developed a few tools to help them determine the best launching point for their messaging. One of the most common of these is the message ladder.

What is a Message Ladder?

Message Ladders are structuring tools that help lay out a product’s attributes and benefits based on factors helpful for a marketing campaign. The ladder takes one of a product’s characteristics and narrows down why that attribute is useful to the end consumer. Let’s take a look at an example ladder from bottom to top:

  • Product Feature: A feature is a useful aspect of the product derived from one of its attributes. For example: An applesauce jar with a wide mouth top.
  • Product Benefit: Product benefits relate to how the feature affects the consumer. For example: the wide-mouthed top makes it much easier for the customer to spoon out the applesauce for serving.
  • Emotional Benefit: Emotional benefits highlight how the consumer feels using the product, or the emotional payoff from using it. For example: Thanks to easier serving from the wide-mouthed jar, the consumer feels better about serving applesauce to their family and avoids any frustration that might be caused by a smaller jar top. This makes the consumer feel smart and like a great parent.

Creating a Message Ladder

Now that we have an example of a ladder, how do you make one for your product? You have to ask yourself why. In our example, we use an applesauce jar, so let’s start there. The first rung of the ladder is a product feature, the wide-mouthed jar. Why is that relevant? Why does that create value for the consumer?

Well, it makes the applesauce easier to serve. It makes the product more easily accessible for the consumer. But why does that matter? Why is easier access relevant?

Easier access means less frustration for the consumer and avoids a potential friction point that our competition might struggle with. It also helps the consumer feel more confident in the food they are serving to their family, as the applesauce is healthy and easily accessible for small children. By serving it, our consumers might feel like great parents for making a smart purchasing decision.

At each step, we’re asking ourselves why. Why is this product relevant? Why is it special and better than the competition? With each rung, we get closer to the emotional reaction our consumers might experience while using our product. The lower rungs of the ladder give us an idea of the physical benefits and attributes of our product, while the higher rungs give us the emotional response a consumer will feel in reaction to those attributes. But the wide-mouth jar is only one attribute of our product, so we’ll repeat the process for any other attributes that make our product memorable or unique.

But how does all of this help us know where to start our marketing campaigns?

Using the Message Ladder

By this point, we’ve created a handful of ladders detailing the different attributes and features of our product that will help set it apart from the competition. We know what we want to communicate, and how it will make our consumers feel. Now we just need to decide what message we want to send. This step will differ based on your marketing strategy, but with the ladders in front of you, you can now determine which attributes you want to feature, and what rung you want to anchor your messaging on.

Message ladders are not a linear system, and they don’t need to run from the bottom to the top. Pick and choose your rungs based on what you need to communicate to your audience. If you’re looking to differentiate your product from the competition and explain its features, then you’ll want to base your campaign on the lower rungs of the ladder. If you’re looking to elicit an emotional response from your audience, then you’ll want to base your messaging on the higher rungs.

Want to see a message ladder in action? Check out our case study on introducing the KONAVI Feeder

Whether you have a strong sense of the rungs of your product’s market ladder or are just getting started determining its features and benefits, we can help. Contact us today.

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