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Emotion sells: How to use the Benefits Ladder to craft compelling marketing messages that engage...

A ‘Consumer Benefits Ladder’ is a tool that can be used to bring focus & clarity to your marketing messages and help reveal those ‘real’ product benefits that often get overlooked. The ladder helps you to rethink your product or service from a rational, functional way (which is often pretty dry and unappealing) and instead, helps you to really zoom in on those emotional benefits, which are much more engaging.

Very often people just tend to think about, and promote, the rational, practical benefits of their product/service (e.g. “I make natural candles…”), but there's usually an emotional side which would resonate more, and have a much stronger pull.

The reality is that ‘emotional’ sells far more than ‘rational’ (e.g. candles don’t release toxins, so the air in your home, and that you breathe, is, therefore, cleaner…and better for your health…etc.)

A benefits ladder helps move you from those rational aspects up to the emotional benefits that will, in the majority of instances, appeal much more and be more persuasive, to your target audience. How you move up the ladder depends on the type of thing you’re offering.

Lower down the ladder are practical benefits such as price and accessibility, with service, reliability and premium quality being a rung or two up.

By climbing higher, you can come to the more persuasive, emotional benefits such as ‘longer life-span’ or ‘self-assurance’ or ‘optimum-performance’ or ‘competitive advantage’ etc.

Here’s a brief introduction to the Benefits ladder, starting at the bottom and working up through the 4 rungs:

  • Rung 1: Is your product or service – what are you offering?

  • Rung 2: Product/Service Features – what are the key features of your product? E.g. colour, ingredients, weight etc.

  • Rung 3: The functional product Benefits - what benefits does your product or service offer? E.g. ease of use, good value, aesthetically pleasing.

  • Rung 4: Customer Benefits – how does the customer benefit from the product benefits? Rung 5: Emotional Benefits – how will these make your customers feel? What are the emotional benefits of using your product or service?

In theory, your Benefits Ladder should help bring your customer closer to your brand, by instilling positive emotions and bringing more deep and meaningful benefits to them.

Sometimes though, the rung at the top isn’t always so explicit; there may be more subtle emotional benefits, which are harder to define and so sometimes can be represented via visuals or storytelling.

That’s why you might see an athlete in an ad for a sports drink. The picture speaks a thousand words and conveys numerous emotional messages in one simple image.

Why is the benefits ladder helpful?

The Ladder helps you create and clarify content messages and headlines that truly resonate with your potential customers. It helps you create headlines, ‘hooks’, and copy that actually addresses their pain points and problems. Ultimately, understanding the deeper, emotional benefit of your product / service means that you can create strong marketing messages that cut-through the masses of clutter and genuinely appeal to your target audience!

What if you can’t get to the top?

Although the suggestion is to aim for the top, sometimes there may be brands and products which are quite functional and actually trade better on the lower, more practical rungs of the ladder.

Throw-away, functional brands, let’s say sandwich bags, are more of a necessity and depend on their functional benefits. An emotional campaign for a sandwich bag is likely to be a waste of money and resource. These are low-cost, low risk, disposable items which are more likely to benefit from a more practical approach, such as ‘biodegradability’.

December 2019 saw a dragon in the John Lewis Christmas ad…warmly associating a random ‘thing’ with their brand. Do John Lewis sell dragons? They didn't (until 2019), but they do sell gifts that bring happiness and they created an emotionally compelling ad around the story of gifting.

All in all, understanding the Benefits Ladder, and working your way up as high as possible, is the key to crafting effective marketing messages. As Maya Angelou is famous for saying:

“...people will forget what you said, and what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel".

Maya Angelou: people never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou quote

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