Sunday, February 21, 2010

Marketing Strategy : The Art of Brand Laddering

The Art of Brand Laddering

This article was Originally Published Here at

Raymond makes you a Complete Man, Bournvita makes you Confident, Fiama Di Wills makes you Beautiful Today, Tomorrow, Nike asks you to Just Do It and Eating Parle-G makes you a Genius!!!

Welcome to the world of brand laddering. …

Brand laddering off late is the most sought after strategy in the Indian marketing space. Brand laddering involves positioning of a brand from common product attributes to more abstract values or concepts. Its moving from a focus from product attributes to brand benefits.

One of the Indian brands which have successfully undertook brand laddering is Raymond. Raymond’s is now positioned on a more abstract benefit ( Complete Man) rather than the product /functional attributes of clothing like fashion, texture, quality etc.

From product attributes to higher values involves a series of stages. Marketers have to be careful while trying to position their brands on higher abstract concepts.

The first stage of laddering is establishing the brand’s association with product attributes. Attributes are the physical properties of the product that in turn will deliver the desired benefits to the consumer.

When a brand is launched, the focus of the marketer will be to establish the product attributes. The task is to establish category membership and also to achieve parity with competitors on functional performance.

For example, textile brands will be trying to convince the customer about their product properties like texture, colours, quality etc. For a TV marketer, the focus will be on features like clarity, sound quality, technology etc. For example Sony Bravia is now focusing on its 2 million Bravia Pixels for establishing itself as a leader in the emerging LCD TV market. Automotive marketers concentrate on the product features and attributes while launching its brands into the market.

Once these attributes are firmly established in the mind of the consumer, the brand moves into the next step in the laddering process .This stage involves positioning the brand on product benefits. Here the brand moves from a functional focus to the benefit focus. Maggi Noodles had built its brand based on its product qualities like “easy to cook “and taste. Later the brand repositioned itself on the health platform.The latest tagline of Maggi – Taste Bhi, Health Bhi, takes the brand from attributes focus to benefit positioning.

The most critical stage of laddering process is to associate the brand to abstract benefits. Abstract benefits are conceptual benefits which focus on a deeper need of consumers much above the product benefits. Often these abstract benefits are aspirational in nature.

Brands over a period of time try to move from a basic benefit based positioning to a more abstract benefit. While comfort is a benefit, being a complete man is an abstract benefit. Airtel is about Expressing Yourself. This is an abstract benefit that the cellular service provider tries to position itself on. Fair & Lovely when launched concentrated on its functional benefit of “fairness” during its initial stage of brand building. Over a period of time, the brand has laddered up to the abstract concept of confidence and women empowerment.

Abstract benefits helps increase the aspirational value to the brand. It also helps the brand to extend itself into related categories since its positioning is no more conceptual and not limited by any functional attributes of a product.

The final stage in the laddering process is where the brand becomes synonymous with the abstract benefit. This is a level where the brand personifies abstract benefit. Johnson & Johnson is synonymous with mother – child relationship. Over these years, the brand has established itself by positioning on this abstract concept. In theory, this is referred to as Brand Essence.

Brand laddering helps a marketer in many ways. The most important benefit is that abstract attributes gives more flexibility to the brand. It takes the brand away from the most basic attributes so that marketers can experiment with various communication themes. Abstract benefits also give the brand to be more creative in its campaigns. Raymond’s was able to create highly popular campaigns because it focuses on an aspirational benefit of “Completeness”. Raymond’s can create new stories about a complete man which would not have been possible of a brand focusing on functional attributes.

The fundamental objective of brand laddering is to create icons. Iconic brands are that which truly represents or personifies aspirational values. Nike personifies authentic athleticism and Harley Davidson is synonymous with masculinity, free spirit and rebelliousness.

Although laddering is a sexy marketing strategy, it requires certain preparation for successful execution. The laddering will be successful only if the brand is able to establish its association with functional attributes. If a brand tries to ladder up without establishing its functional expertise, consumers may not believe in the brand’s claim. . The highly acclaimed “ Dirt is Good “ campaign of Surf is a successful brand laddering exercise because it was done after establishing its functional expertise. The brand should first establish its Points of Parity (POP) with its competitors in terms of performance. Only then, the laddering will be accepted by the consumers.

Another important condition is the abstract attribute should be relevant to the brand. For example, Nike and Athletics performance go hand in hand. Bournvita and confidence have obvious connection. Dove and Beauty are connected with each other.

Before venturing into a laddering exercise, the marketer has to decide on the brand essence. The abstract benefit should be carefully chosen because there is going to be a long term association often a permanent one.

Usually laddering is done on a benefit derived out if the core brand mantra. Brand mantra is the core DNA of the brand. It is what the brand stands for. And like DNA, brand’s mantra also remains constant. Choosing the right Brand Mantra enables the brand to ladder up effectively.

Even after a successful laddering exercise, a brand should not leave its focus on functional attributes. Sometimes, the brand should do a laddering down exercise to reinforce its association with functional attributes. This could be done by parallel campaigns focusing on functional attributes. This laddering down should be done if there is a change in consumer’s perception or if the competitors launch an innovative feature. In such a scenario, the brand should reinforce its functional expertise to the consumers.