Why read this? : We explore the benefits of benefit ladders by looking at some examples. Learn the differences between features and functional, consumer, and emotional benefits. Plus, a case study showing how these connect and when and how to use them. Read this to benefit from our benefit ladder example.
But as per our recent lessons from 2023 article, using case studies has many learning benefits. And that word “benefit” was top of mind for us this week.
So we’ll examine the benefit ladder and work through an example of it for the pizza shop. Read on to grab a slice of the benefits of building a benefit ladder for your brand.
The Benefit Ladder
This sounds like it should be simple. However, it’s often more complex and nuanced than you’d expect. Two factors drive this.
You have to decide which benefit(s) to prioritise in different interactions with the customer based on which will most influence their buying behaviour.
Then there are different levels of benefits. These interact with each other. You have to understand how these interactions work to choose which type of benefit will work best at each stage. This is where the benefit ladder comes in. It helps you map out how these different levels of benefits interact.
Features vs benefits
You normally start the benefit ladder at the bottom by identifying a key feature.
This is a physical or tangible quality of the product or service. It’s usually something it “has” or “does”.
For example, the type of engine in a car is a feature. There’s a big difference between the 8L engine size of a Bugatti Veyron and say a 1.8L Toyota Prius.
Each feature offers distinct functional benefits which will appeal to different customer types. Functional benefits are what the features provide or deliver.
For example, the Bugatti engine offers acceleration and speed. The Prius, on the other hand, offer fuel efficiency and eco-friendliness.
Each functional benefit then in turn fuels deeper benefits for that specific customer type.
Consumer and emotional benefits
The consumer benefit is what the customer gets from the product.
This is usually something logical and practical. In market research, it’s often the first answer customers give when you ask them why they bought the product. The consumer benefit is how customers rationalise their choices.
Using our car examples again, the Veyron owner’s benefit is they can get from A to B faster. The Prius driver’s benefit is they can save money on fuel. Rational benefits, right?
However, in most cases, there’s a deeper, less rational benefit at play in terms of buying decisions. An emotional benefit that customers may not always be conscious of. You often have to work harder to uncover this in market research.
For example, the customer buying the fast but expensive Veyron may well also like the feeling of superiority it gives him from owning this status symbol. (Let’s face it, it’s far more likely to be a “him”). It boosts his self-image which is the underlying emotional benefit behind his purchase.
The Prius buyer may well also be looking for a self-image boost but has a different image of themselves in mind. Less status-driven, they want to project that they’re environmentally conscious and less materialistic about their car choice.
The rungs of the ladder work together
The beauty of the benefit ladder is that it helps you tackle the double challenge of having multiple benefits AND different levels of benefits. The rungs of the ladder work together.
For each level of benefit, you link “up” the ladder with a “so that”.
For example, the Veyron has an 8L engine “so that” it accelerates faster. It accelerates faster “so that” the driver can get from A to B quicker, and so on.
But, the benefits also have to work “down” the ladder with a “because”.
The Veyron driver feels superior “because” the Veyron gets him from A to B faster. (With an implied “than anyone else”). It gets him from A to B faster “because” it accelerates faster. (Implied “than other cars).
This gives you a visual representation of how the different levels of benefits interact. You can use this as creative stimuli for different types of brand activation.
For example, in advertising campaigns, the emotional benefit usually drives the advertising idea. As per our how to use emotions in creativity article, emotions often trigger decisions before the logical brain has a chance to kick in. So Bugatti adverts will tap into the feeling of status and superiority as that’s the emotion they want to evoke in the buyer’s head.
However, in high-involvement categories (see our Rossiter Percy grid article for more on this) like cars, you also need to convince the more rational part of the brain. So, Bugatti’s sales team, brochures, and website will back up the emotional benefit lead message with more details on the lower rungs of the benefit ladder. (the engine size and acceleration speed, for example).
Benefit ladder example - Pizza shop
Of course, most people are more likely to drive a Prius than a Veyron. So let’s look at a more relatable benefit ladder example by going back as promised to our Sydney Pineapple Pizza Company example.
This is a hypothetical pizza delivery business based in Bondi Beach, Sydney. (See our targeting and 6 hats articles for further context). Let’s imagine we want to work out what benefits this business should focus on.
Benefit ladder example - Product feature
Our pizza shop’s key feature is the quality of its pineapple-topped pizzas. For example, it uses higher quality and more varied types of pineapple. The chefs prepare the pizzas just before delivery so the pineapple doesn’t make the base go soggy. And in general, the brand communications celebrate the deliciousness of pineapple as a pizza topping. (Yes, we know not everyone agrees with this).
Remember, the product feature is usually something tangible and easy for customers to understand. “Pineapple-topped pizzas” fits the bill here, right?
It should be the easiest part of building the benefit ladder. However, on its own, it’s a thin base (!) from which to connect with customers. We need to deepen (not deep pan) our thinking.
Benefit ladder example - Functional benefit
The harder next step is to choose which direction to go in from the product feature and identify the key functional benefit.
In the first version of this benefit ladder example, we focused on the “pineapple” element. This led us to look at pineapple’s health benefits as a possible option at the functional and customer benefit levels.
However, we thought this was unlikely to drive customer decisions. They might eat pineapples in general because of the health benefits, but it was unlikely to drive them to buy pizza.
Attempt two then took us down more of a “taste” route. Customers buy our pineapple pizzas because they like the taste. However, this is already stated in the target audience definition i.e. customers who like pineapple pizza. While it could work as a functional benefit, it doesn’t give much scope for the customer benefit or the emotional benefit.
So our final attempt at a functional benefit in this benefit ladder example looked more broadly at pizza “delivery”. Delivered food “satisfies hunger” (for people who like pineapple pizzas). This also fitted well with the frame of reference we’d set up in the positioning which was “Pizza delivery in the Eastern Suburbs”. From this functional benefit, we could see ways to make the consumer and emotional benefits work.
Benefit ladder example - Consumer benefit
Deciding on the functional benefit was the hardest part of this benefit ladder example.
When building a benefit ladder, there’s often one benefit that proves harder to unlock than the others. Crack that one, and the others come more easily.
In this case, the hunger satisfaction from getting the pizza delivered got us to the consumer benefit of “I don’t have to spend time cooking”. A few minutes to place an order and that’s it. It’s delivered 45 minutes later and you’re ready to eat.
Benefit ladder example - Emotional benefit
This time-saving consumer benefit gave us a springboard to unlock a more emotional benefit. Customers could use the time saved to spend more time with their families. That would make them happier. No need to spend 45 minutes in the kitchen when you could spend it with your family watching other people cook on that night’s Masterchef.
You can imagine the visual ways you could bring this “Happy I get to spend more time with my family” benefit to life. You’d show families enjoying time together, rather than one of the parents having to slave away cooking a meal in the kitchen.
Benefit ladder example - actions
This is key as your benefit ladder must eventually drive actions. A well-crafted benefit ladder gives clear direction on brand activation. Though you can spend time refining the thinking behind your benefit ladder, at some point, you must use it to make decisions. You need to do something with it.
For example, the pizza shop’s advertising would look very different depending on whether we focused on spending more time with family versus satisfying hunger. You’d show a family having fun together in one and someone stuffing their face in the other.
Knowing that emotions tend to work better than functionality in advertising, the happy family image would be the stronger route.
However, the website (where people order) would dial up the feature i.e. pineapple-topped pizza. That’s the keyword most likely to make the site stand out via SEO. It would also highlight the delivery speed so that customers are clear on the time they save (the consumer benefit) by not having to cook their own food.
You can see from these simple examples, that in activation terms, you pull on different levels of the benefits ladder at different parts of the customer journey. The key benefit of the benefit ladder is to organise your thinking around your benefits and make sure the different levels of your benefits work in harmony.
Conclusion - Benefit ladder example
It gives you a structured way to explore the multiple benefits and different levels of benefits your brand offers. This helps you organise your thinking with a clear and consistent map of your brands’ benefits.
You use this to stimulate the creative thinking that brings your brand to life. Customers buy things because of the benefits they offer. This is why nailing your benefits puts you on the ladder to success.