How to use a consumer benefits ladder to focus your brand message

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The biggest flaw Marketers make is when they talk about what their brand does, instead of what their consumer gets. They try to jam in as many brand messages as possible. They believe that if they say A LOT to a busy consumer mind, consumers will at least hear something. Not true. When you say too much, nothing gets through. Our consumer benefits ladder tool matches up needs of the consumer with brand features to determine the brand’s functional benefits and emotional benefits.

In a Marketing role, it is easy to get fixated on your own brand. I’ve been there. All day long, you talk about your brand. Every meeting is about your brand. You present to management about your brand. You wake up and go to bed thinking about your brand. Also, your brand pays you. Keep in mind, there is only one source of revenue, and that’s your consumer.

Marketers should be fixated on your consumer, not your brand. 

I always ask Marketers: “Do you represent your brand to your consumer or do you represent your consumer to the brand?” Yes, I get stunned looks of confusion when I ask that. But it’s an important question as to your mindset of how you do your job. My challenge to you is to start thinking about your consumer and be their representative of your brand. The work gets better. You will see clearer paths to growth and start to create a brand that consumers love rather than just likes. When this happens, sales go up and the P&L spits out higher profitability. The more loved the brand, the more powerful position it occupies and the more profit it can generate from that source of power.

The Consumer Benefits Ladder

The Consumer Benefits Ladder starts with the consumer, defining the target needs, consumer enemy and insights to help add flavor. We then outline the key features of your brand (what you do), then ladder up to the rational benefits (as a consumer “what do I get?”) and then ladder up to the emotional benefits (as a consumer “how does this make me feel?”)

The ladder forces the Brand Leader to think about consumer benefits, instead of features. The Consumer Benefits Ladder helps you brainstorm possible messages that you may test with consumers. It can help organize the possible brand messages or it can be a decision-making tool as you begin focusing on the most important, compelling brand messages. This will help set your brand up with a unique, own-able, motivating brand positioning statement.

Consumer Benefit Ladder

Who is your consumer target?

The 7 key questions to define the consumer target market:

  1. What is the description of the consumer target market?
  2. What are the consumer’s main needs?
  3. Who is the consumer’s enemy that torments them every day?
  4. What are the insights we know about the consumer?
  5. What does the consumer think now?
  6. How does the consumer buy?
  7. What do we want them to see, think, do, feel or whisper to their friends?

One of the biggest mistakes I see Marketers make is when they pick too big of a target market. A smart target market not only decides who is in the target but who is not in the target. There is this myth that a bigger target will make the brand bigger, so the scared Marketer targets ‘everyone’. There seems to be an irrational fear of leaving someone out. Spreading your brand’s limited resources across an entire population is completely cost-prohibitive. While targeting everyone “just in case” might feel safe at first, it is actually riskier because you are spreading your resources so broadly, that you never see the full impact you want to see. This gives your brand a lower return on investment and eventually will drain your brand’s limited resources. Please focus.

Positioning Consumer Profile

Brand Features

What does your brand do? As you start looking at your own brand, you should look at four types of key features to see if there is a starting point for your story. Here are some questions that will help your brainstorming:


  • Is there something natural in your product you can take advantage of? Can you show up to your consumer in a way that is better or different than your competition?
  • What specific performance indicators makes your brand better? (e.g.  faster, longer-lasting, stronger, more consistent, easier/simpler, healthier)
  • Is there a specific ingredient, lack of ingredient that makes your product better? Or a specific process?
  • Is there an experience or service that comes from your product that makes you show up to consumers as either better or different than your competition?
  • Do you have any specific innovations or creativity that helps your product show up better or different?


  • Detail how your product works differently and how that shows up to the consumer.
  • Showcase your point of difference in the production process that could make you better/different than your competition.
  • What do you do differently than your competitor within the production process?
  • What added service/details do you provide in the value chain

Third person

  • Do you have any consumer evidence (ratings, rankings, consumer satisfaction, awards) that could support a key feature?
  • Are there any stories from consumers, that set up support for a key feature?
  • Is there any expert in the field who can speak on the brand’s behalf?


  • Any clinical test results or in-market usage results that could support your brand features.
  • In-Market sales, share, growth results that would support brand strength, power or momentum.
  • Any evidence in brand funnel scores (highest loyalty) that would support brand features.
  • Before and after studies

Consumer Benefits

What do consumers get? (Rational Benefits) For each feature you list, you want to put yourself in the shoes of the consumer and ask “so what do I get?”  If your brand works faster, then consumers can get on with their day. If your brand is low calorie, then it’s easier for consumers to lose weight. The challenge here is to ensure that each benefit you stand behind makes you show up as better, different or cheaper than your competitors.

Looking at the Venn diagram, you have to begin finding the zone where you are meeting the consumer’s needs and doing it better than any competitor. You can see the two zones to avoid: the losing zone is where you try to play in the space where your competitor is better than you, and the dumb zone where your consumer just does not even care. The dumb zone can be avoided by using this consumer benefits ladder process.

Strategic Thinking Competitive Positioning

What are the functional benefits? 

To help Brand Leaders, I have taken the 9 functional need state zones shown earlier in this chapter and expanded the list to over 50 potential functional benefits that you can build around. As you look through the list, gravitate to the functional benefits you think will fit the needs of your consumers, and where your brand can do it better than competitors. Start with my words and layer in your own creative language with the specific category or consumer language.

Functional Benefits


How do consumers feel? (Emotional Benefits)

From my experience, Marketers are better at the rational benefits than they are at the emotional benefits. I swear every brand out there thinks their brand should be the trusted, reliable and yet like-able brand. It seems Marketers want “emotional advertising” but that has to start with an emotional brief.

As a brand, you want to own the emotional space in the consumer’s heart as much as you own the rational space in the consumer’s mind. It seems that not only do consumers have a hard time expressing their emotions about a brand, but so do Brand Managers. Companies like Hotspex have mapped out all the emotional zones for consumers. I’m not a researcher, but if you’re interested in this methodology contact Hotspex at We have taken this research method and created an Emotional Cheat Sheet for Brand Leaders. This lists out the 8 major emotional consumer zones, optimism, freedom, being noticed, being liked, comfort, be myself, be in control and knowledge.

Emotional benefit Cheat Sheet

To own a space in the consumer’s heart, you want to own and dominate one of the zones, always thinking relation to what your competitor may own. Do not choose a list of emotions from all over the map, or you will just confuse your consumer as much as trying to own a long list of rational benefits. Once you narrow the major emotional zone you can own, you can use the supporting words of the Emotional Cheat Sheet to add flavor.

Build your brands around clusters of benefits

As you are looking for the benefits to that your brand stand behind, we recommend that you look at clusters of the functional and emotional benefits, that you believe match up with what consumers want and what your brand does better than other competitors.

Look at our example below, we have mapped out the positioning clusters of three distinct car brands (Volvo, Honda, Ferrari) to showcase how different the functional and emotional benefits.


  • The Volvo brand is notorious for safety, but can also look at quality and how it is made as part of the “Works Better” functional benefit zone. Volvo also makes you smarter and helps your family. The emotional zones where Volvo wins is in are being in control and curious for knowledge.
  • The Honda mini-van is all about family and value for money. Its functionality also can simplify your life. As it is a family car, the emotional zones that Honda can win are being myself and comfort.
  • The Ferrari brand is built around speed and performance, part of the “works better” functional benefit zone. The brand also delivers on experience and sensory appeal.

Worksheet Example

The best way to work the Consumer Benefits Ladder is to hold a brainstorming session with everyone who works on the brand so you can:

  • Leverage all the available research to brief the team, helping define the consumer target and get all the consumer insights and need states out.
  • List out all the features that your brand offers, and the brand assets it brings to the table. Make sure that these features are competitive advantages.
  • Find the rational benefit by putting yourself in the shoes of the consumer and seeing the brand features from their eyes: start asking yourself over and over “so if I’m the consumer, what do I get from that?”. Ask up to 5 times and push the answers into a richer zone.
  • Then find the emotional benefit by asking “so how does that make me feel?” As you did above, keep asking, and you’ll begin to see a deeper emotional space you can play in and own.

Put all the information of the group brainstorm into a Consumer Benefits Ladder Worksheet.

consumer benefits ladder

To learn more about this type of thinking, you should explore my new book, Beloved Brands.

With Beloved Brands, you will learn everything you need to know so you can build a brand that your consumers will love.Beloved Brands book

You will learn how to think strategically, define your brand with a positioning statement and a brand idea, write a brand plan everyone can follow, inspire smart and creative marketing execution and analyze the performance of your brand through a deep-dive business review.

To order the e-book version or the paperback version from Amazon, click on this link:

If you use Kobo, you can find Beloved Brands in over 30 markets using this link:

And if you are in India, you can use this link to order:


Beloved Brands: Who are we?

At Beloved Brands, our purpose is to help brands find a new pathway to growth. We believe that the more love your brand can generate with your most cherished consumers, the more power, growth, and profitability you will realize in the future.

We think the best solutions are likely inside you already, but struggle to come out. Our unique playbook tools are the backbone of our workshops. We bring our challenging voice to help you make decisions and refine every potential idea.

We start by defining a brand positioning statement, outlining the desired target, consumer benefits and support points the brand will stand behind. And then, we build a brand idea that is simple and unique enough to stand out in the clutter of the market, motivating enough to get consumers to engage, buy and build a loyal following with your brand.

We will help you write a strategic brand plan for the future, to get everyone in your organization to follow. It starts with an inspiring vision that pushes your team to imagine a brighter future. We use our strategic thinking tools to help you make strategic choices on where to allocate your brand’s limited resources.

Our brand playbook methodology will challenge you to unlock future growth for your brand

  1. Our deep-dive assessment process will give you the knowledge of the issues facing your brand, so you can build a smart plan to unleash future growth.
  2. We will find a winning brand positioning statement that motivates consumers to buy, and gives you a competitive advantage to drive future growth.
  3. We create a brand idea to capture the minds and hearts of consumers, while inspiring and focusing your team to deliver greatness on the brand’s behalf.
  4. We build a brand plan to help you make smart focused decisions, so you can organize, steer, and inspire your team towards higher growth.
  5. We advise on advertising, to find creative that drives branded breakthrough and use a motivating messaging to set up long-term brand growth.
  6. Our brand training program will make your brand leaders smarter, so you have added confidence in their performance to drive brand growth.

To learn more about our coaching, click on this link: Beloved Brands Strategic Coaching

To learn more about our training programs, click on this link: Beloved Brands Training

If you need our help, email me at or call me at 416 885 3911

You have my personal promise to help you solve your brand building challenges. I will give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.


Graham Robertson

Founder and CMO, Beloved Brands Inc.

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Graham Robertson

Graham Robertson is one of the voices of today's brand leaders. As the founder of Beloved Brands, he has been a brand advisor to the NFL Players Association, Shell, Reebok, Acura, Jack Links and Pfizer. He's helped train some of the best marketing teams on strategy, brand positioning, brand plans and advertising. Graham's purpose is to use is marketing experience and provocative style to get marketers to think differently about their brands, and to explore new ways to grow. Graham spent 20 years leading some of the world's most beloved brands at Johnson and Johnson, Coke, General Mills and Pfizer, rising up to VP Marketing. Graham played a significant role in helping win Marketing Magazine's "Marketer of the Year" award. He has won numerous advertising and innovation awards including Businessweek’s best new product award. As a keynote speaker, Graham shares his passion for brands to challenge and inspire marketing minds around the world, whether speaking at Advertising Week, or at the NBA Summer League, or to a room full of marketers in Bangkok Thailand or an agency in New York. He's been a guest writer for Ad Age, and his weekly blog stories have reached millions of marketers, who are trying to improve their skills. His new book, Beloved Brands, has launched with rave reviews. Many brand leaders are using this book as a playbook to help build the brand they work on. And, it serves as a brand management textbook for business schools in the US, Canada and the UK. Graham’s personal promise is to help you solve your brand building challenges, to give you new thinking, so you can unlock future growth for your brand.

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