When customers are asked why they use a product, service, or company they almost always immediately jump to a feature. "I bought these sneakers because they are colorful." "I bought this office chair because it matched our decor and it was inexpensive." "I bought that cereal because I like the taste." However, the idea behind and core benefit of qualitative market research is the ability to ask why and dig deeper with individuals.
The classic features versus benefits argument is something that marketers have grappled with since the early days of sales. Think about the door-to-door vacuum salesman. He would likely drive around and talk to heads of households about how light the vacuum was to move around, how inexpensive the cost was, and how well it cleaned the floors. Feature, feature, and feature.
However, a good market researcher and good salesperson can go beyond this surface-level decision-making criteria. The best salesman would understand that all household decision-makers would choose a vacuum based on those 3 criteria, but what are they really saying when they say, "I like having a clean house?" Market research can help arrive at that for marketers.
The technique called laddering in market research provides marketers with motivational and root-level characteristics that can be used to better market, and sell products and services to potential customers.
Laddering in market research moves users from features, to benefits, to motivational criteria.
What is Laddering in Market Research?
Laddering in market research is a term used in marketing which takes steps to move participants from understanding the features, to why they choose a product or service, all the way down to the root motivational and emotional cause. This "trigger" is the top rung of the ladder all market research moderators and interviewers look to drive a discussion towards.
Laddering is a bit like root-cause analysis or peeling back the proverbial onion. In our prior example, at the highest level, customers may choose a vacuum based on weight, price, and its ability to clean but can't all vacuums claim this? If vacuum companies marketed this they would certainly hit on all of the features of choice but fail to make a deeper emotional connection with their marketing.
Laddering continually asks, "Why?" It's a bit like the "annoying back-seat child" technique in market research. After a few whys, it could take 3 steps on the ladder or 8, but you'll eventually arrive at the trigger point and motivational reason why a consumer makes a purchase.
For example, let's take the feature in which a participant said she chose a vacuum because it "cleans the floors well."
Step 1: Why is that important?
"It's important because I have 3 kids and a dog and they are always making a mess."
Step 2: Can you explain why the mess, or lack of, is important?
"I want our house to look fresh and new."
Step 3: Why do you want your house to look fresh and new?
"We host a lot of parties with friends, family, and co-workers who come to our home."
Step 4: Why are parties and family gatherings important to you when choosing a vacuum?
"I want them to be impressed by how nice, clean, and tidy our house is."
After a few deeper dives here, it's becoming more clear the true motivational benefit of buying a new vacuum is not that it is lightweight, inexpensive, or cleans well but rather it's driven by social desirability of this consumer. This consumer wants to have a clean home to impress friends, family, and co-workers when they come over to visit.
Think about the options here for a marketing campaign using this messaging. A lot more powerful than running an advertisement featuring benefits like sales prices and lightweight products right? The laddering technique in market research helps marketing teams make more of an impact with their strategies, hitting on motivations and emotions behind a decision to purchase a product or service.
A great example of how laddering was likely used to understand motivational criteria in a purchase is a commercial below from TruGreen, a lawn care and maintenance service company. Can it get any more basic than this? At the surface, one would assume a decision-maker may choose a company like TruGreen to prevent weeds from growing on their lawn, to help maintain sprinklers, to keep their grass from burning, or perhaps spray some lawn repellent to keep the mosquitoes away this summer. Feature, feature, feature.
Now watch the following commercial as TruGreen tries to hit the emotional chord behind why some families and homeowners care about their home and yard.
TruGreen 30 Second TV Spot via YouTube
As a market researcher it is our job to dig deeper and always ask, "Why?" Some driving forces behind product and service decisions can be emotional, others rational, and some even irrational. Laddering is a great technique in market research to remind us to dig deeper. As we say at Drive Research, "Never be satisfied." We ask more from our market research and you should too.
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