#5: use this brand marketing tool to make better content

Welcome to contentfolks—a fortnightly newsletter with short lessons & ideas about content that makes a difference, sparks action, and truly serves its audience. Thank you for being here!

Hey there, content folks 👋

When you create content about a product or service, you might think your job is teaching people what the product is and how to use it.

It’s not.

Your job is teaching people what a product is and how to use it, so they can solve a problem / complete a task / achieve an outcome, so they can be seen as experts / get a promotion / feel awesome about themselves.

Let’s take a look at how you do that.

The brand ladder and four levels of content

It’s time for another sticky note:

Brand Ladder

This is a brand ladder. It’s a mental tool that brand marketers use to model the steps a customer takes when deciding on a purchase, starting from a product’s features at the bottom and moving all the way up to its emotional benefits at the top.

Turns out you can map your content onto each step, too, so we are now 100% going to steal, erm, repurpose this model to label 4 different levels of content:

  • Level 1 content, product features → content that factually describes a product or service, such as its physical attributes and/or some of its functionality
    (for example: heatmapping software that tracks visitors’ activity on a website)
  • Level 2 content, product benefits → content that builds on top of the factual description to explain a product’s functional benefits, or how it helps
    (for example: heatmapping software helps you see what parts of your website a visitor clicks on or ignores)
  • Level 3 content, customer benefits → content that describes the product’s higher benefits for its customers, or what the product means for their job
    (for example: heatmapping software helps you see issues quickly so you can improve your website faster)
  • Level 4 content, emotional benefits → content that highlights the emotional benefits of using the product, or what the product means for their lives
    (for example: heatmapping data helps you get buy-in easily and feel in control of your decisions).

When you’re in constant write-and-publish mode, it’s easy to forget that there are people on the other side of what you write: real humans who have jobs they need to do (level 3) and emotional/social outcomes attached to doing them (level 4).

And here is what I know: the more your content aligns with the top levels of the ladder, the more it will resonate, and the more successful it will be.

How to get to the top of the benefit ladder

You can’t just improvise your way to the top of a brand ladder. Which is to say: you can’t throw random content in the universe, cross your fingers, and hope it works (it won’t).

Every once in a while, you have to drop the pen (or whatever tool you’re using to make content), put on your researcher hat, and investigate your customer needs, so you can build content that addresses them head on.

🏆 Best method → get on a 1:1 call with a bunch of customers, ask what problem(s) they’re trying to solve + what their biggest challenge is at the moment

📋 Alternative → send out a survey or put one on your website (see below), ask the same questions. What you lose in depth you should gain in volume: respondents won’t go into too much detail, but 10-20 good enough answers will give you plenty of insight.

💡 A practical example 💡 

A few weeks back I was looking through Lucy Heskins’ website, Oh blimey, which is written for marketers who joined their first startup. As I scrolled through a page, a survey popped up on the right-hand side asking who I was:

Onsite Survey
Lucy has a fairly good idea of the 4 main types of marketer who read her blog (they are the first 4 options in the poll), so the ‘none of the above’ option is a nice touch in case someone ‘unusual’ like me shows up.

After selecting an answer, I was taken to this open-ended question:
What’s the one challenge you’ve got with your marketing?

Onsite Survey 2

This is SUCH A GOOD QUESTION!, because any answer will land Lucy straight onto steps 3 or 4 of the benefits ladder, and give her ideas for creating content that really addresses specific pain points or aspirations.

At the end of the survey, I got this nice note—and I know, from experience, that there is a lot of truth to it: getting people to tell you about their challenges is a definite way to create better content.

Onsite Survey 3

So, here we are. The next time your content reads a bit heavy on features, steal the brand ladder approach and refocus it on benefits instead 😉