5 Steps Up the Brand Ladder (What step are you on?)

  • You should be on top of bringing your brand value
  • Here are 5 steps to help you do just that

There are 5 stages of brand value, or as we are talking about it here: 5 steps up the brand ladder. Just like a ladder, it’s hard to skip a step. Not impossible, just hard. So, it is good to know what the steps are and how to move from one to the next.

Just what are the five steps? And where are you on the ladder? Let’s take a look:

  1. Known

  • Brands exist in the minds of customers
  • Your name should come to mind when someone thinks of a product category

Yeah, that does seem obvious. But if you are not known. Then you are not even on the brand ladder. Period. End of sentence.

Why? Because brands exist in the mind of consumers. Not out in the world. And when someone thinks about a product category, your name should come to mind. If it doesn’t, then you do not have a brand.

  1. Known for Something

  • Be known for one of your features
  • Deliver consistent experiences
  • Solidify your brand

Yes, you could argue with me that being Known for a product category (Step 1) is being known for something. But this step requires more. If you are a carbonated beverage, then do people know that you only use cane sugar? Do they know you come in 8 popular flavors?

After name awareness, you want to be known for one of your features. Something that you deliver to consumers. Something that you can build equity in over time.

A brand is an empty container in the mind of a consumer. Every experience with your brand will make a deposit into that container. Deliver enough consistently over time, and you will build value in that container. Make it consistent, and that container will be clear. Inconsistent? It will be murky, cloudy and unclear inside.

  1. Known for Something New & Different

  • A brand does something good for you and for consumers
  • Deliver unique value

I would argue that Step 3 on the ladder is the first time you actually have a brand. Before this, I would just call it a trademark. Something to identify your product. But it is not doing you any good yet. A brand does good for you and for consumers.

For consumers, a brand is a product or a service that is delivering unique value. It is meeting a need in a way that no one else is. When I survey the shelf or the web or a catalog, does your brand stand out? It should. It should be clear what is different.

Now, whether or not it is meaningful to me is another question…

  1. Known for Something I Care About

  • The value you are building needs to mean something to the consumer
  • Ask yourself what your consumer’s most pressing problems or unmet needs are

Who is the “I” here? Your consumer, of course. Being unique from the competition is not enough. It is critical to deliver unique value. But you need to make sure that the value you are building means something to the consumer.

So, what is meaningful? A whole host of things. If you are a toothpaste, then cavity fighting and defending against gum disease are just the basics. You are looking for more meaningful attributes like flavor of the paste, providing fresh breath, tooth whitening, enamel building, etc.

Find out what your consumer really cares about. Get to know her well. Better than she knows herself. Deliver solutions no one else does for her most pressing problems or her unmet needs. And you have just gone up another step on the brand ladder.

  1. Known for Something I Love

  • People don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it
  • Brands at the top of the value ladder become personal statements or expressions of belief for their customers

This is a tip of the hat to my former boss, Kevin Roberts, CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi and author of Lovemarks. In his book, Kevin talks about Mystery, Intimacy and Sensuality as elements driving “loyalty beyond reason.”

But those are just differentiators. They are “how” to brand, and not the real core heart of the brand. The worldview of the brand. It’s reason for existence. As Simon Sinek calls it “the why.”

“People don’t buy what you sell, they buy why you sell it,” Sinek tells us. And this brings us to the top of the ladder: being known for something I love. Said another way:

Helping me be known for what I love

Brands at the top of the value ladder become personal statements or expressions of belief for their owners. Subaru or Volvo or Mercedes or Prius drivers are communicating something about themselves to the world: “This brand has a worldview that aligns with mine.”

The brand becomes a shorthand for how I think and feel and act in the world.

When your brand becomes all about them and not about you. Then you have something. You have the highest form of value. You have the highest equity. You have the love and loyalty of your consumers. You have raving fans. And you have, in Robert’s words, a Lovemark.


  1. When your brand is known for something is when you know you have succeeded
  2. Figure out what your something is and start selling it

Sean writes weekly about the intersection of Retail, Media & Brands. To get his weekly SMACK Talk newsletter, sign-up here. And if you want to read what Sean’s been reading this week, then let him know (via LinkedIn) and he’ll add you to his Weekend Read featuring the top articles from around the web this week with a bit (or a lot) of his commentary. Finally, if you are a brand selling to Walmart (or another retailer) and are interested to see how advertising with SMACK Media can grow your business, then please contact Sean at slw@smack.co.