Use the abstraction ladder to test your brand

When I first heard the term “abstraction ladder”, was in a communications seminar sponsored by the IBM Education Center. I believe a concept was originated by S.I.Hayakawa.

the abstraction ladderThe idea behind the abstraction ladder is that the more abstract the word or phrase used to describe an object, concept or situation, the less precise the description is. The more abstract, the more chance for confusion and miscommunication.

Here was the example – I remember it even though it’s been forty years since that seminar.

At the very top of the ladder sits the most abstract term. In this case, “capital assets”.

Next rung down, ask yourself, “what does that mean?”, and the answer might be, “agrarian assets”.

Next rung: what does that mean? and you get “live stock”Bessie -

And the next rung: “cattle”

Then: “a Holstein cow”

And finally, very specifically, “Bessie”

So, how does this apply to your brand?

Well, just after “abstract” is defined in my Merriam-Webster (expressing a quality apart from an object) comes the word, “abstruse”. That means hard to understand.

And that’s the problem with words and phrases, whether in the name or in a tagline, that are too abstract. They don’t demonstrate a humanity. You can’t get close to them. You can pat Bessie on the rump after milking her, but not a capital asset.

So, just as a test, place your brand on the abstraction ladder. If it’s on a higher rung, that may answer why it’s difficult to build relationships with your customers and prospects.

Keep on the lower end of the abstraction ladder to give your brand personality and humanity.

Martin Jelsema

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