July 15, 2021
The story of Ladder is an interesting one and the foundation of who we are today. Our story sprung out of the Publicis Groupe. The venturing team was investing in startups and launching their own startups. They bought brands and tried to accelerate their growth by using their amazing, and almost unlimited, creative talent.
They worked with excellent digital marketers and hired top agencies as outside partners. In spite of their talent, they still struggled to grow the companies they’d bought or launched or incubated.
Despite their best efforts, their strategies weren’t working. Jon saw that even with amazing talent on both the creative side and technical side, the teams were not coming together fluidly and working together efficiently to drive success as part of the marketing team.
It looked like the technical team and the creative team would never align into a smoothly-operating group. The challenge was to integrate the technical expertise and the creative expertise so they could work together harmoniously.
We discovered that the best way to solve the problem was to get to the root of what tactics we needed to prioritize. The creatives and the technical marketers were never aligned on what to do. What Ladder did to solve this was to build out a massive database of tactics and develop machine learning algorithms that would help look at a company's data in order to prioritize which tactics should be highlighted and included in the following month's marketing plan for that company.
The first SaaS product Ladder built was called Jack. It was an AI engine that automatically built marketing plans for companies from prioritized tactics from within a proprietary tactics database. That was the first step to try to solve the divide between the technical and the creative marketers.
Unfortunately, the task was extremely difficult to pull off. We were attempting to automate the minds of real marketers to do a better job than the marketers were doing. After launching Jack, we saw a good amount of scale to where we had several thousand companies using it. The problem that evolved from this was that many companies asked for human expertise, either to help them finalize which tactics they needed to execute each month or to help them launch those tactics.
So, we built our services team to work with companies behind the technology, and the services revenue scaled aggressively. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of the machine learning algorithms and the AI engine didn’t progress as fast as a marketer's mind.
By this time, we had a pretty big development team and had built some really cool technology. The technology wasn't working that well, though, and we didn't have enough capital and venture funding to go for a moonshot and hire a dozen machine learning engineers to try to fix it. We also had several million dollars in service revenue at this point and we were basically running the company as a services business, which made things quite shaky on the financial side. This was the interesting situation we found ourselves in about two years ago.
We were at the point of scale on both technology and services where we were big enough to be dangerous. It was obvious that neither area was working very well, and as a result, we had a lot of confusion within the company.
We had to make a change and do something different because if we continued on the same course, with technology and services warring internally with each other, the company was on a path to eventually blow up. So, Ladder made the decision to go with services because by doing that, we were going back to the early mission of working with the Publicis Groupe to solve the problem of technical and creative marketers working together.
It became clear that services were the best way of going about accomplishing that. The good news was we had tons of knowledge and learning that we had accumulated, both on the agency side with consulting and services, and the technology side. We came to the conclusion that we’d been attempting to solve the problem the wrong way.
Really, we didn't need to build a technology solution around machine learning and automated marketing plans. We found that a much simpler route to marketing success was to develop a new type of growth operations and growth team on the services side that could adapt around creative testing with structures in place that would allow technical and creative marketers to work perfectly together.
This is where we found the roots of proper creative strategy. We didn’t just throw a bunch of people on the payroll and toss stuff out there to see what worked. No, we set out to understand how real creative thinkers work and to find out what the real benefits of creative strategy were.
It was easier than we thought. Because we had spent all those years developing ourselves on the SaaS side, our technical understanding was very good. While that was in development, we also decided to build a whole analytics tool.
Today, when companies come to us, they tend to think we're extremely good at smart, data-driven creative. Every now and then, someone will ask if we are really able to understand their analytics and evaluate data.
My answer is always the same. At the end of the day, we can solve the really hard problems. That's why we prioritize data-driven creative. Ladder has developed our own analytics tools, which means we still have that ability to get our hands dirty with data analytics systems.
Ladder evolved from trying to meld creative and technical teams into a cohesive unit that would efficiently drive success as part of the marketing team. Through a few bumps in the road, we emerged as a company that powers strategy and performance solutions for fast-growing brands by scaling winning combinations of message and design across your brand's digital footprint that will help build your sustainable growth engine.
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