Ladder’s 3-Phase Strategic Planning Framework For Advertising
Business Planning
Market Research
Audience Testing

Ladder’s 3-Phase Strategic Planning Framework For Advertising

Matt LemmonMatt Lemmon

May 18, 2022

A lot has changed in the last 50 years, but one thing has remained relatively the same. That’s how people think. In 1974, the JWT Planning Guide came out. This guide went over the fundamentals of advertising, and it’s still beloved today. In fact, here at Ladder, we also use a lot of JWT’s Planning Guide in our planning framework. As they say, if it ain’t broke…

JWT’s Planning Guide is still really relevant because it goes back to the fundamentals of good advertising. But, whilst it’s rightly revered, a great planning guide can only take you so far. The real trick goes beyond understanding fundamentals, and actually applying that understanding to the specific situation you’re facing - and for that you need expertise and experience. That’s how we came up with Ladder’s strategic planning framework. Here’s how we apply this framework to get successful ad creative that converts, using our three phase planning process.

Phase 1: Discovery 

In phase one of our growth planning framework, our goal is to build an accurate picture of the landscape. First we set out to get as much context as possible, working with each of our clients to understand the answer to one simple question: Where are we now? This includes looking at the market, users, competition, and creative approach. Here’s what that looks like:


We want to set the table to understand just what’s happening with their current advertising plans. When we look at the context, we look at a few specific things.

  • State of the market: Is their target market growing, consolidating, brand new, established, or declining?
  • Who buys the product: How often do they buy? Where do they buy? When do they buy? And who influences the buying process?
  • How is the product used: Who is using it? Is the buyer the user?
  • Buyer motivations: Why are they buying it?


In our advertising planning framework, knowing who uses your product or service is especially important. Without a target demographic, your planning will come across disorganized at best and shallow at worst - but either way, it won’t drive growth. We seek to answer these questions with our clients.

  • What problems does your product solve? 
  • What pain can be avoided by using your product? 
  • What need does it serve/what desire does it fulfill? 
  • What do they love about it?
  • Who are the current users? 
  • How do they use the product?
  • What alternative solutions are there, both direct and indirect?
  • What does it say about someone if they use your product/service?
  • Who buys, uses, and knows about your brand? How does this differ from other brands?


In today’s world, where it’s never been easier to order a product online,  there are more competitors than ever. When we look at competitors, there are really three categories we’re interested in. First, it’s your replacement competitors, competing to solve the same problem for consumers with a whole different solution. Then, it’s your indirect competitors, those who offer similar features and benefits but sit in another category. And third, it’s going to be your direct competitors, the ones who have a very similar product to yours. To figure out who your competitors are and how this can affect your marketing plan, we ask these questions.

  • Who is the competition for this analysis? 
  • Are there any major brands who are competing?
  • What substitutes for your product exist?
  • Where is your market position compared to theirs?
  • What does their product do versus what yours does? How do they compare?

Finding your competition is important. At Ladder, we use all sorts of tools to identify your competitors - your competition won’t always be where you think. We talk to the product experts first - the client. Then we dig deeper, looking at behavior online using social listening, and get targeted with industry reports and trends. But the client is incredibly knowledgeable here - You’re living this daily, so your input is hugely valuable to our team. We then take this information and use tools like our product management comp matrix (shown below). This can help you see where your target market is.

Creative review

Your creative review is a look at what you’re doing now, what has worked in the past, and your brand fundamentals… things like brand guidelines, style guides, tone of voice and initial learnings from anything you’ve already run.

Next Steps

We then define the next steps. These include a defined/clear SOW, additional information that is needed from each client, and a review of the overall marketing calendar - clarifying how our activity fits in. We’ll conduct research based on where we see gaps or potential opportunities and start to build out working hypotheses.

How do we do Phase 1

Our phase 1 is delivered  through internal and external meetings and core research, but we keep it quick so ideas are fresh. Here’s our schedule of client meetings:

  • Meeting 1: Client walkthrough of product + competitors (pre-kick off)
  • Meeting 2: KO meeting - interrogate business goals
  • Meeting 3: Growth Discovery - core of brand, competition and what we know about our users

Phase 2: Analysis 

In phase 2, our goal is to take what we’ve learned in Phase 1 and ask ourselves “why?” and ultimately “where could we be?”. We need to understand what is causing the status quo and how we can use our strengths to disrupt it. This is where we deepen our understanding of the key problems. Included in this phase are these steps.

Connecting the dots

So, why are we here? Why is our client with us? Once we’ve gotten all of the info from phase one, it’s time to analyze and figure out our next steps. At Ladder, we use a variety of different tools to solidify our research, including off-the-shelf market research (GWI), social listening (Meltwater), desk research, and other bespoke reports as needed. We seek to answer these key questions:

  • What has led to the current state of the market and our position in it?
  • What actions have we taken to date to cause this?
  • What correlations can we see between behaviors and market trends?
  • What are our strongest value propositions to date?

User Segmentation

We look at the users overall. This includes a deep dive into the current customer base and the future customers our client hopes to have. We look at:

  • Overall demographics and psychographics
  • Overall product category triggers, buying behavior, and digital consumption habits
  • How many users convert on owned, paid, and earned channels

Content that the target audience resonated with, where they hangout online, and influencers they like.

Strategy Canvas

Now that we know why we are here, we have to figure out where could we be? We sit down with our information and analyze where we think we can get our client to. We go over value propositions, user insights, and more. We seek to rank the problems we are solving and look at the highest impact and lowest effort problems to solve in the short term. We also consider what we want to know one and 3 months from now, so we can appropriately design tests to help inform future decisions. It’s important to look at each of these questions:

  • What are the realistic prospects for our client?
  • What could we authentically own that really matters to our user segments?
  • What could our position in the market be? What is the vision?
  • Should existing users use the product more? Is the goal to get different users?
  • What difference in the brand could people notice? How could the brand be repositioned?

Phase 3: Setting the Strategic Plan

In our final stage, we set the strategic marketing plan. This is how we summarize our key findings and plot for the next quarter. The important thing is to focus on our northstar and design a plan comprised of tests that build towards that goal. First, we come up with our quarterly strategic plan.

Quarterly strategy plan

Each quarter, we should focus on a small set of key business problems and the related human problems. It must be clearly communicated. We can approach different issues on a quarterly basis as problems we are trying to solve are steeped in our data and campaign findings. They must however be in-line with the overall strategy.  

It’s important to be ambitious but realistic. We should prioritize the problems we face and the opportunities we see. Ask yourself, which part of the funnel needs to be prioritized? Our advice: you could spend forever fixing your tracking problems, so if you’re new to this, build a basic user journey (funnel). This will help you to start learning about where you are losing people and not waste your time trying to build the perfect tracking set up. Tracking is valuable, but inaction while you wait for perfect tracking is costly - you need to get to a “minimum viable tracking” to make sure you can get the most important data you need for decision making.

Our steps to create a quarterly plan

  1. Analyze the research with a critical eye. Make sure there are both quantitative and qualitative insights. There must be key insights to power our value propositions, creative thinking, and ultimately, our campaigns.
  2. Hold an internal meeting to discuss and review. Challenge our assumptions and prioritisations.
  3. Create a canvas presentation with the core problems to solve, the value propositions, and user segments. Make sure this is prioritized to help make it actionable. 
  4. Discuss the role for paid advertising in the plan and how other activities support (e.g. PR). Highlight any opportunities to enhance the strategy with other activities.
  5. Summarize our quarterly strategy on one page. Sort this by the funnel stage, communications objectives, and business outcomes. 
  6. Create a monthly plan of tests to move us toward our short term goals and contribute to our overall strategy.
  7. Brief the creative team to inspire them to create amazing work that’s successful. (brief writing is an underappreciated skill)
  8. Hold a final meeting that goes over insight, conceptual routes, and a testing plan that focuses on funnel stages and outcomes.

Testing framework for funnels

Once you’ve come up with the plan, how do you know it actually works? By testing it. Our testing framework is another important part of the planning process. We need to balance short term objectives with a longer term vision. We know that the efficacy of our ads fades over time, so we need to be ready with the next big idea - that’s why we’re constantly asking ourselves, where will we be in a month?

How much smarter will we be in a month based on the test that we've designed today? Our overarching goal is really to be smarter and more advanced with each quarter, meaning our clients are getting more leads and turning more leads into customers. Are you struggling with creating a strategic plan for your advertising? We can help. Connect with us today to talk to a strategist.

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