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Joshua Bains

The FCB Grid: What It Is and How It Works

Joshua Bains
The FCB Grid: What It Is and How It Works

If you’ve only used keywords to understand how to market your product, you’re not tapping its potential.

Lists of keywords tell us what people want.

They don’t tell us why.

Boredom, fatigue, illness and hunger ... people buy for a reason. Maybe you think of these ideas willy nilly as you type, but how can you engineer them without fail?

With the FCB Grid.

Also called the Vaughn Grid, it’s a tool that was designed by the Senior Vice President of Foote, Cone and Belding way back in 1980. Since then FCB has grown to a more than $9 billion dollar company with clients like Cox Communications, Seaworld, AmTrak and Air New Zealand; they’re responsible for the Lord of the Rings on-board air safety video, and the Bilbo Baggins luggage carousel.

To understand the FCB grid, I spoke with creative director Bruce Bendinger, who is the author of the Copy Workshop Workbook, and who has introduced concepts to students of copywriting and marketing the world over.

“The grid is a really useful tool in two ways,” he says. “Working creatively, it’s a good way to think your way through a problem and get a rough fix on who you’re talking to. And second, if you’ve got to present to a client, it’s a good way of explaining a product.”

How The Grid Works

“I’m going to a store,” says Bruce. “And on my list is toilet bowl cleaner, toilet paper, soy milk. And what’s not on my list?

Cookies.

But if I can get a yum-yum influence in the store, I’ve got a chance of selling some cookies. People are not thinking about me ... how can I get them to think about me in a yum-yum kind of way?

The first thing is to get some kind of attraction.”

The FCB Grid helps us understand where a product stands in the mind of a consumer, by estimating whether or not purchase requires a highly involved emotional decision or a highly involved intellectual decision. With that information, we can devise four advertising concepts about a single product that will influence different buyers.

Enter the X/Y axis, which spans from low involvement (clothing pins) to high involvement (a Porsche) and from a product that makes you think (insurance) to a product that makes you feel (Papa John’s).

fcb-grid-4

The decision to buy lies somewhere on that graph, in one of its four quadrants:

  • At the upper left, Quadrant 1 decisions are based on highly involved thinking. Purchase requires information first, which leads to awareness and a considered buy. A Leica needs analysis. There’s also emotion, which pushes the German camera closer to the rightmost feeling side of the chart, but it’s a thoughtful purchase. Health insurance is on the top of high involvement, above high-end optics. Ironically it juts slightly more to the rightmost feeling side of the chart because it’s more important (or costs more) than the camera.
  • At the upper right, Quadrant 2 decisions are based on highly involved feeling. Purchase requires reflection first, as personal ego and self-esteem cajole us to buy. Skin softening soap is just at the beginning of the feeling side of the grid. Perfume blows it away, ending up on the far right of feeling. Fragrance evokes higher feeling than a Hallmark card, and also requires higher involvement.
  • At the lower left, Quadrant 3 decisions are based on lowly involved thinking. Purchase of practical goods based on habit and routine behavior. We learn about the product only after taking it home and not before. It’s the detergent we assess after the first wash. It’s also Yelp.
  • At the lower right, Quadrant 4 decisions are based on lowly involved feeling. It’s the purchase of pleasure products driven by quick personal or peer-led satisfaction. Quadrant four’s motto is: “Just do it.” Cookies are a low intellectual item, the less you think about them, the more you want them. Like Spotify at work.

To use the FCB grid, ponder your product or service and decide in what quadrant it’s most at home. Draw a dot there.

Explode the Dot

Now that you know where your product lives, reconsider it from that spot using the same four quadrants. You’ll discover new aspects that are high and low thinking, and high and low feeling.

Vaghn Grid

Bruce used Old El Paso as his example (he’d just shared martinis with a friend who’d joined the account). Our 2015 update will feature Microsoft’s nascent holographic goggles, which is a highly involved and thinking purchase akin to buying a Leica. Despite its spot in Quadrant 1, the goggles many uses can be pitched to a throng of different buyers who have thoughts and feelings scattered across the whole grid.

Traditionally, these pitches were crunched into attractive concepts like “fun and flavor.”

Today we can write them as long tail keyphrases:

  • “How holographic goggles help you shop and save” (Quadrant 3 - low think)
  • “Play minecraft on holographic goggles now” (Quadrant 4 - low feel)
  • “HoloLens for business conference” (Quadrant 1 - high think)
  • “Wow her with your holo goggles” (Quadrant 2 - high feel)

Now we have two new approaches — what our product can do, and who will use it. Holo Goggles for Mom, Gamers, Business and Romantic Getaways.

Make the grid the way you think. Or as Bruce asks, “What is the circumstance that you’re reacting with your target customer?”

After enough experimenting with the FCB grid, it becomes a tool you can activate at will. You’ll see a product and sense what quadrant it’s in. Then you can explode the dot and quickly devise a handful of concepts, each trained on a different buyer. Try it. Pick an object on the way home. Tag it as low or high in thought and feeling, then explode its dot.

What are four ways you can market a traffic jam?

What It’s Good For

“The grid is a good logical tool,” says Bruce. “Particularly for the front end. And it’s a pretty good initial tool. It’s not a precise fine measurement tool. This is not decimal point kind of stuff.”

It helps you change a person’s attitude more than behavior. It’s the opposite of the ALS ice bucket challenge, which is the result of non-rational, lateral thought.

“They didn’t try to change your attitude,” says Bruce. “They hooked you on an engaging behavior. It connected that way. The FCB grid doesn’t get you that. The grid gives you an insight. It does help you explore the alternatives that you might not have seen at the opening round.”

It’s also good for meetings, when you’re dealing with an embattled account executive for whom “even toilet paper is high involvement.” The problem is that high-minded Quadrant 1 won’t sell a lot of toilet paper. But short-sighted Quadrant 3 will.

“So if you’re doing a happy jingle, you’ve got to walk the client who lost his sense of humor in his third year at Procter and Gamble through that. It’s a good tool to walk your client to some particular spot, because it’s logical, and because your client is logical even in the midst of intense emotions.”

Finally, the grid stops you from talking too much about your own creative triumph, whether its a keyword list or a billboard, and to dwell instead on what customers are thinking. That is after all the reason for your work

“You’ve got to let the client know you’re focused on his customer. Keep the ‘I am a genius’ thing out of the mix.”

Unless, of course, you're a genius for using the FCB grid.

Image credit: The Grid

Vaughn, Richard (1980), "How Advertising Works: A Planning Model," Journal of Advertising Research, 20 (September/October), 27-30; and (1986), "How Advertising Works: A Planning Model Revisited," Journal of Advertising Research, 26 (January/February), 27-30.

Joshua Bains is a Content Marketing Specialist at Eclipse Web Media in Atlanta, Ga. With an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, he produced video news features for the English desk at InfoliveTV in Jerusalem, and writes for Ami Magazine. He speaks about better content writing and video on the Small Business Samaritans show with Phillip Saxton, part of the Wall Street Business Network.​ His last article for SEMrush was “The FCB Grid: What It Is and How It Works."

Comments

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Naima
Naima
This is a great explanation on what really matters when it comes to SEO. Most search marketers use keywords blindly; They only focus on volume instead of considering how keywords can attract conversion for a certain business.

This is a great tool to help people optimize websites and create content based on the target audience instead of a broad population.
Jeff Cline
Jeff Cline
A great way to visualize and provide insight into the buying cycle of any industry and a valuable tool for developing overall strategy for content, call to action and conversion for any marketing team.
Rebekah Faucette
This grid method has clear content and social marketing implications and I'm excited to apply it to my current branding campaigns. I am curious as to which industries and strategies you personally feel it would best be applied. Any thoughts?
Joshua Bains
Rebekah Faucette
Because the grid is a conceptual tool, I think you can use it anywhere. First it allows you not to typecast what you're selling. Use it to create content ideas to appeal to people in specific income brackets, social circles, or in targeting customers who you know will be in a particular situation when they see your product or service. The grid helps you know what they'll be thinking and feeling at that moment, which will allow you to better craft effective messaging.
John
John
As I was reading I couldn't help thinking this grid would be good to try during script writing for a promotional video. It could really help guide the tone and the art/style of the visuals to be more targeted to attract a specific audience. I will have to try it. As always, great article!
Joshua Bains
That's true, John. Once you know who your customers are and what they're thinking, you can decide what will be the most profitable angle to write for. Or if you have a particular feature or benefit you want to highlight, you can hone there and figure out how that one aspect appeals to different people.
Elizabeth Weaver
Elizabeth Weaver
Joshua, this is awesome! It's easy to become tunnel-visioned with a brand or product, especially when deciding on relevant keyphrases to target. This article is a great reminder of how and why we should approach strategies with various and different levels of thinking. I'll definitely be using the grid in my very near future! Thanks so much for your explanation.

P.S. - My favorite part is, "Wow her with your holo goggles." :)
Joshua Bains
Elizabeth Weaver
Holo goggles all around. Thank you for the praise; the FCB is a fun tool to use.
Nathan Taitt
As we explore the development of enterprise level content strategies, I really feel like this should be a clear deliverable. Managers and senior level staff must know where their products and services fit into this grid in order to maximize conversion. This needs to be circulated to the marketing team - including digital, print, outdoor, etc. Great insights here. We'll be using this in our service offerings.
Joshua Bains
Nathan Taitt
Thank you, Nathan. I'm excited to be able to contribute. One nice thing about this technique is that it can be applied to every client and help people in meetings and with content strategy with just minor preparation.
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