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DR Hits the Nail on the Head

1 May, 2011 By: Jackie Jones Response

Hardware marketers’ success hinges on all facets of DR as brands strive to connect with consumers taking back their yards.


Direct response is all about empowering consumers to take purchasing decisions into their own hands — something the hardware space has long seen its customers do, and then some. As more people take back their own yards from hired services and embrace cordless, energy-efficient products, DR is proving to be the perfect tool to showcase demonstrable, do-it-yourself hits.

U.S. demand for power and hand tools is on the rise, with 4.1-percent annual growth expected through 2014, and the industry could be worth as much as $14 billion by next year, according to market research.

“The landscape of the hardware industry is drastically changing and has been doing so during the past five years,” says Art Wing, president of Little Giant Ladder Systems. “To keep the successes coming, the key to any marketing approach is multi-prong. Within direct response, there are social, business-to-business, business-to-consumer and PR elements that all come into play, and you have to carve up your budget to hit them all. The days of putting all your eggs in one basket are gone.”

Handing Over the Power

The increasing rate at which consumers are diving hands-first into self-improvement home projects has been a particular boost to cordless electric models like saws, sanders, polishers and grinders. Positec USA and the WORX brand have been quick to respond to consumer demand with a variety of inventive products pushed through DR channels, including the WORX JawSaw, the WORX TriVac All-in-One Compact Blower/Mulcher/Vac and the WORX GT Trimmer/Edger.

The WORX JawSaw is one of the brand’s newest innovations, aiming to redefine the safety of chainsaw design for customers involved in their own yard maintenance.

“These types of products were huge in 2010 and we’re continuing to see them perform exceptionally well this year,” says Craig Taylor, vice president of marketing at Positec USA. “A lot of people are buying these cordless products because they’re starting to do this type of labor themselves.”

The WORX brand has seen a tremendous amount of success through DR models, not only via growing revenue but also through advancing brand awareness at retail. Though the demonstrable benefits of long-form still reign king for WORX, which was ranked among the top-50 infomercials of 2010 by IMS, the brand has also utilized short-form and dedicates a significant amount of digital and ad spending on the Internet for E-commerce.

“We are primarily driven through long-form DRTV, but have used high-reach short-form in our model to both drive business through DR and to drive retail,” Taylor says. “We’ve also teamed up with a couple of national and regional retailers and have enjoyed a lot of success there. ‘As Seen on TV’ is one of the fastest-growing spaces in retail right now. For us, DR and retail is a really nice marriage.”

The value of DR goes beyond measurable ROI in advertising, though that remains important, Taylor says. What DR also provides hardware marketers is insight to consumer behavior that can be used to further drive a product’s success.

“The form of selling we do through DR — being so product-focused and user-focused — has really helped us to educate ourselves and know how to communicate with our consumer better,” says Taylor, who adds WORX is planning to launch three new products through long-form in 2011. “Knowing what it is in a product that makes people want to buy it has been helpful for us and has helped us to educate our retail partners and do a better job of execution on the shelf, as well.”

The demonstrable benefits of DR advertising are crucial to an industry like hardware, where consumers need to see the product in action before opening up their wallets. This rings even more true for products at premium price points, like Little Giant Ladder, says Wing, who adds that for those reasons, print just doesn’t the do the trick anymore.

“In print, it’s hard to tell your story. We seem to be backing away from that,” Wing says. “We like to go viral or send out videos — anything that is demonstrable. We started the company by doing trade shows and public demonstrations, and we still do about 500 events a year and have a sales force in various home or retail shows at all the time. It’s an expensive way to sell, but an effective way to sell.”

Little Giant Ladder is partnering with Home Depot for a summer promotion centered on Father’s Day, and is also introducing a QR code campaign — a first in the ladder business, according to Wing. A hangtag will be attached to all Little Giant Ladder products, driving people to a video advertisement as well as a safety and instructional promo. It is one of many ways the company seeks additional touch points for consumers.

Long- and short-form DRTV spots best showcase Little Giant Ladder’s benefits to consumers, says President Art Wing.

“We have a good-sized group of consumers that are evangelistic about the Little Giant product,” Wing says. “Our brand tests similarly in strength to the loyalty of bigger brands, and still leaves us a lot of room to grow.”

Despite the benefits of retail, Wing advises against brands becoming too dependent on off-the-shelves sales.

“Retail is important to us, but I do see too many DR companies driving solely to retail. It’s a slippery slope because it can leave you in a closed-out aisle,” he says. “Everything we do will drive to retail, but when a partner doesn’t want to play the game anymore, we’ll walk away until we can come up with another initiative. Our brand does not suffer.”

Perhaps the reason Little Giant Ladder can afford to do business on its own terms is the brand awareness afforded by DR. In a national consumer study where just 8 percent of those questioned owned a Little Giant Ladder, 52 percent of respondents could still name the brand more often than others, Wing says.

“That shows us the brand awareness is really strong using DR, and it’s important for us to stay connected to those consumers and the people we’re doing business with to know what they want or don’t want,” he says. “We’re branching outside of that as well to learn what our perceived messaging is and what our real message is, and how to get them to match up. It’s a science we’re studying.”

From To-Do to To-Done

It’s not just the brands seen traditionally through DR that are keen to consumers’ shifting DIY attitudes. Big-name brands such as Ace Hardware are also quick to sing the industry’s praises.

For Ace Hardware, much of its advertising exemplifies DR by looking to always engage and improve upon its interactions with consumers and surrounding communities. In 2010, the hardware cooperative was ranked “Highest in Customer Satisfaction Among Home Improvement Stores” for the fourth consecutive year, according to J.D. Power and Associates. Such achievements are the direct result of the company’s consumer-centric marketing, says Jeff Gooding, Ace director of consumer marketing.

“Ace’s success is centered on our customer service and as a result, everything that the company does from a marketing and advertising perspective focuses on connecting with our customers,” Gooding says. “From Facebook and Twitter, to our website and TV advertisements, we are constantly trying to help our customers turn their home maintenance to-do list into a to-done list so that they can enjoy their free time.”

The Ace Hardware “Get Your Weekend Back” campaign features television spots encouraging consumers to take home-maintenance projects into their own hands, but not at the expense of their social lives.

As much as consumers are eager to take on projects themselves, they also want to save time, and it’s a fine line marketers must walk to appeal to both sides.

“Ace has seen that consumers want to save time, get in and out of the store easily and receive expert advice that will help them to complete their DIY projects effectively and efficiently,” he says. “We are focusing our marketing campaigns on these insights to best serve both our current customers and to educate consumers who do not currently shop Ace about how our stores offer a solution to their home maintenance shopping trips and projects.”

Ace’s latest marketing initiative, the “Get Your Weekend Back” campaign, launched in February as an evolution of the company’s 2009 “I Will” spots, emphasizing how Ace can help consumers “get on with their lives and not spend their weekends working on their homes,” Gooding says. In addition to TV spots, the new campaign includes radio advertisements and online components.

The hardware cooperative is also partnering with The Weather Channel to launch “Restore Your Outdoors” — a cross-platform sweepstakes offering one consumer the chance to win an outdoor makeover from Ace, whose total 2010 revenues were $3.5 billion, an increase of 2.1 percent compared to fiscal 2009.

In addition to traditional advertising, Ace connects with its consumers through a mobile website launched in January 2010, which lets customers locate stores and view ads on the go. Ace — which touts a robust social media program that includes Twitter, Facebook and YouTube — hopes to soon expand its mobile capabilities into mobile commerce, allowing customers to browse and purchase products directly from the site.

“We use these outlets as a way to interact directly with our consumers and drive people into our stores and engage them via helpful content, new promotions and sales information,” Gooding says. “We’ve been very happy with the growth of our fan bases and the interaction we’ve had with our customers.”

Ace Hardware targets consumers on a more-localized scale with door hangers, which drive foot traffic to its stores and digital traffic to sites such as Twitter.

For more localized advertising efforts, Ace Hardware has used innovative marketing media to connect directly with consumers in a way best suited to each specific community. The company’s foray into door-hanger advertising has been a particular success in emphasizing Ace’s “neighbor friendly” culture, says Kendall DeWitt of Varga Media Solutions Inc., which produces and distributes the door hangers.

“Each door hanger received by a consumer has the address and contact information of the nearest Ace location to the recipient’s home,” DeWitt says. “Strategically, this means that the door hanger designs are unique to each store and that extra care is given to making sure that there isn’t any crossover with consumers receiving a door hanger for the wrong location.”

Hardware marketers and cooperatives alike aren’t expecting their success to slow down any time soon. Globally, sales of hand tools and accessories are estimated to reach $19.4 billion by 2015, making it one of the most dependably profitable sectors in the industry. And if there is anything more consistent than DR’s success rate, it just might be the never-ending list of to-do’s every homeowner can attest to, ensuring continued growth for the hardware market.

“For us, we’re really focused on bringing an unparalleled level of innovation into this space,” Taylor says, “and direct response has really helped in that sense in so many ways.”

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