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Direct Response Marketing

Retooling Hardware

1 May, 2015 By: Doug McPherson Response

Retailers and marketers are building out the way they sell hardware products based on important feedback — what the do-it-yourselfer is telling them — plus a reinforced ratings and review program.

Hardware giant Briggs & Stratton hit the road this spring, loading up its trailer with nine new products at its headquarters in Milwaukee and making the long drive south to Arizona to conduct some marketing business at a spring training baseball games featuring, among others the Los Angeles Dodgers, Texas Rangers and Milwaukee Brewers.

“We considered it our spring training, too,” says Rick Zeckmeister, vice president of marketing and planning at Briggs & Stratton.

What was the strategy? Capture early ratings and reviews from consumers for new products.

“We take pride in listening to our consumers, but this year we wanted to take it a step further,” Zeckmeister says. “We wanted to see if what consumers told us in our quantitative research translated in the real world before the selling season began so we could set expectations.”

As consumers walked from the parking lot to the ballpark, Briggs & Stratton employees let them try out the new products.

Zeckmeister says the goal was to get 50 ratings and reviews for each product — 450 total. The result? A home run with a few feet to spare — 460 reviews plus 10 hours of video testimonials. The ratings themselves averaged an impressive 4.77 out of 5.

To top it off, between innings, Briggs & Stratton got to showcase its new mow n’ stow engine as the Racing Sausages (the Brewers’ famed mascots) competed to see who could fold the mower the fastest.

“The week really allowed us to leverage what we learned across all of our outreach efforts,” Zeckmeister says. “We can use the video footage as a selling tool when we talk with retailers or original equipment manufacturing partners and they can use the video on their websites or social media platforms. It also gave us a lot of B-roll footage for media, ads and our own promotional videos. It was truly a powerful week.”

The Consumer Says …

Marketers know they need consumer feedback, and in the hardware sector today, that appears to be especially true. Insiders say that face time with real people pays big dividends in the long run.

Doug Garnett, president of Atomic Direct, a DRTV firm in Portland, Ore., that’s behind several products in the hardware arena, says there’s a dual nature to consumers of hardware products — they know their own work but they also need help with many projects around the house.

“First, they’re very critical of demonstrations because they spend hours watching their own work,” says Garnett, a member of the Response Advisory Board. “The most successful marketing makes sure not only to demonstrate the product, but also to do so in ways that the core do-it-yourselfers will instantly understand, and in ways where those consumers won’t walk away thinking the demonstration was oversold.”

But, he adds, these consumers also need manufacturers to help them learn new projects — to become competent in new things. “People enjoy the reward of completing a project themselves, but since far fewer work with their hands in their jobs, or have parents who work with their hands, we’re facing a market with high interest but lower expertise than in the past,” Garnett says.

Whitney Richardson, a social media journalist at Industry Edge, an affiliate website of this month’s National Hardware Show in Las Vegas, says the trend today is consumers wanting convenience, novelty, versatility and connectivity.

“Products involving smart-home technology to better secure and monitor homes have taken off, in part thanks to the popularity of the Nest Learning Thermostat (automatically adjusts home temperature) and Home Depot’s Wink (controls lights, blinds, locks, etc., remotely),” Richardson says.

Richardson says for power tools, manufacturers have been focusing ease of use, whether it’s lighter batteries or digital connectivity to help track measurements, or more ergonomic designs.

Garnett says Atomic Direct has introduced the “FlipOut,” ( an innovative lithium-ion power driver that fits into tighter spaces than any of the competition.

Hardware Going Omnichannel

Richardson says the hardware category truly is going omnichannel.

“The large retail home centers have always been in the forefront, spending millions on TV, radio and digital, but now smaller companies are capitalizing on those mediums as well,” she says. “Also, non-TV media is becoming a larger part of the marketing mix — spending increased 16 percent from 2013 to 2014 in hardware.”

Rockwell Tools went omnichannel late last year with its “Tools for People That Rock” campaign to drive buzz for its home improvement tools and help customers celebrate the “people that rock” in their lives.

The campaign features live online demonstrations and marketing at Lowe’s and Menard’s; TV, radio and digital advertising; and messaging across all of Rockwell’s social and digital channels.

“Incorporating a cohesive message across different media enhanced brand awareness and lifted point-of-sale for all products,” says Lindsay Hendricks, media manager at Positec, the maker and marketer of power tools, lawn-and-garden equipment, and accessories.

Garnett says connected omnichannel campaigns are great for hardware. “But ensure the entire campaign — TV, other advertising and in-store support — is focused on the same goal with the same images and messaging. There’s a momentum you gain from this that drives far higher sales.”

Zeckmeister agrees, saying there is no one-size-fits-all program when it comes to marketing. “Different products call for different marketing tactics and efforts,” he says. “The key is having a consistent message for consumers — banner ads or website info should have the same messages as the merchandising they’ll see in stores. It could make the difference between confusion and a purchase. We make sure we have a balanced approach and strategy between public relations, marketing, social media and digital efforts.”

Regardless, Garnett says the mainline hardware or tool products continue to succeed well with DRTV “because once consumers see these products demonstrated, DRTV drives them in-store for purchase.”

He adds that the demonstrative power of DRTV helped Mission Athletecare sell the Enduracool Multi-Cool headwear (in addition to the Enduracool towel that’s been airing since 2013 — both products are sold at Lowe’s). Originally the product was for athletes but Josh Shaw, CEO of Mission Athletecare, says DRTV helped expand the product to do-it-yourselfers.

“DRTV has been an excellent bridge to help translate this message to the do-it-yourself audience,” Shaw says. “It’s given us the opportunity to deliver a powerful, relevant and authentic message to this massive consumer base: if it’s good enough for the world’s best athletes, it’s good enough for me.”

Many marketers believe the visual component is vital in hardware. Greg Palese, vice-president of marketing at Klein Tools, says that’s one reason he’s tapping videos more.

“Every other blog or marketing newsletter is sharing some incredible stat about video usage, and we’re seeing those same results,” Palese says. In 2014, Palese says Klein Tools had more than 377,000 annual video views with about 497,000 minutes watched (that equals 345 days) of Klein video content. “Customers want to see the new products and learn more before they buy.”

Richardson says convenience also plays a heavy role in marketing. “Customers don’t want to have to scour stores for hours to find what they’re looking for,” she says.

That explains why Home Depot has equipped associates with in-store, walkie-talkie-like mobile technology called the FIRST Phone. The retailer deployed 40,000 of the devices to give associates a simple customer service tool for locating products, checking inventory on hand or explaining product features.

Alex Ogle, former merchandise director at Lowe’s and now president of Paradygm Consulting, a marketing strategy firm, says having good business partners to drive a strong retail and dot-com presence is essential. “A holistic market approach will give you a stronger pull-through and improved consumer experience,” Ogle says. “The consumer is looking to validate products like never before and can do so easier than ever.”


Social Shifting

Garnett says he thinks this is the year the data emerged to show that social media and other new media can be nice adjuncts to campaigns, but their power is limited when compared with DRTV.

“That said, adding these efforts to complement DRTV is excellent — just be wary of the intense effort required to manage a social or digital campaign,” Garnett says.

Carissa Gingras, director of marketing, consumer engine and service at Briggs & Stratton, says the company is sold on social media. “Our proprietary research says 87 percent of consumers want to hear from other consumers about a product they’re about to buy,” she says. “They want candid feedback from people who are just like them. That’s why it’s important to establish a ratings and reviews program. It’s the word of mouth of the digital age, and companies need to make reviewing their products easy to capitalize on the opportunity.”

During the Arizona spring training event, the company invited local bloggers, Instagram influencers and media to try the products. “They published 134 posts between Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #BriggsBest and reached more than a million followers. Plus we had two live segments on local television stations,” Gingras says.

And to promote its “quiet power technology” (used for quieter lawnmowers), Briggs & Stratton asked fans to enter videos of their impersonations of lawnmower sounds. “We called it Mower Mouth, and it resulted in 3.3 million impressions,” she says.

Gingras says social programs raise awareness about products in a fun and engaging way. “But equally as important, these channels allow us to engage with the consumers on an ongoing basis,” she adds. “We’re on those social platforms answering questions, responding to comments from consumers and providing content that gets shared, liked and commented on. This ongoing engagement develops relationships and drives preference for our brand.”

Other big hitters in hardware are tapping social, too. Richardson says a number of new social efforts during the past year have attracted headlines: Lowe’s #Lowesfixinsix Vine videos, with six-second do-it-yourself tips (one includes putting sand under your tires to get unstuck in snowy weather); and Craftsman’s #MAKEcation social media contest where folks post images of themselves making things via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

“The overarching theme among successful campaigns speaks to the heart of successful marketing in general, though: know what customers need and find an effective way to give it to them using today’s digital tools,” Richardson says.

Gingras says the success of the week in Arizona has Briggs & Stratton getting ready for more. She says, “We’re considering taking it on the road to multiple cities across the country to get ratings and reviews, gain invaluable footage and generate excitement across all of our social media platforms.” ■

About the Author: Doug McPherson

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