Lowes Home Improvement gets too silly

Lowes Home Improvement just launched a new campaign called “Make your home happy.” The spots feature a talking unicorn and flamingo in a manicured lawn. The flamingo ad talks about a 1-year guarantee on plants and the unicorn ad talks about Lowe’s Personalized Lawn Care Plan, although I had to watch it a couple of times to figure that out. The ads try to bring a humorous touch to Lowes Home Improvement as it is the beginning of the busy season.

Lowes Home Improvement
It’s hard to take Lowes Home Improvement seriously.

The problem is that the positioning is all wrong, especially in terms of tone. Lowe’s chief rival, Home Depot, has been hitting the same messages for sometime now – either a version of “Let’s Do This” or “More Saving, More Doing” – with the very serious voice of Josh Lucas. The seriousness of the voice overmatches Home Depot’s serious look and feel as well the images of work and accomplishment. The Home Depot ads try to empower and encourage the viewer to say, “The home owner takes this seriously and so does Home Depot.”

Now juxtapose the Home Depot ads with the Lowe’s ads. Those ads lack seriousness and are more about the joke than getting the job done. Further, the ads give the viewer no real reason to choose.

Lowes Home Improvement needs to consider a different tone.

Positioning, especially in ads, is difficult. The purpose is to represent something that is different and better but at the same time carrying enough gravitas to make it important to the prospect.

Typically, the best position is stationed in opposition to a position already taken in the market. This gives a prospect a real choice while providing the most separation between the brands. In the case of the Lowes Home Improvement, it is positioning itself directly opposite of serious.

Remember when I said that positioned brands should represent something different, better, have gravitas and reflect the prospect? At least Lowe’s got the different part.

If you just look at the ads, do you want to be the homeowner who has pride in their home and approaches things seriously? Or the opposite of that?

I am all for humor in ads. I find humor memorable and, when it is done in the right way, it can have a strong connection with a target audience. However, it has to be used appropriately. For Lowes Home Improvement, talking unicorns and flamingos miss the mark. Homeowners and do-it-yourselfers take what they do seriously. Lowe’s should too.

Home Depot vs Lowes

A few days ago, my oldest son asked if I would like to join him on a venture to Lowe’s. I took him up on the offer, seeing that my wife was out of town and my only company was my dog.

As is typically the case with home improvement stores and me, there’s always something that I need to buy even if it’s something I don’t really need. This time, I needed dimmers for a few of the lights in my living room.

We choose our favorite primarily because of location.
We choose our favorite primarily because of location.

I followed my son around the store for a handful of minutes as he loaded his cart full with lawn care goods, bird feeders and other odds and ends (he is taking after me) before leaving him to find what I wanted to buy.

Here’s the rub: finding the light dimmer I wanted was like hunting for the Yeti. No thank you.

Location is paramount with home improvement stores.

I mentioned earlier that my son and I are a lot alike. So much so that we both have defined our home improvement shopping by the chain closest to where we live. For him, it’s Lowes. For me, it’s Home Depot.

Sadly, without either having a defining brand, the location of a home improvement stores has become the most important factor in deciding the winner in Home Depot vs Lowes.

The battle between Lowe’s and Home Depot was a subject of a recent article in Forbes, which stated that shoppers prefer the layout and design of Lowe’s over Home Depot.

I speculate that the real reason these shoppers prefer Lowe’s over Home Depot is because it’s the store closest to where they live. Consequently, they have backfilled that choice with things like design to affirm that they made the choice for a better reason than location.

What does this mean for the home improvement brand?

As I have previously written, the act of feeling like a “winner” is what drives us within the home improvement category (and most things in life). In the instance with my son, I “lost” at Lowe’s as I could not find the items I wanted readily nor did they seem better in quality. As such, there was no impetus for me to change my shopping pattern.

However, had my shopping experience been a breeze at Lowe’s, maybe this blog would have been written differently. As is, I’ll continue to be a Home Depot shopper.

Home Improvement Brands Offer NO Brand Improvement

The Home Improvement Store’s Brand Promise

By Tom Dougherty

Truth in Marketing and Improving Your Brand

Home Improvement StoresWhat your company takes as truth is not the fuel of preference and choice. The reason for this is that truth is not universal, it is in fact a product of perspective — and there are as many perspectives in the world as there are places to stand.

Every one of your customers sees the world from their own personal vantage point. As a marketer, do not be overly caught up in the product or service benefits that you consider TRUE differentiators or benefits over the competition. Leave the self-delusion to your competitors and grab every advantage that their blindness offers you.

A dispassionate viewpoint when viewing your own brand will give you more than just a heads-up, it may very well propel your brand to dominance. Think about the home and hardware superstores like Lowe’s and Home Depot branding (and all the home improvement stores).

They are engaged in a desperate struggle for market share, both trying to convince homeowners… that doing things yourself is “doable” (read Home Depot’s branding tag line “You can do it. We can Help” — and Lowe’s tag line “Let’s Build Something Together”). They compete for customers with the promise that their store has everything you need, the brand names you crave, and that their selection and prices are unmatched.

Corporate Home Improvement Stores Promises are Similar

Home Improvement StoresLowe’s — “We work hard to save you money every day. And we strive to offer you low prices every time you shop. We call these Everyday Low Prices, and we do our best to provide you with the best values, whether at your local Lowe’s store or online at Lowes.com”

Home Improvement StoresHome Depot —”The Home Depot provides our customers with excellent service every time they come into our stores. We offer the right products, the right selection, the right prices and a team of associates passionate about your needs. We build lasting relationships by helping customers realize their dreams and growing their trust through our products and services.”

As a category, the home improvement super stores have succeeded in squeezing the local hardware store and building supply companies. Their volume and pricing has changed the way national hardware retailers like True Value and Ace Hardware must do business, but the focus that brought about a sea change in the way home owners shop for the ever broadening category of home improvement products does little to take market share from ether of the big two.

Home Improvement StoresToday they have relegated their competitive practices to promotions and location. In both cases, even these poor attempts at preference has become harder to differentiate as they seem to follow each other in the location of store.

Lowe’s had a marketing strategy, some years back that at least positioned them against the category leader by claiming that they were “Improving Home Improvement” but even that has been dropped in exchange for the more category generic claim of “Let’s Build Something Together.”

The former advertising tag line (not a brand theme line) succeeded in positioning them against the category but fell victim to the all too common tact of talking about themselves rather than branding the company through identification with the folks that shop there.

The Home Improvement Stores as a Category

Let’s look at the category in general for just a moment. Does the category promise to empower the customer as people who can “do it themselves”? Absolutely. By promising the sense of control that being a “do-it yourselfer” represents the category has changed the landscape and overtaken the old category of lumberyards and hardware stores.

Home Improvement StoresThis, Stealing Share calls a category benefit meaning it defines an equity that everyone who has permission to play in a category of products or services share. No one owns it because everyone claims it. It is the minimum requirement needed to compete. It also means that claiming this value does not provide a competitive advantage over competition.

Home improvement stores,Home Depot and Lowe’s, have left it to the customer to supply the brand values that differentiate them. Have no fear — human beings have an innate drive that propels them towards simplicity and clear understanding.

The lack of a compelling brand forms a vacuum that never remains empty for long. As the left-brain attempts to provide rational reasons to justify a right-brain decision, the customer will supply an identity that reinforces their decision making process. The problem with leaving this critical brand void to the customer’s discretion is that your company will not have a brand… it will have as many BRANDS as it has customers and your business will be left to compete through a mixture of price discounting, increased advertising spending and the tremendous expense of new site construction.

Is location the only way to choose?

Home Improvement StoresAfter all, if customers have no reason to choose beyond their own “you fill in the blank” — what incentive do they have for driving past a more convenient location of a newly build Home Depot and continue on a mile further and shop at the Lowe’s that had, up until the new Home Depot arrived, been their habit?

Winning. This is the truth in the home improvement category. However, you can be assured that Lowe’s and Home Depot branding groups disagree with our assessment. They see real and truthful differences between themselves and their competitor.

Maybe one is sure they have better name brands. Maybe the other is sure they have better systems and friendlier employees. Just remember: “What your company takes as truth is not the fuel of preference and choice. The reason for this is that truth is not universal, it is in fact a product of perspective — and there are as many perspectives in the world as there are places to stand. Every one of your customers sees the world from their own personal vantage point.”

(Read our article about how to beat the market leader here)