The Home Improvement Store’s Brand Promise
By Tom Dougherty
Truth in Marketing and Improving Your Brand
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. 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
Lowe’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 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.
Today 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.
This, 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?
After 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)