February 13, 2012

Marketing Lessons: Positioning & Messaging

I hate home improvement. Hate it. But that hasn’t stopped me from lovingly restoring my 1898 Victorian over the last seven years. I’ve painted every room—some multiple times. I’ve striped and refinished intricate mouldings, re-grouted tile, installed new lighting, and planned, designed, and orchestrated the remodel of my kitchen and master bath a few years ago. These efforts have paid off by making my home more comfortable and expressive of my aesthetic, but they have not transformed me into a passionate DIYer. As far as I’m concerned, why DIY when you can YDI, as in You Do It?

Several years ago, The Home Depot changed its tagline from “You can do it. We can help,” to its current mantra “More Saving. More Doing.” Believe me—I’m all for saving, especially on things I loathe doing. But the recent batch of commercials irked me. Here’s an example of one that’s currently airing on the king of all home improvement networks, HGTV:

“…get busy turning our doing dials up a notch.” Seriously? First of all, what’s a doing dial? Secondly, yuck. I scoff at the copywriter who toiled over that turn of a phrase.

Meanwhile, Ace Hardware has a new batch of commercials that tickle my funny bone and validate my general antipathy toward household projects. Observe:

“It’s time to get your weekend back and turn your ‘to-do’ list into a ‘to-done’ list.” Ahhh…music to my ears. And the pyrotechnics at the end are genius. And I love me a good block party.

So why do I cringe and fast-forward the DVR when the Home Depot commercial airs but actually watch and enjoy (and evidently write about) the Ace Hardware spot? Two words: positioning and messaging. (Okay, that’s really three words.)

The Home Depot is a leviathan in the vast ocean of home improvement retailers. The company has 2,248 megastores averaging 105,000-sf throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, and China. Ace Hardware is David to The Home Depot’s Goliath. Although they operate 4,444 stores throughout the country, theirs are miniscule by comparison, with the largest shy of 15,000-sf. When positioning their stores to compete in a market packed with the likes of The Home Depot and Lowe’s, Ace Hardware understood the need to differentiate. They studied the market and identified a group of consumers who don’t fantasize about circular saws, or belt sanders, or electrical conduit—people like me! Then, instead of imitating the big box retailers, they turned their small format to their advantage: Why get lost in a big box store, or risk forgetting something while wandering the aisles, or aimlessly search the store for an employee, when Ace Hardware has what you need and friendly people who will help you find it fast? Ace Hardware will help me turn my to-do list into my to-done list? Yes, please.

So how does this example apply to A/E/C? Like the home improvement marketplace, A/E/C is crowded with players that may seem identical to your clients. From their perspective, numerous firms have excellent design and technical credentials, a portfolio of successful projects, and rapturous testimonials behind them. To stake out a position in the market, you must triangulate your firm’s strengths with the needs and concerns of your client. Use that insight to craft messages that address your clients’ problems, beliefs, or desires. What will be your firm’s version of “Turn your to-do list into a to-done list?” Keep me posted.

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