With July 4th approaching, home improvement chain Lowe’s wanted to give people a gentle reminder to clean their BBQ grill before the big, eating-intensive, holiday. So the brand did it the best way it knew how–in a six-second Vine video.
Short, simple, and with an underlying sense of whimsy, it was the latest in the brand’s “Fix In Six” series and it’ll be followed by another one on the holiday itself. The Vine series, developed with agency partner BBDO New York, started on April 19, 2013 with a post about how to turn a gallon milk jug into a watering can and has since expanded to include both fan- and employee-submitted tips. It’s just one small part of the brand’s communications mix, but it distills Lowe’s overall marketing approach down to its six-second essence.
With 1,840 stores to Home Depot’s more than 2,200, Lowe’s is the second biggest home improvement retail brand in the U.S. and as such, it’s been strategic about how it uses media, and about targeting the next generation of home improvers–millennials.
Lowe’s has aimed to narrow the competitive gap by developing a helpful persona, expressed with a lighthearted tone across social media channels. It’s an unexpected look for a nuts-and-bolts retailer, but the brand’s also taken a surprisingly tech-forward approach to modeling the future of retail. While the brand focuses on the consumer of the future with its marketing, it’s also working on the store of the future with its Innovation Labs, launched last year in L.A. and Mountain View, California, and doing things like recruiting science fiction writers for research and experimenting with retail robot technology..
But it’s all in the service of making DIY accessible. With its presence on Vine, YouTube, Tumblr, and Pinterest, chief marketing officer Tom Lamb considers Lowe’s a lifestyle brand as much as a home improvement store.
Lamb says the long-running “Fix In Six” series came from just taking the same kind of tips Lowe’s had been putting on its website and YouTube channel, and cutting them down to Vine-size, just to see what would happen and how the customers would respond. “Originally, we put six out there,” says Lamb. “We weren’t really sure where it was going to go, but the response was immediate and overwhelming.”
Home improvement or DIY is a different animal than other retail categories. When you walk into The Gap, you don’t need anyone telling you how to put on a pair of jeans. For Lowe’s, Lamb says the product isn’t the only point.
“In our category, yes we do sell products but they’re components to a project and for us the ability to help the consumer envision and pull together ideas, select the products, and actually get all the way through the installation or assembly of the project, to a state of completion and enjoyment is really the deciding factor in our business,” says Lamb. “You have to start with the understanding that the consumer isn’t looking for kitchen cabinets, they’re looking for a renovated kitchen.”
It’s impossible to be intimidated by six second stop-motion tips. And that’s exactly the point. Lamb says that the ability to anticipate what a customer needs from a brand, especially in home improvement, is where the game will be won and lost within this category. And Lowe’s has put special emphasis on taking the stress out of the prospect of a domestic project, big or small.
“Often people are intimidated by home improvement,” says Lamb. “It’s not as easy as people make it look or maybe as it should be. They need someone to help them anticipate what’s going on in their home and suggest some solutions.”
It’s not just the content of its marketing, the tone in which it’s delivered is just as important. Whether a goofy Vine video or a TV spot decrying the sheer impossibility of folding a fitted sheet, Lamb says the Lowe’s voice is purposely lighthearted. “The advertising in our category tends to be pretty earnest,” he says. “I mean, home is important, but our work takes a more wink-and-a-nod approach to home improvement which also helps get back to the idea that home improvement is an approachable proposition and we’re an approachable brand.”
As millennials gradually move into home ownership, they’ll bring a different mindset to home handiwork than previous generations, and not just because of technology. Lowe’s has tailored its approach to reflect a generation of kids who didn’t grow up holding their dad’s hammer.
Lamb cites all the time he spent on Saturday mornings as a kid, working as an apprentice to his dad. “While it seemed like hard labor at the time, I was learning a lot,” he says. “But for millennials, like my kids, they spent a lot of time going to soccer and other activities, but didn’t necessarily pick up those home improvement skills. So the level of expectation is higher for us, the idea we can go and tell them what they need to do, when they need to do it, is the kind of value exchange they seem to be pushing us towards rapidly.”
Providing those tips where these consumers live–across all social media–is all about spreading that approachability to where it will be seen and heard most. “A lot of the ‘Fix in Six’ Vine stuff is very basic but it’s intended to lower the threshold of access to home improvement for the millennial consumer,” says Lamb. “It’s saying, ‘Look, this isn’t that hard. You can do this!’ And Lowe’s as a brand, through our content or associates in the store, have unbelievable tips to make home improvement less intimidating, less perplexing, and frankly much, much easier. That’s the point of that content work. To talk to an emerging group of customers who are critically important to our category, in a different way than we would to baby boomers.”
Lowe’s has been working with BBDO New York since 2006, and Lamb says the nature of the partnership is very close. The brand has spent a lot of the time teaching the agency about its business, but then lets the creatives do what they do best. “We give them latitude and seed money to go out and explore, try things, and bring ideas outside the core of our daily business,” says Lamb. “The quid pro quo is we expect them to fail fast, meaning if it’s not going to work, let’s move on and not waste any more time on it. If it is working, let’s fuel it and grow it.”
The insight that Lowe’s is relevant in social media because its brand brings a design and inspiration ethos to it, came out of discussions with BBDO. “When they saw Vine coming on to the scene a few years ago, they were able to translate that into a campaign idea for us, and they did that understanding our business and our needs,” says Lamb.
One of his biggest surprises came from the Vine work, to see how the agency was able to still cram creativity in such a short time span. “I think the agency when constrained against that six second time frame, actually got sharper with the communication objective than when they’re given more time to tell more story, so I was really pleased with how telegraphic the executions were,” says Lamb.
The company wouldn’t disclose sales figures but its stock price is up 65% in the last two years. Lamb says the work is resonating with consumers, particularly younger ones.
“Consumers are saying we’re also a style brand, particularly through Pinterest where it’s about inspiration and style,” says Lamb. “And if you look at our competition on these platforms, they’re very transactional and product-focused, getting pigeonholed and positioned in a way that is not the same.”
Lamb also says the mix of the brand’s customer portfolio is changing and growing. “The millennial consumer is still in the early innings of home ownership so the category has a long way to go, but we’re very pleased with the progress we’ve made,” says Lamb. “We’re also seeing it translate into a level of brand appreciation for talking to them on their terms, in their channels, where they live and breath. It’s given us a reputation as a brand that does things a bit differently, not only compared to other retailers, but also ourselves six or eight years ago.”