The best planning is a delicate play between an unsparing self-assessment of your brand and/or offering and a deep understanding of the audience you are trying to influence. Too often, companies get sidetracked by listening only to the voices of their sales teams, channel partners or their direct competition and lose focus on the folks who actually buy and use their offering.
If your marketing objectives are about achieving sustainable growth, this balanced approach is essential. Planning is the right time to take a more global look at business and marketing activities. And it’s the right time to ask yourself the tough questions about whether you’re on the right path.
Three years ago, our client Sauder Woodworking Co. did just that. As the category innovator and leading domestic manufacturer of ready-to-assemble (RTA) furniture, Sauder’s business was humming in volume, but shrinking in profitability.
After considerable self-assessment, Sauder recognized that it had let the company’s brand awareness and identity deteriorate through lack of promotion, which left it vulnerable to commoditization. This, in turn, led to an increased demand for producing products under retail house brands rather than Sauder’s own brand. This further deteriorated the brand and increased pressure on margins. Sauder determined that, for long-term sustainable growth, it would need to reinvigorate and build brand awareness and value, to avoid the perils of commoditization.
Invention happens when your end-users lead the way
Once Sauder decided to focus its marketing efforts on the target of greatest potential, the millennial generation, understanding its new audience was the priority:
- What millennials like and what they don’t
- What aspects of Sauder are most relevant to their needs
- What aspects need reinvention
It all began to reveal itself with each new audience insight:
- Understanding that these young consumers crave style but require affordability prompted Sauder to amp up its product development.
- Sauder placed more emphasis on design — design that mirrored the aesthetic of the higher-end home style brands that this audience aspired to, but was challenged to afford.
- Instead of looking to its RTA competition, Sauder looked at its target audience’s other choices and determined it could deliver real value.
The result is a line of high-style, highly affordable products that are changing the way consumers — and retailers — think about RTA furniture.
When the pieces are in place, connections are meaningful
While relevant products are critical to appeal to this audience, building awareness and affinity for Sauder means creating an end-to-end brand experience — from initial consideration through product assembly and post-purchase evaluation. With this approach in mind, Sauder recognized that it had an opportunity to take control of that brand experience to benefit the company and its retail partners.
With an insight that its target audience prefers consuming information digitally, Sauder learned that it could provide value at every step of the sales journey:
- Creating a great desktop and mobile experience was priority one.
- Search-engine marketing followed, so the audience would discover Sauder at the point of consideration.
- Targeted banner advertising featuring Sauder’s most stylish products built awareness.
- PR placements and posts by influential bloggers provided trusted, third-party definition to Sauder’s promise of affordable style.
- Web content created to inform and inspire offered additional context and value.
- A vibrant, creative social strategy connected consumers to the folks at Sauder, enhancing customer service and building brand advocacy.
Innovation is at the core of Sauder’s 80-year history, so this commitment to effective reinvention came from its cultural foundation. Though it’s in the early stages of reinvigorating its brand, Sauder already is turning heads in the industry and inspiring retail partners to think differently.
Frank self-evaluation helped clarify Sauder’s priorities for the long-term good of the business. And when the needs and wants of the end-user became the inspiration, everyone along the value chain began to feel the magic.
This post was originally authored by Larry Engel, BR’s former group leader.