Hunt­ing the Wek­end War­rior

New Zealand Marketing - - TVNZ NZ Marketing Awards -

In just four years, Stihl has added a suite of new prod­ucts, started tar­get­ing the res­i­den­tial mar­ket, changed its ap­proach to comms and vastly im­proved its re­tail net­work. And now it’s reap­ing the benef its.

The chal­lenge

Four years ago, Stihl was known as the pre­ferred chain­saw for log­ging con­trac­tors and tree-felling com­pa­nies. It was seen as a tool the pro­fes­sion­als used, and the home­owner seg­ment felt its tools were bet­ter qual­ity than they would ever need for their back­yard chores. With a tar­get au­di­ence this de­fined there was no need to put dou­ble-digit growth fig­ures in the busi­ness plan.

But the fam­ily-owned par­ent com­pany An­dreas Stihl AG & Co was look­ing for growth. It un­der­stood that growth funds in­no­va­tion, cre­ates bet­ter prod­ucts and builds greater cus­tomer loy­alty. It also un­der­stood that while its com­pe­ti­tion was feel­ing the fis­cal squeeze and re­duc­ing mar­ket­ing ex­pen­di­ture, it was the per­fect time to put the foot down be­cause main­tain­ing its brand pro­file dur­ing the leaner years would pay them back hand­somely when the econ­omy re­cov­ered.

The global fi­nan­cial cri­sis was not es­pe­cially kind to the out­door power equip­ment in­dus­try. And when ev­ery­one is be­ing forced to be care­ful with a dol­lar, the ‘big box’ re­tail­ers, with their bot­tom­less pits for bud­gets and their end­less full-page Satur­day news­pa­per ad­ver­tise­ments, are very dif­fi­cult to ig­nore. They typ­i­cally of­fer chain­saws for un­der $200 when a com­pa­ra­ble Stihl chain­saw re­tails at $995, or a linetrim­mer for $119 ver­sus a Stihl for $295.

Be­ing the most ex­pen­sive brand on the mar­ket when ev­ery­one wants to pay as lit­tle as pos­si­ble is not a com­fort­able feel­ing. Most ‘Week­end War­riors’ were happy to drive down to Bun­nings and buy the cheap­est tool they could find. If it failed in a few months then it was sim­ply a mat­ter of putting it in the bin and driv­ing off to buy an­other. Their im­pres­sion of Stihl was fur­ther re­in­forced by the fact that you could not buy the brand at Bun­nings, or any big box re­tailer. You

had to drive to an out of the way dealer, who was not only hard to find, but not likely to be open for you on the week­ends.

The re­sponse

A large re­search project con­firmed Stihl’s sus­pi­cions around what con­sumers thought. So, mak­ing the brand ac­ces­si­ble to the Week­end War­rior was the so­lu­tion. It iden­ti­fied its core con­quest tar­get, and then ex­pended all its en­ergy win­ning them over.

DDB was ap­pointed as its com­mu­ni­ca­tions agency to give the brand a fresh per­spec­tive, to get bet­ter strate­gic think­ing and creative out­put and to try and change those en­grained be­liefs. And to jus­tify the brand’s price pre­mium, client and agency agreed to fo­cus on the qual­ity, rugged­ness and dura­bil­ity of the prod­ucts; their abil­ity “to keep go­ing no mat­ter what”.

A new tele­vi­sion cam­paign was de­cided upon as the best way to reach home­own­ers and a com­mer­cial was pro­duced that was provoca­tive enough to ap­peal to the mar­ket, yet still en­sure the brand con­tin­ued to em­brace pro­fes­sion­als. The first TVC showed the pa­tri­arch of a fam­ily on his deathbed. His last dy­ing wish, which he de­liv­ers qui­etly to his younger son, is that the boy “looks af­ter his mother”. When the older brother asks the younger brother what dad said, he replies: “He said I could have his chain­saw”.

The dark hu­mour in the com­mer­cial meant it was the sec­ond most com­plained about ad­ver­tise­ment in 2009 ac­cord­ing to the Ad­ver­tis­ing Stan­dards Author­ity. And the vol­ume of com­plaints would have got the bet­ter of most com­pa­nies. But Stihl held its ground for two rea­sons. 1) it was con­vinced a Stihl chain­saw does cre­ate that level of lust. And 2) it knew those who were com­plain­ing were not its cus­tomers, be­cause they would love the ir­rev­er­ence of the com­mer­cial and the over­all mes­sage of the ad­ver­tis­ing.

It wasn’t just about con­vinc­ing con­sumers, how­ever. 103 stores in the Stihl dealer net­work also needed to buy into the pro­gramme, not just be­cause they help fund some of the regular re­tail ad­ver­tis­ing ac­tiv­ity, but be­cause they had to un­der­stand that if the plan to tar­get Week­end War­riors was suc­cess­ful, then an en­tirely new type of cus­tomer would be ar­riv­ing on their doorsteps. These peo­ple would need more at­ten­tion and ad­vice and they would also be hop­ing for a bet­ter re­tail en­vi­ron­ment and more amenable open­ing hours and keener prices. So, along­side the new ap­proach to ad­ver­tis­ing, it com­pletely over­hauled the Stihl dis­tri­bu­tion net­work.

It had been de­cided as far back as 2003 that in­stead of sell­ing the best qual­ity brand from filthy, greasy old mower shops, a pro­gres­sive and well- pre­sented chain of stores car­ry­ing the Stihl Shop ban­ner would be cre­ated. This was not a cheap ex­er­cise but one that was nec­es­sary if dis­cern­ing cus­tomers were go­ing to be brought across. As the Stihl Shop net­work reached crit­i­cal mass, a sep­a­rate tele­vi­sion, print ad­ver­tis­ing and cat­a­logue cam­paign was cre­ated to drive foot traf­fic into the new re­tail stores

the Re­sults

Four years into this jour­ney, Stihl is a revered brand across all cus­tomer seg­ments. And proof that what it has done has worked is the re­cent an­nounce­ment by Reader’s Digest that showed Stihl was the num­ber one most trusted brand in the DIY Power Tool cat­e­gory and the num­ber two most trusted brand in the Gar­den­ing Equip­ment cat­e­gory (af­ter Mas­port).

Stihl’s sales fig­ures are con­fi­den­tial, but it has grown at more than five times the rate of the over­all out­door power equip­ment sec­tor since 2008. It’s also trans­formed the im­age of its brand and store net­work and, im­por­tantly, fu­ture-proofed the busi­ness by sell­ing a much big­ger range of prod­ucts and di­ver­si­fy­ing its cus­tomer base into the res­i­den­tial mar­ket. And it did it all with­out alien­at­ing the pro­fes­sional users.

Stihl for­mu­lated a plan and stuck to it. And it was con­fi­dent it would work. It knew its prod­ucts had been en­gi­neered by skilled Ger­man tech­ni­cians to last for­ever and that most con­sumers know that qual­ity is re­mem­bered long af­ter the price is for­got­ten.

For Stihl, the suc­cess of this tran­si­tion has re­in­forced its be­lief in hu­man na­ture, be­cause if you put a con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ment to some­one as to why one brand costs more than all the oth­ers, it can be very ef­fec­tive at win­ning new cus­tomers. And for other mar­keters, it shows that if you can main­tain brand pres­ence in the lean times, the re­turn on in­vest­ment when the econ­omy re­cov­ers will prob­a­bly be many­fold.

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