.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;} Making Sense: e-Digest of Brand Thinking

Saturday, August 26, 2006

When tag lines collide—branding in home improvement

(I apologize for the long interval between posts. I was overwhelmed with projects the last few weeks.)

As I see it, a brand promise is just that—a promise. It’s the customer experience that determines whether or not it’s true. Unfortunately, many companies subscribe to the “say it and they will believe it” variety of branding. Take,
Home Depot for example, the third largest retailer in the world. They launched their current tag line— “You can do it. We can help.”—back in 2003. It’s taken them until now to realize the “We can help” part isn’t working too well.

Home Depot’s solution: Orange Juiced, their new customer-service incentive program. According to Jennifer Waters in the June 23, 2006 MarketWatch
,Home Depot has set aside $30 million to pay monthly and quarterly rewards to employees and stores that score high marks on customer-service surveys. On a quarterly basis, the best store can get up to $25,000, which the manager will determine how to spend, either by individual disbursements, a big award celebration or both. Basically, they are bribing employees to be helpful and friendly to customers.

In the same article, George Whalin, founder of Retail Management Consultants, was quoted as saying, "The problem [with the plan] is that it doesn't solve the basic, core problem of having knowledgeable people working in your stores. In recent years, Home Depot has spent very little educating people."

Lowes, the second largest hardware chain in the US behind Home Depot, decides that its old tag line, “Improving Home Improvement,” is no longer cutting it. If Home Depot stands for helping and encouraging customers with their home improvement projects, Lowes needed a message like that too. So they got one: “Let’s build something together.”

Home Depot: You can do it. We can help.
Lowes: Let’s build something together.

When you see them stacked, there’s not a lot of difference between the two lines in meaning, although I personally like Lowes’ version. It’s friendlier and implies help of a longer duration.

Of course, Lowes could have saved themselves the trouble and expense of developing a new tag line if they had only sent mystery shoppers into a few Home Depot stores. They would have learned that “We can help.” was an empty promise…and not worth copying.

You make a great point. Home Depot is bragging about a strength they lack and it just doesn't ring true--I believe it because no one has ever approached me at HD to see if I need any help. It would be wiser to take that marketing budget and spend it on improving customer service benchmarks instead.
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