Brand Loyalty

DeWalt woos fickle contractors with `belly-to-belly' marketing

November 12, 2006|By Allison Connolly | Allison Connolly,Sun Reporter

Adam Carbaugh is not monogamous when it comes to power tools.

He and his demolitions crew use some DeWalt products, but they also tend to flirt with other brands as well when tearing down buildings and busting up foundations.

That's not good enough for DeWalt, maker of premium power tools and accessories. It's looking for an exclusive relationship.

And so on a recent Sunday, DeWalt took Carbaugh on what for him was a dream date: making him an honorary member of NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth's pit crew at Dover International Speedway in Delaware.

The company spared no expense courting the 34-year-old contractor and co-heir to his family's demolition business, Interior Specialists Inc. of White Marsh.

Unlike the 140,000 fans in the stands who paid $94 apiece, DeWalt arranged for Carbaugh to have a spot at the track's edge, so close he could feel the wind from the cars thundering past at more than 100 miles an hour.

DeWalt suited him up in the same yellow and black uniform as the crew and let him watch from just a few feet away as they gassed up No. 17 and changed all four tires in under 14 seconds.

There was even more. Earlier in the day, Carbaugh met Kenseth - who is sponsored by DeWalt - and got his autograph. He dined in DeWalt's hospitality tent and took home a goodie bag of DeWalt merchandise with a promise that he would soon receive in the mail an autographed picture of himself with Kenseth.

All of this effort expended on Carbaugh by DeWalt had one aim, to instill a lasting loyalty to the company and its products.

When Carbaugh was asked just before the start of the race what brands he looks for when shopping for power tools, DeWalt field marketing coordinator Mike Fialcowitz, not so subtly reminded him, "No one else has ever taken you to the pits."

Brand loyalty is the Holy Grail of manufacturing, and DeWalt is hardly alone in pursuing it. "Brand loyalty is one of the biggest issues for manufacturers and brand managers these days," said Douglas Atkin, author of The Culting of Brands: When Customers Become True Believers. "Increasingly, there is very little differentiation between brands."

When it comes to brand loyalty, the most envied manufacturers are Harley-Davidson motorcycles and Apple computers. The brands have attained "cult status," Atkin said, by creating an "emotional bond" between customers and their products through chat rooms, events and merchandise. Customers form relationships with each other, reinforcing their allegiance to the company, he said, and sustaining it through down times.

To achieve that kind of loyalty, DeWalt clearly believes the best way is to be direct. While Carbaugh may sound like an extreme example, it is not unusual for DeWalt to concentrate attention on a single customer, said Jon Howland, who oversees DeWalt's NASCAR sponsorship and others. While most big companies would throw their marketing dollars at traditional advertising, DeWalt sees a lasting benefit in its approach.

"It's very expensive to get someone into the DeWalt system," Howland said. "But once they're in, they help sell our tools. It's viral."

DeWalt builds its base by conducting face-to-face marketing with customers, or, in its own anatomical phrase, "belly-to-belly." That means deploying its sales force to construction sites and recreational events where potential customers congregate, such as NASCAR races. The company motto: "Be where the customer works, learns, buys and plays."

Unlike other brands, including its Towson parent, Black & Decker Corp., DeWalt targets only the professional. It doesn't advertise on television and doesn't sell its circular saws, hammer drills and impact wrenches in Wal-Mart.

In its advertising in trade magazines, at NASCAR and on professional Web sites, DeWalt doesn't mention it is owned by Black & Decker, because customers "don't want their tools to be the same brand as their coffeemaker," said DeWalt brand manager Susan Wiercinski.

By creating an image that the brand is exclusively for professionals, Wiercinski says, "people aspire to own DeWalt."

Black & Decker bought DeWalt in 1960 but didn't use the brand name until 1992, after failing to successfully pitch tools to professionals under the Black & Decker Pro and Black & Decker Industrial nameplates.

Yet the yellow-and-black DeWalt brand has secured substantial real estate on shelves at Home Depot and Lowe's, and is priced at a premium compared with its competitors. Its new 36-volt cordless power tools, for example, sell for $350 to $800 each.

DeWalt's customers have a strong enough attachment to the brand that they are willing to pay higher prices. And in the competitive world of manufacturing, the spoils go to the companies that establish so much credibility with customers that they buy their product over others, regardless of price.

Professional contractors are no different.

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