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Change the Conversation, Unlearn Conventional Wisdom

Several years ago, a client presented us with the opportunity of a lifetime…and we yawned.

Back then, our client asked us to launch a new version of commodity product. A product every contractor knew like the back of his hand. A product that looked the same and performed functionally the same as everything else out there. A product that cost pennies. A product that was identified by a generic number (Like Intel used to identify its processors: 286, 386, etc.).

What an opportunity! (Yawn) Thinking of a campaign consisting of a product release, a features/benefits ad and a data sheet, we could hardly contain ourselves. (Yawn)

Shame on us. We thought too soon. We committed the same sin we preached against day-in and day-out – defaulting to conventional wisdom.

How soon we learned. Or, rather, unlearned.

What we thought would be a commodity launch highlighted by some incremental, “new and improved” feature, became an early brush with one of the most important ways to clean up the Six Dirty Words of construction marketing.

In a previous article, we introduced the Six Dirty Words: “We’ve always done it this way.” These six words describe resistance to adoption of something new − even breakthrough-new. In a business like construction, where standards and codes carry so much weight, fear of the unproven and playing it safe often block trial of benefit-laden, innovative products. So, in this environment, with contractors swearing, “We’ve always done it this way”, how do you create change and accelerate acceptance?

In that article we told you about “Giveaway,” the strategy of changing the conversation by literally giving away enough of a new product for a free project and guaranteeing the results to prove how dramatically better the new product performed.

For the new product that we would launch, we used another highly effective technique to accelerate acceptance – Disruption. In his book Disruption, advertising executive Jean-Marie Dru put it this way:  “Disruption is about finding the strategic idea that breaks and overturns a convention in the marketplace, and then makes it possible to reach a new vision or to give new substance to an existing vision.”

The product that, at first, excited us not in the least was a true disruption. Yes, it looked like all the other commodity-level products on the market, and performed exactly the same function, but the similarity ended there.

It wasn’t designed for the function it performed, it was designed for the human who installed it. This “commodity” had a host of little features that made the installer’s job much easier, faster and less frustrating. Metal edges were smooth; no finger nicks. The plastic wasn’t brittle; no breakage from screw guns. Push-in connections; faster installs. Same price as competitors; priceless.

All of a sudden, competitive products were “obsolete.” In 30 years, no one had paid attention to this basic-building-block commodity product. Our client changed all that with a product that disrupted the status quo.

The strategic idea we developed indeed overturned convention and gave new substance to the existing vision: Our campaign focused, not on the product so much as the installer. We did something very novel in the industry: ditch the numerical identifier and create a brand for a commodity product with a unique name that harkened back to whom the installer was, a professional in his trade. Plus, we used the voice of the contractor as our theme: “Products like this are my bread and butter. It’s about time someone made them the way I want.” Nobody ever advertised these products; they were too commonplace. So we did the opposite: We went big. Big space units, big pictures, big promises that we could support.

The campaign continued to disrupt. We put the new product in kits, side-by-side with the market leader’s version, to demonstrate how much easier it was to install our client’s product. We equipped distributor sales teams with these kits for jobsite presentations. We packed up motorized displays and hanging fixtures for distributor counter areas. We created installation rodeos at installer events (Guess which product won the rodeo and the hearts of installers?).

Over time, the product brand became synonymous with the key benefits. It spawned an entire range of complementary products that became category leaders.

This might have been our first “disruption of commodity” campaign but it surely hasn’t been our last.  We unlearned quickly the notion of “same-old, same-old” and learned how to elevate commodity products to value status.

Bear this in mind: you don’t always need an extraordinarily innovative product to be disruptive.  You can do it with an extraordinary idea.

Next time you’re planning something that challenges conventional wisdom, and those Six Dirty Words trip on the tongue, change the conversation. Don’t try to avoid the obvious, disrupt it. Compel your audience to re-evaluate the patterns they’re used to. Demonstrate the difference. Attack the convention, and the competitive product that represents it.

Perhaps, most importantly, don’t forget the power of emotion. Yes, contractors make rational decisions.  But, they can be influenced by many emotional forces. Contractors want brands they can trust; build trust or reinforce the trust that already exists. Some contractors want to be first; write to the early adopter. Link a big idea to a human truth about the product.  Demonstrate the value of a people/product partnership; project your product and the user’s reward into a new vision.

Try these and instead of hearing those Six Dirty Words, you just might hear, “Thanks for helping me clean up my act.”