This week we were joined by Jonathan Bradshaw, product manager at Kobalt Tools, to discuss how companies can leverage customer stories. Kobalt is a private brand belonging to Lowe’s, and they’re approaching their twenty-year anniversary.
Danny first discovered Kobalt through their videos on social media. Specifically, he found them through their Kobalt Artisans series on Facebook.
The series isn’t about the tools. In fact, the brand is hardly mentioned or promoted for the majority of the videos. The videos focus on the unique projects of workers and craftsmen.
In other words, Kobalt is focused on how to leverage customer stories to portray their products at work. Everyone at Kobalt, from the engineers to the designers, are entirely oriented around the user experience of their customers.
“When we talk about our tools, we talk about the customer and then the tool that meets the customer’s need.”
As a private brand, Kobalt didn’t necessarily have the same huge marketing budget as their competitors. So they decided on the age-old adage, “Show; don’t tell.”
The tools are of course shown in-use during the videos, but in a single four-minute video they may only be shown for a total of fifteen seconds.
Kobalt instead prefers to focus on the challenges of real people with real projects. Building a plane, for example: what comes up must come down. Thus it’s an unspoken conclusion that any tools put to that use must be ineffably reliable.
Jonathan used the analogy of movies and special effects to elaborate. Long after special effects or sensationalist concepts become old hat, in the end the best stories will keep bringing people back for another screening.
“You can only do so many shots of a drill… it becomes disinteresting. But there are so many people out there using our products that are very interesting.”
A four-minute commercial will not hold a customer’s interest for even two minutes. A real person’s story will.
Arguably, the Artisans series isn’t necessarily even meant so much to reach new customers as it is meant to strengthen Kobalt’s bond with existing customers.
Either way, social media was vital for the series to take off.
3. ENTIRELY UNEXPECTED
Despite the size of Lowes, Kobalt is still considered a small company with a comparatively small marketing budget compared to their competitors. As a result, they decided to focus on customer-service.
Connecting with users over social media was a large part of their strategy. So was the goal of having a response time of less than 24 hours, no matter who contacted them or where.
By engaging with their customers, the company also stumbled upon something entirely unexpected.
Sometimes Kobalt encounters ideas for extra features or entirely new products when they see someone using their tools in a way they didn’t anticipate.
Hearing from customers – especially customers confident enough even to modify their own tools for specialized projects – is almost worth an entire concepting department.
“As a Product Manager, I’d rather someone who’s using this tool every day… tell me how to make it better.”
It’s mind-blowing when customers start showing off their garages or their hobbies, too. Kobalt often gets credited in posts showing off gorgeous tables or restored cars. They weren’t physically there, but their tools were. Thus, they had a part in making those things come to fruition.
Customers tag Kobalt because they feel like the entire Kobalt family was a part of their project.
“I didn’t make that table,” Jonathan points out. But whether or not the company knew they were along for the ride, “we signed up for it by selling them a product.”
“If you’re offering something nobody needs, you’re not going to move it…so let them tell you what they need first.”
4. WHERE TO START
Not every B2B manufacturer can afford to begin with a massive longform video series. And not every business would necessarily benefit from one.
Even planning isn’t always the answer. A year ago, the Kobalt Artisans series didn’t exist as so much as a writers’ room concept. It was inspired solely by the customers
The Kobalt Artisans series is an example of when a company discovered what they were good at, then built up a campaign and is now running full-speed-ahead with it.
Bradshaw’s advice to industrial marketers? Crawl first; then walk; then run.
Figure out what you want to discuss with your customer, and learn how that two-way interaction works. Once you learn what they’re doing with your product, then you can begin improving it, giving them what they want, and increasing engagement.
Business is no longer about customers adapting to companies. It’s about about companies adapting to customers.
“Try something. Do something different,” Jonathan suggested. “Continue to expound and learn; and be willing to change.”
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