Retooling a Classic Brand
Insight into the thought process of a customer weighing the merits of various tape measures or hammers can be invaluable to the companies that sell those tools. This spring a small group of SOM students interviewed consumers in the aisles of area Home Depot and Lowe's stores. The efforts were part of a collaboration between the Yale Center for Customer Insights (YCCI) and the Stanley Works to assess and improve awareness of several sub-brands of hand tools. The students analyzed the data they gathered in stores and made a series of recommendations to the toolmaker.
The project began when Tim LeBeau, Stanley's vice president for product and innovation, approached YCCI with a business challenge: "The Stanley brand has been around for 165 years. It's heavily known among consumers 45 and older, but what can we do with younger people to make sure that it is around for another 165 years?" LeBeau says.
Ravi Dhar, the George Rogers Clark Professor of Marketing and YCCI's director, selected a group of students who earned class credit while working on the issue. Dhar oversaw the students as if they were a consulting team. He said they brought both rigorous academic frameworks and fresh eyes to the challenge. "When you've spent 20 years in an industry, you develop an insider perspective." Dhar says. "We are not only looking at direct competitors, but might also compare Stanley with very different companies: How does Procter & Gamble do packaging? How does Target do it? So Stanley gets to see the best practices not only in the tool industry but much more broadly."
In the last two years, YCCI has facilitated several for-credit consulting projects with teams of Yale MBA students. Past efforts have included projects for Pepsico and Procter & Gamble. The projects fit in well with the rest of the Yale integrated management curriculum, Dhar explains. "In a course like this, which is fully project-based, it really allows students to leverage all the different courses they have taken, starting with Problem Framing," he says, referring to a Yale SOM core course that helps students learn how to structure problems for optimal solution by taking into account multiple perspectives on those problems. He adds that choosing the right approach is crucial "because going in you don't even know what the right questions are."
The students met with LeBeau and other leaders from Stanley several times and toured a factory. "Just seeing that whole process really gave you insight into what can be controlled, what can't be controlled," says Erica Moynihan '08. "When they have this entire infrastructure around how an actual tape measure is made, you know you're not going to change much about the design or process. So as a marketing organization, what is the branding strategy that's going to help them sell through on the other end?"
The scope of the project was limited to the major retail outlets and three key product lines: tape measures, hammers, and utility knives. Doug Searles '08 says that time in the stores was crucial. "You see how the consumer interacts with the physical environment in the store." He adds, "We learned that it was overwhelming in the hand tool aisle. In one particular Home Depot the aisle is very tight, so when you're trying to look at 40 different hammers all at once it's hard to step back and get perspective."
That meant effective use of the limited space available on the cardboard hangers used to display the tools was crucial. A cleaner image and ranking of sub-brands helps particularly with younger customers who don't like to spend a lot of time sorting through product features. "The most important goal has to be educating the consumer. Stanley really has the opportunity to differentiate itself from the rest of the hand tool manufacturers if it is able to clearly communicate the benefits that a particular tool offers." Searles says.
LeBeau said the outside view the students brought was valuable. "The students picked up on the need for simplification and clarification in our communication with end-users. We need to have clear messages, repeated often."
That doesn't mean the recommendations are always easy to hear. As LeBeau puts it, "When you talk about brand, it's an extremely emotional thing. It's almost like talking about your children." He adds that the emotional response to the brand can be a hindrance to decision-makers inside the company when it comes time to implement changes.
The need to help clients through that process stood out to Moynihan. "Everyone is coming to an issue with different prejudices, biases, and points of view, so guiding them through a concrete, tight presentation will help them to think about the issue in a different way than maybe they were used to," she says. "Being able to tell a story and lead the client through your thinking is a key skill."
"We did this project to make the brand stronger and to drive growth," LeBeau says. "I was very pleased by the outcome and look forward to seeing what gets executed in the marketplace and what type of result that has in sales."
Sarah Pickard '09 says that the experience built confidence. "It affirmed that I wanted to do more of this. I like thinking through problems and communicating value propositions to customers. And, this project was a 'you really can do it' thing. Now, I've actually had the experience with a real company."