Hilti's grassroots effort drives preference

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More than a year ago, the Hilti brand of professional construction tools had a whopping 98% customer awareness, as measured by its marketing communications agency, Kansas City, Mo.-based Nicholson Kovac. However, it had only an 8% preference among construction workers.

"Hilti enjoyed incredibly high brand awareness but lacked the market share to match," said Sara Buck, VP-group account director for Nicholson Kovac. "The brand was known as the high-end, best of the best, and as a result, was not called on for everyday jobs."

Hilti recognized it needed help in appealing to on-the-job contractors and had to step up its competitive presence against the increasing number of tool brands available at big box stores, Buck said. But to counteract misperceptions that the brand wasn't for everyday use and to build preference quickly, Hilti and its agency decided that using traditional mass media tactics wouldn't be efficient. "Instead, we decided to take on the audience at a grassroots level," Buck said.

There is no cookie-cutter approach to targeting construction audiences, she said. "To effectively reach construction audiences, two factors are paramount: understanding the type of message that will resonate with the audience and understanding how to reach the audience," Buck said.

Reaching them at work

In terms of media, Nicholson Kovac determined that because many construction workers don't read trade publications or attend industry shows, Hilti needed to reach them where they work, shop and live. "Specifically, we decided to target construction sites and Home Depot locations," Buck said.

Hilti sponsored lunch trucks that served breakfast and lunch at key construction job sites, had Hilti "ambassadors" hand out Hilti-branded water bottles at the sites and hosted National Contractor Days-complete with radio remote broadcasts and Hilti giveaways-at local Home Depot stores. To catch the target audience off the job site, a complementary advertising blitz included radio, outdoor boards and print inserts in Field & Stream.

Getting the messaging right was equally important for the campaign's success, Buck said. "Through customer focus groups, Hilti learned that contractors want to see real job sites with real workers," she said. Nicholson Kovac hired Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Dan White to take dramatic black-and-white photos shot on construction sites in documentary fashion. There were no staged shots that used actors posing as workers, Buck said.

In addition, the Hilti tools being used in the shots popped out from the black-and-white images with the company's trademark orange-red color. They were matched with simple, direct messages that Hilti tools were, in fact, for every job and were easy to find nationwide, at Hilti Centers, at Hilti Pro Shops inside Home Depot stores, online at and through its 800 number. The company liked the images and messages so much, it completely redesigned its marketing materials to use them, including its Web site, to create the new face of Hilti, Buck said.

The initial campaign ran last year from June through October in several major U.S. geographic markets. Post-campaign testing showed preference for Hilti tools increased to 28%, Buck said. Moreover, 11% of new customers said the campaign influenced their buying decisions, and they spent an average of $238 more on Hilti tools than existing customers. Call volume increased by 35%, and Web site traffic rose more than 10%.

The campaign was so successful it was extended to cover additional markets this year and will likely continue with ongoing tweaks into next year, Buck said.

"The grassroots campaign helped change the perception among contractors and workers that Hilti was out of their reach," Buck said. "And it created an almost immediate, increased preference among this group. To top it off, the compelling images of real construction workers positioned Hilti as a partner of the American worker." M

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