Lenox hones marketing strategy to cut through commodity clutter

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Lenox, a division of Newell Rubbermaid that has manufactured band saws and hand tools since 1915, needed some razor-sharp marketing to launch a new premium product in the summer of 2004. The Lenox Gold utility blade, a professional version of a box cutter, was the first of its kind to feature bimetal construction and a titanium-coated edge that made it last longer than other blades.

The marketing challenge was that not only was the utility blade positioned as a premium product, priced at about 30% higher than standard blades, but also that its primary audience of drywall, insulation, roofing and floor installers did not generally care much about what brand of blades they were using. Utility blades were seen as inexpensive commodity items that would dull quickly and could then be discarded.

Lenox teamed up with Buffalo, N.Y.-based marketing communications agency Eric Mower & Associates (EMA) to overcome these obstacles and change perceptions about utility blade durability and performance.

"Lenox had a prime opportunity to stir up a market where there had been no prior innovation, to get users to notice and re-evaluate the convention of commodity blades and to make users truly care about blade performance enough to change their prior purchase behavior," said Veronica Hotaling, account supervisor for EMA's Group B2B.

Getting the product into the hands of contractors and their workers was critical to accomplishing these goals. "However, reaching this audience is not easy," Hotaling said. "Trade magazines or conventional b-to-b media would not effectively reach where they live: on the job site."

EMA formulated an integrated campaign that combined a sampling promotion and on-site advertising with more traditional marketing tactics. In several top U.S. markets-Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas-Lenox rolled out a two-stage sampling promotion program called "Get Caught With the Gold." During stage one, Lenox blitzed construction job sites and gave away more than 6,000 free samples, Hotaling said. The company then returned to those sites four weeks later-longer than even a Lenox Gold blade would last-and gave every tradesman who had purchased another Lenox Gold blade a scratch-off game piece that promised a chance to win an American Express gift check on the spot.

At the same time, stationary and mobile billboards showcased the Lenox Gold blade near and on the way to active job sites. Radio spots ran in those markets during drive times. The tagline was "The longest lasting utility blade. Ever."

One month after the initial launch, the nationwide sales lift of Lenox Gold blades was 59%, Hotaling said. In Chicago, the first market targeted, the sales lift was 231%, she said. After four months, the increase in sales at Home Depot stores ranged from 102% to 167%. On a market-by-market basis, the rate of converting samplers to users was as high as 45%. More than a year later, promotion-specific markets show average weekly units sold through Home Depot stores remain 77% above initial launch levels.

Lenox and EMA have followed up the promotional effort with print advertising and direct mail ads touting free blade offers; public relations and media relations efforts that generated positive editorial coverage; and demonstrations at NASCAR races, trade shows and job sites.

"We believe that having a hands-on approach and getting them to try the product was crucial for success," Hotaling said. "After all, these people work with their hands all day long, so having something tangible, something they could feel, was important." M

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