B&Q wants to be more than a “big orange box” to customers, as it looks create an emotional connection with consumers and capitalise on the rise in demand for gardening.

Speaking to Marketing Week, customer and digital director Paddy Earnshaw admits the company had “lost resonance” with customers but it moved to rectify this last year with a shift in marketing direction. It embarked upon a more emotionally-charged strategy to build brand equity in the long term.

Earnshaw notes there are “only so many ads you can do with screws and nails” in a hard-sell approach, and with growing competition in the UK, the brand decided it need to play on the heritage of the B&Q brand.

“We took a step back and thought, hang on, customers really have an emotional connection somewhere in them with the brand. How do we light that touchpaper again? Interestingly we found the most common bit of feedback was people saying they have forgotten how awesome it is inside a B&Q,” says Earnshaw.

The ‘We Will Grow’ campaign, created by agency Uncommon, launches on TV and online tonight (26 March), with out-of-home and print to follow in the coming weeks across the UK.

The ad opens with bleak scenes of winter and forgotten dirty gardening gloves. It then transcends into scenes of plants growing and other illustrations of spring such as children playing and people gardening.

A voiceover reads a letter to winter throughout, which concludes with “dear winter, we didn’t lose hope, we planted it” to highlight the brand’s garden range.

“We looked at ‘Build a Life’ [the first campaign B&Q launched as part of its new strategy], and we thought about outdoor. We also thought about the year we’ve had. We thought it would be cool to write a piece about coming out of winter, changing into spring and the hope that gives, not only to gardeners but more personally to the nation as we come out as lockdown and capture the mood of the nation,” says Earnshaw.

Interestingly we found the most common bit of feedback was people saying they have forgotten how awesome it is inside a B&Q.

Paddy Earnshaw, B&Q

The purpose of the campaign is to “capitalise” on the eventual demand for gardening products as the weather improves and make B&Q the “number one garden offering” from a market share standpoint.

Earnshaw is bullish on the B&Q’s change in marketing direction, and points to the company improving five key internal brand metrics after launching the Build a Life campaign.

“What’s been terrific is all of our KPIs have improved. Our brand recognition, emotional resonance and emotional engagement have significantly improved over the course of the campaign. But what was really interesting is that all of the other indicators went up as well,” notes Earnshaw.

Compared to the previous year B&Q saw a 1% increase in brand preference; 2% for brand trust; 3% for ease and convenience; 2% on value for money; and 2% for availability.

Earnshaw also credits the success to the long-term view of the board of parent company Kingfisher and how it has been hands-on.

Earnshaw adds, “No one is coming to me wagging a finger saying, where’s the pound value? Because not only do we look at it from an incremental perspective, we also know it’s the right thing to do for the next 50 years, which is much longer than the next six months of trading.

“It’s quite important [the long-term view], it’s been a fundamental part of our positioning.”

Kingfisher has a solid 2020, with profits up 44% according to its latest results. Ecommerce also saw a significant boost, rising 158% compared the the previous year.

Digital acceleration

The pandemic has forced all brands to accelerate their digital and ecommerce plans to hit targets in two months instead of two years, in a bid to stay in touch with consumers and most importantly, continue selling.

B&Q took the opportunity of the first lockdown to streamline and accelerate its ecommerce business by putting stores “at the heart” of its operations.

The brand now fulfils the vast majority of orders directly from stores rather than rely on the commercial warehouses it shares with sister-brand Screwfix.

“We were ultimately forced into the opportunity,” says Earnshaw. “At the time, we couldn’t get access to the Screwfix warehouse, such was the demand in their business. So, we had to change the operating model. And that was incredibly effective and has been great for us. Our 27,000 B&Q colleagues embraced this shift brilliantly. If you look across our business now, digital is as exciting an area for the colleagues as it is for customers walking in.”

Changing perceptions

Earnshaw believes the brand made the right choice in tapping into the emotions of the nation through its emotive brand-building strategy.

“What we’ve definitely seen is really positive feedback and positive indicators across all of the different age demographics that we appeal to. The ads are a bit different from the B&Q ads of old,” he says, referring to its classic tagline of ‘You can do it when you B&Q it’.

“We set that challenge to Uncommon to try and make us a little bit more inspirational, a bit more relevant.”

Earnshaw says the brand isn’t interested in going after a specific age group, instead looking to appeal to consumers across the board based on their interests.

“I think what we really wanted to do is just appeal and make that emotional connection. To be honest, I don’t care whether you’re 18 or 80, moments of the heart are familiar to us all and it’s really easy to speak to them [this way].”

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