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Let Creativity Flow

by Alf Nucifora

The smart CEO and savvy marketing director, particularly those of successful companies, should always live with the constant, nagging, almost neurotic fear of being left behind in the marketplace, of not knowing when the customer is silently losing interest in the brand. A case study will best illustrate the point.

The Delta Faucet Company is one of the best-known names in the faucet business and an undeniable leader in the field. One suspects that its brand name recognition among the faucet-buying public is exceptionally high. Founded in 1955, the company has, over the decades developed, a heritage and legacy for a well-crafted, sound-quality product…tops in functionality if not in decorative style and appeal. Since the 1970's, Delta has focused its energies and its marketing strategy on dominating the mass market and building loyalty with the builder marketplace… to the tune of more than a billion dollars in annual sales. But in successfully doing so, it has also ceded the high-end, upscale product niche to its more nimble, stylish competitors such as Kohler.

With the 90's came a time of reckoning for the company. Market share had reached a plateau; price points could not be raised; and research clearly indicated that, while builders and the trade respected Delta for its high-quality, durability and dependability, the household consumer was not as enamored. Driven by contemporary media images flooding from an avalanche of home style magazines and new broadcast sources such as the HGTV and Style cable networks, consumers wanted what was hot, chic and stylish... everything they perceived Delta not to be. In truth, the brand had not kept up with the times. The consumer knew; the company didn't.

Springing Into Action

While the company markets a variety of brand names, each geared to a different channel or niche, the real action is with the flagship brand "Delta" and it was here that the brand physicians focused their treatment. First step, identify a positioning that builds off the brand legacy yet provides credible umbrella coverage for a new strategy and direction. The tag line "Beautifully Engineered" does its job by extending, for the first time, the notion of beauty to what's outside (decorative appeal) as well as inside (functional quality). The new positioning was accompanied by all the expected basics… new and updated advertising, logo, packaging, sales literature, and merchandising elements.

Research became the biggest catalyst forcing change. As with many a market leader, Delta had lost the art of in-depth listening, particularly with the end user. According to Ray Kennedy, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, the company invested heavily in trying to comprehend the changing mindset of the contemporary customer who now views the kitchen as a gathering place and the bathroom as an escape from the turmoil of daily life. Focus groups and surveys were supplemented by brand metaphor exercises that identified how Delta is perceived vis a vis competitive brands. Faucet motivation studies explored consumer needs and attitudes. Segmentation studies probed the unique needs of newly-defined segments. Anthropological research identified emotional and rational drivers for each consumer segment. Don't think a homeowner can get emotional about a faucet? Try building or remodeling your own home, then report back.

Delta also worked closely with other divisions (of its parent company Masco), that cater to the upper-end homeowner and builder in non-competitive but related product areas such as cabinetry, furnishings and lighting. This cooperative teaming resulted not only in the sharing of trends and data but led to the development of integrated home decor brands that are now sold under the same name across different product categories within the Masco family.

The design development process is where the real fun began. The original two year, eighteen-step development cycle for new products was slashed to twelve months and seven steps. Product development teams were housed within the marketing function and not within manufacturing or production. And specific teams were formed and charged with the sole responsibility for new product design. Younger designers, some from overseas, were brought in to regenerate the gene pool and outside design firms were hired to bring a fresh, maverick perspective to an otherwise comfortable design environment.

According to Kennedy, certain inviolable precepts now guide the innovation process at Delta. First, the innovation must be obtainable. What value the idea, if it can't be produced or affordably marketed? There must be acknowledged leadership in design. There must be the same superior craftsmanship that Delta has always been known for in both design and manufacturing. The innovation must communicate a passion for quality to the consumer. And the resulting product must always deliver an enjoyable consumer experience be it functional (good ergonomic design) or emotional (complements the tone of that expensive kitchen).

And Today?

The strategy to redefine the Delta brand and reposition it for the twenty-first century buyer got well under way in early 2000. By April of 2001, the company had introduced three times more products than in the previous three years combined. Builders, consumers and the trade have reacted with favorable surprise to the "new thing going on at Delta". In marketing speak, its known as the WOW factor. Every marketer should flash it on a regular basis, particularly those in the style business. Sell-through of Delta products to the trade remains strong. The brand has picked up one and a half points of market share in an industry were share-of-market change is not known for its volatility, and it continues to command a clear #1 ranking in S-O-M. The major hurdle in the process? Internal complacency. When you're the biggest player, it's easy to overlook marketplace change. Talk to K-Mart, Kodak and Sears, among others, who could no doubt provide an interesting commentary on the point.

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