There are many ways that companies conspire to keep their products sitting lazily on the shelf (safe from consumer purchase). One critical mistake is with naming.
Consider an example from the realm of the home store where tool makers have created a wilderness of product, category and project names that stand in the way of revenue and market share growth.
No tool category is more confused than drills and drivers. And over the past few years manufacturers have added to the confusion with the impact driver. The impact driver is a superb, compact tool that use small bursts of torque to deliver turning power around the screw, bolt or nut.
“Impact driver” is a strong label for the category of tools because they are used by pro and DIY alike primarily to drive screws and self-tapping hex headed screws (e.g. those used for steel studs). Impact drivers are also used, but less often, to drive lag bolts, remove small stuck bolts, and in a few other driving situations.
In other words, from both the pro and DIY end user point of view, they are a superb evolution of the drill/driver. Except, manufacturers never communicated their value and left purchasers to accidentally buy an impact driver in order to discover it’s value.
And now, looking around the home store, I’m seeing a bunch of shelves labeled “impact wrench”. Huh? Impact wrench?
An impact wrench is a big tool used on cars, trucks, and in factories that delivers 2500 to 7000 in-lbs of torque and is used for the heaviest duty work on cars and trucks. It also exclusively drives sockets and is used on heavy bolts.
But while the tools in these packages labeled “impact wrench” do deliver small torque impacts – they are merely 500 to 1300 in-lbs. In other words, light enough torque to drive screws or hex head screws without breaking them. (It may be that engineers would say the impact drivers are merely lightweight impact wrenches. Maybe so. But consumer and pro alike understand them as a dramatic improvement on the drill/driver.)
How can we expect consumers to buy products without consistent categories and names? This challenge is particularly miserable in the drill and driver category.
Even before impact drivers, purchasers were already confused by the chaotic range of language used to describe the features and benefits of drills, drivers, and hammer drills. And they were, and are, even more confused by battery sizes and types.
Why confusion? In part, companies have grasped for short-term profits in ways that fragment the categories – making the retail shelf chaotic in return for a faint hope of competitive advantage. But also, there has been very little effective mass communication for these tools.
The confusion is quite serious. To see it, just walk the aisle at any retailer and try to envision what a consumer faces.
And it’s not just DIY consumers who are confused. Most of the labor that works for contractor’s thinks a hammer drill and an impact wrench are the same thing. For clarity, they’re entirely different. The hammer drill adds impact along the axis of the drill to help masonry bits break out more material. The impact driver generates small impacts in the plane of the screw head (at a 90 degree angle to the axis) to tighten or loosen screws, bolts, and nuts.
My agency’s research finds that nearly every area of the hardware business is losing money because of problems with language. It’s particularly problematic for products like saws and drills. It’s even worse when it comes to talking about projects and the best practices for those projects.
1. If the tool & hardware business is to make its next step in growth, we’ve all got to become better at controlling these names. Because clear naming drives product sales. In fact, good, clear end-user driven names can drive sales as much as 3 or 4 times higher.
2. The tool and hardware business must start communicating about it’s products. Lack of communication created the confusion amongst impact drivers, impact wrenches, and hammer drills. But it goes much deeper. Engineering teams throughout the business are inventing amazing new products faster than potential buyers are told about them. But without communication it’s as if the product advances don’t exist. (If a product’s invented and no one knows about it, was it really invented?)
These product advances are exciting. So it’s sad that our business too often lacks the communication savvy to cash in on the value of those advances.
Question is: Which manufacturers and retailers will do the hard work to dramatically increase their profits by sorting out naming so that products fly off the shelf? Those who don’t will continue to create shelf potato after shelf potato.
Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett
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