power_tools_and_innovation.jpgBatterii spoke with John Favalo and Donna Ricciardi, top marketers at Eric Mower + Associates who have a breadth and depth of experience in power and specialty tools, building materials, electrical devices and architectural and interior design categories. Favolo and Ricciardi help top brands including LENOX/Newell Rubbermaid, Legrand, TimberTech, Georgia-Pacific, 3M, and Carrier Air Conditioning build loyal relationships with buyers.

With a highly informed perspective on what the leading building and construction brands’ users want and wish for, Batterii spoke with Favalo, Managing Partner, and Ricciardi, Partner and Account Director, about both innovation and product adoption within these markets. 

We uncovered two major takeaways from the interview, including when and how brands need to push back when hearing, “We’ve always done it this way.”

Lesson One: You Can Never Spend Too Much Time with End Users

When talking about challenges in the industry, the rising age of the workforce—on professional job sites in particular—is a significant challenge, and opportunity, for building products and tools brands, says Ricciardi and Favalo.

“In the construction categories we study, the average age of a given construction trade worker is now past 40. In many cases, the highly experienced professional is near retirement,” explains Favalo. “The construction industry is facing the challenge of replacing these tradespeople with younger people—those who aren't necessarily interested in learning that trade.” Both the prevalence of older workers and the growing number of younger and perhaps less experienced workers is driving brands to observe how jobs are being done.

In the process, brands are looking to see why those jobs may be challenging for a workforce that is made up differently: “They will ask: ‘Is there a way to make this job simpler? Is there a way to make it faster? Is there a way to make it less strenuous for that worker?’”

Brands are always getting more in-tune with the materials and material science that can suggest changes to a product in order to improve it. “Our client Southwire makes electrical building wire. By changing the coating on the outside of the wire, it became ‘slipperier.’ So without affecting electrical insulation or properties, the wire became much easier for the electrician to pull into and through the structure, and eliminating the need, cost and time to lubricate the wire.” This was a significant innovation, explains Favalo.

Being more design-driven and asking more questions can help brands innovate and design products that will be a better fit for their changing user base. Another example of an innovation was with LENOX: “They have a hole saw, a power tool accessory, that cuts holes in a variety of materials - studs, plywood, drywall, etcetera. When the tool cuts a hole, a circular plug of material gets caught inside the opening of the saw. The plug is tight in there, and the worker has had to pry it out with a screwdriver. It takes a lot of time and effort.”

A design breakthrough occurred when someone recognized the long-standing issue of material removal and developed a revolutionary approach that popped out the plug far easier and faster. “This innovation in design was labor-saving, it meant greater productivity, and even though it cost more, it was well worth it. That's an example of product design solving a pain point,” explains Ricciardi.

Here, ethnographic methods contributed to innovation. “With the hole saw innovation, that was ethnographic—it was watching a laborer, or an electrician, or a carpenter, watching them get frustrated or struggle with some part of the job. It was posing the question, ‘Is there a way to make this easier?’”

Another effective way to get feedback and put users first is with “beta contractors.” “This is a technique where manufacturers recruit contractors that are willing to try a new product before it’s launched to prove it out on the jobsite. These early users now become proof of performance at launch,” he says, and, potentially, they may be the first adopters.

“You can never spend too much time with the end user or customer. The more you know about what they do and can’t do, the more opportunity you have to innovate,” he adds.

Lesson Two: Reject the “Six Dirty Words” that Hold Back Product Adoption

Favalo and Ricciardi intimately know contractors, designers, engineers, architects, and the DIY user. And if you ask them what can hold back innovation or product adoption, including marketing campaigns for new products, they will tell you about their “Six Dirty Words” concept: “The Six Dirty Words in construction, or construction marketing specifically, are hearing, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”

Favalo and Ricciardi explain that many contractors are creatures of habit, and they like to use what is proven. “In our research among four types of contractors, the number one driver of brand preference is trust.” When making decisions, contractors like to use what has worked in the past.

Knowing this insight can help with approaches to innovation, product design, and marketing campaign execution.

“The Six Dirty Words can foil the best plans for products, no matter how simple and no matter how disruptive the product is. Asking questions and knowing more about your consumer in terms of resistance to change is crucial,” adds Favalo.

“Brands must understand that an innovative product, no matter how good, may not be adopted instantly because of ingrained behavior and because of user trust in what’s proven,” he explains. Among the strategies to combat this are: piloting the product on a small part of a project to prove the value, giving away an installation or a portion of one, free demo products, and guaranteeing the efficacy of the product even to the tune of replacing it if it doesn’t work, and compensating the contractor and project owner for lost time and materials, says Favalo.

“We have seen this done very effectively.” Doing so allows brands to “elevate commodity products to value status,” he says. “You don’t always need an extraordinarily innovative product to be disruptive.”

Innovative brands can study a product—say, a commodity—and challenge the conventional thinking about design, materials, components, assembly, and packaging. Look for ways, big and small, to make it better for the user: easier to use, faster to install, safer, lighter, or more resilient, for example.

“Solutions can be found, and when that happens, a typically high-volume commodity product becomes a high-volume value product, which can often be sold at a premium.”

About Eric Mower + Associates

Eric Mower + Associates is a digitally-integrated independent marketing and public relations agency. With more than 250 professionals in Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany, N.Y.; New York City; Boston; Cincinnati; Charlotte, N.C.; and Atlanta, EMA delivers strategic insights, digital solutions, smart creative, and award-winning results to clients. Read more about its Buildings + Construction Specialty Group.

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