19 minutes | Dec 27th 2020

Kobalt Tools: Jonathan Bradshaw, On Leveraging Customer Stories With Video Content

Jonathan Bradshaw of Lowe’s® Kobalt Tools line explains how to leverage customer stories with video to generate leads and build relationships. Danny:

Alright, so for today’s episode, I’ve got a really awesome story I’m going to share with you. I was on Facebook a couple weeks ago and came across this really cool video series called Artisan Series by Kobalt Tools. This is an amazing marketing tactic that they’re using to reach their customers by sharing their stories. And guess what? They’re not saying, “Hey, you need to buy from us because we’re the best and the most amazing thing.” They’re engaging their community, and they’re getting a lot of benefits out of it… So let’s go ahead and jump into today’s episode. We’ve got Jonathan Bradshaw who is the product manager at Kobalt Tools. Jonathan, thank you so much for joining us remotely from Charlotte today.

Jonathan:

Yeah, yeah, it’s beautiful here in Charlotte. I appreciate you having us.

Danny:

Excellent. So for those who are not familiar with you in the audience, can you please introduce yourself, tell us a little bit about you and Kobalt Tools.

Jonathan:

Sure, so I am the product manager for Kobalt Tools, so I’m responsible for a lot of the details that go into the products, designing stuff for our end-user, but also how to go to market with those products and making sure the messaging is what we need it to be to communicate that. Kobalt is a 20-year-old brand, but it’s also a private brand which belongs to Lowe’s, part of the store portfolio. We’re about to celebrate 20 years here in about two months. And we’re very much focused on user experience, so what makes Kobalt unique in the market is we’re building really tough tools, serious tools for serious jobs to get the job done. And we’re designing it in a valuable way, something that is very intentional for the customer, very comfortable to use, but at the same time a tremendous value. So Kobalt Tools really focused on the user experience from ergonomics to durability. Everything that it goes into the customer using the tool is what we’re focused on, that end-user to have a serious tool for doing serious work.

Danny:

And that’s awesome. I just wanted to share with the audience a little bit about how we found you. You guys are dialed in on that user experience. I was very impressed; I came across the Artisan Series that you have. It’s a video series you guys have posted on Facebook. I came across it. I’m a newly-minted private pilot; I’m super excited about that. And so I’m in all these different Facebook groups like Private Pilots of America or whatever. And so somebody had posted one of the videos that you guys had done in the Artisan Series, and it was actually on a guy who was building a kit plane. And so, naturally, I was, oh, I’ve got to watch this; this is awesome. And then, I realized later, who’s doing this? This is brought on by Kobalt Tools, and I thought this is awesome. These guys are doing it right. And what was awesome to me was that you guys are talking all about your customer. And it was sharing their story, and there was nothing like, hey, get Kobalt tools today from Lowe’s or whatever. It was all about that customer, and it was telling a story. And I said, this is awesome, and so then I reached out to you guys on Facebook. It was like, we totally need to bring these guys on. I just want to hear about all of this, so for the audience, that’s how we found you guys, and it’s just awesome.

Jonathan:

Well, what we like to think makes us unique at Kobalt is we start with the customer in mind. Our designers are intently focused on the customer experience. Our engineers, our quality folks, everyone–when we talk about our tools, we talk about the customer and then the tool that meets that customer’s need. And when we were discussing ways to go to market– we’re a large brand for Lowe’s, but we are a private brand. So we don’t have the large marketing dollars that everyone else has. We rely on some of the bigger brands to bring customers into the door, so we don’t have to worry about that. Now, it’s okay, how do we communicate to that customer? One of the things that we like to show is, alright, what is our customer doing with our tools? What are they using them for? And as we started to search out some artisans and stuff, we heard about Randy with the plane. We got people who build furniture out of reclaimed wood and all kinds of different things. But the goal of it was, if you noticed, there’s not a lot of product shots in there. We’re going to get our product in there; obviously, it is there to represent the brand. But out of a four-minute video, there’s maybe 20 seconds of total product shots. And it’s really about the user and how they’re using our tools to enrich their lives, how our tools are making their projects better. Building an airplane’s a serious thing. Once you go up, you’ve got to come back down.

Danny:

Yes.

Jonathan:

So you better have some real tools to put that together and make sure that you’re doing it the right way. Randy was already using our products. We found him through our social media. And that’s how we find all of our artisans.

Danny:

I think there’s another great element of that. You found him through your social media, so you guys are obviously active on that channel. Now, I know a lot of our subscriber base, we’re focused on B2B, but there’s a lot of lessons to learn. I know this is B2C, but we’re seeing this transition. There’s a really great story that came out of a study that Google did back in 2015 when they found, back then, three years ago, or three and a half, depending on when in 2015, that nearly 50% of B2B buyers were millennial. Three years later, I’m guessing that it’s 50 or more at this point. And that’s a big lesson. So Caterpillar latched onto that, took their campaigns, and totally changed it. Now, Caterpillar, they’re not B2C; they’re going to be B2B. They’re selling these giant tractors and stuff. And they went to go tell more stories to bring in a more human element, and that’s exactly what you guys are doing there. So I don’t want to hear any of this, oh, B2C, B2B–it doesn’t matter. You’re selling to other humans. You’re having that transaction, that conversation.

Jonathan:

Right. Yeah, so I guess the best way that we’ve approached it or thought about it is if your marketing is your blockbuster movie, you’re going to have your action shots, and you’re going to have all that stuff. We have a series called In Motion where it shows all of our tools in super slow-mo. It’s really cool; it’s really specialized. But it doesn’t tell a story. And for any movie, whether it’s a blockbuster or a drama, whatever, you’ve got to tell the story of the people who are using the tools. Candidly, you can only do so many slow-motion shots of a drill or of a lawn mower just slinging grass. It becomes disinteresting, but there are so many people out there using our product that are very interesting. Nobody shoots four-minute long-form commercials because you’re not going to hold a customer’s interest that long. But we can shoot videos because the stories are interesting. And we can tell a story of our customers. And if we happen to sell some more tools from it, cool. But this isn’t really designed to be a viral thing. It’s just really to connect with our customers and show them that we’re here for them and that we’re part of their story, and we get them, and we understand them. That’s what we’re trying to convey with the Artisan Series.

Danny:

That’s awesome. And you guys are doing a fantastic job, so kudos on that. Talk to me a little bit about the inception. How did you guys come to that realization, saying hey, we need to do this. Did you just jump out? Hey, we’re going to do all these episodes. What did that look like?

Jonathan:

So it starts with where we’re at with our marketing dollars in our company. We’re part of a large, Fortune 40 retailer. We’re a large part of what we do in the categories that we participate in, but we’re still overall a small company within it. We do have autonomy to operate, and so we had to look at ways to spend our limited advertising dollars, and connecting with the customers seemed like the most important part. So what we noticed in the tool world and across the board is that social media-wise, there’s not a lot of connection between what they’re putting up on the screen and what the customers are interacting with. So not getting a lot of likes, not having a lot of followers. And their customer response time’s also no good. So we’re less than a day in response to our customers. We have over 10,000 calls we’re answering. That’s not a ton, but in the tool world it is; it’s actually quite a bit. We’re really proud of that, so we’re engaging with our customers that way. We find we get a lot of really good product ideas or product improvement ideas. As someone who’s a product manager, I’d rather somebody who’s using this tool every day or every weekend doing their job or their hobby or their passion to tell me how to make it better. You’re the real-life engineer. We go with that, and we learn from it. Then, the decision was, okay, how do we in turn show our customers who else is using this tool and what else these tools are capable of doing? And so you start to get these submissions online of people like, hey, check out my garage; I have everything in the Kobalt series. I’ve got tool boxes and garage storage and lawn equipment and hand tools and power drills and all kinds of stuff. And so the customer starts to show you, here’s what I’m proud about with my Kobalt. Then, you start seeing people, they’ll tag Kobalt tools in a project that they used. That got it started. So you see someone, and they made this beautiful table, this beautiful reclaimed wood table, and they used a couple of different Kobalt tools. And they tag you in it, and you’re like, well, I didn’t make that table. Kobalt didn’t make that table. You did. But based on that, the brand was part of their project. We were along for the ride, whether we signed up for it or not. And we signed up for it by selling them a product. That was the manifestation, and we kept going with the idea of getting these artisans and seeing how people every day use our products.

Danny:

That’s awesome. There’s so many lessons in there. There’s so many takeaways that I have anyways from that, that I think the first thing is, yes, you are engaged socially, and you are listening and being open to the ideas. I think it’s awesome that you are discovering all these different use cases and all these different, what people are doing with these tools. And I think that’s a huge takeaway for other companies to be able to think, hey, we may think– especially, I can imagine, as a product manager. It’s like, oh, well, we’re going to develop this product because over here, this is how it needs to be used. No, we really need to listen to what our customers actually, what they need and what they want. You see so many times that a product is developed because we think it’s a really cool idea, and it’s great, and it can do all these things. But the market, they don’t really want it. They want this over here. So I think that’s just an awesome lesson that you’re listening and then engaged in that community. You’re helping to build that, and if you didn’t have that, I don’t know that you would’ve been able to take this as far downstream as you have.

Jonathan:

Right, and the customer or, for most of your audience, the other businesses– we’re in the B2B world–if you’re offering something nobody needs, you’re not going to move it. Let them tell you what they need first, and see if you have a solution or you can develop one for them. That’s definitely the approach we take when we’re developing. It’s extremely customer-centric.

Danny:

That’s awesome. So what pieces of advice would you have to a brand that’s saying, you know what, we’re thinking we want to toy around with doing something like this; maybe we want to toe-dip. What piece of advice would you give?

Jonathan:

Crawl first, and then walk, and then start sprinting. You used the term dip your toe into it. Allocate some money; spend a little bit of resources differently, and figure out how you want to talk to your customer and learning about what’s important to them. And then, when you start walking, you start realizing, okay, this is how the two-way conversation works between you and your customers. And then, from there, you learn how they’re using your products. You learn what they’re doing with your stuff, and if they’re modifying them or if they’re using them as designed, or if they’re holding them a different way you didn’t imagine they would ever do, but it happens to work. And then, you can run. And by run, I mean you create the content they’re interested in looking at. You create ways in which they can interact with you in their brand. The biggest challenge in retail, and I feel like it’s also in any business to business situation, is you’ve got to meet your customer where they are. It’s no longer about them coming to you and trying to find solutions. It’s no longer about them necessarily coming into the brick and mortar store or reaching out to you via your phone number or your email. You’ve got to go find them where they are. And so if they’re out on Instagram, I’ve got to go find them on Instagram. And if they’re out in “Facebook World,” then that’s where I’ve got to go. That’s the biggest thing is crawl, walk, run. Try something. Do something different. And then, continue to expound and learn and be willing to change. I wouldn’t jump into it with some huge grand strategy because a year ago, the Artisan Series wasn’t on our radar. It wasn’t something that anybody had thought to do or that we were really going to engage in. It was more, we were doing product shots and that kind of product-focused marketing. The Artisan Series was a departure for us, and it’s been really successful. We got a lot of engagement from it. Customers comment. We’ve been shared hundreds of thousands of times. And then, also the cool thing about the Artisan Series is the customer stays there. They watch the whole thing. They’re staying in there, and they’re watching the whole video. And so even if there’s not a whole lot of brand exposure to it, we’re engaging, and we’re getting their attention for a longer amount of time. And as anybody who markets knows, that’s one of the biggest challenges is how do I get my stuff in front of you long enough for you to learn about it?

Danny:

Yeah.

Jonathan:

And if you make something interesting that’s engaging, like you’re into aviation and you’ve got a video on aviation, and you stay and watch the video to the end to the point when you engage with us, that’s how you found us. That’s what we want to do with each one of our customers. And we’re going to continue the series into this year and work into different parts of the country and different fields of use. Now we’re running. So we crawled; we walked; and now we’re off to the races.

Danny:

That is awesome. Such great feedback. You touched on a couple different elements that we’ve had in a couple different episodes recently, going to where your customer is at. And that’s such a big thing right now. You’re talking ecommerce or the brick-and-mortar, the retail, the omni-channel approach, that is changing constantly. And it’s interesting, the whole B2C buying experience. The way that people buy B2C, they want that same experience B2B. And you’re seeing those worlds really come together. So kudos, congratulations on what you guys are doing. You guys are doing fantastic listening to the customer, responding to it. You said a really big thing about engaging them. That’s a big thing on YouTube metrics, for example. It’s not about view counts and how many views you can get. It’s how long will people actually engage with that content. And that’s where it’s all going, SEO, all that stuff. It’s all about the content and engaging. So congratulations.

Jonathan:

Absolutely. Thank you.

Danny:

So we have, obviously we talked about this Artisan Series. We’ll put some links in the show notes. If you’re listening on iTunes, we’ll have those there. If you’re obviously looking at the website, we’ll have those there. You can take a look at that. If anybody has any questions for you, what’s the best way they might be able to reach out and contact you?

Jonathan:

Social media, of course. You can reach us at, Instagram is @kobalttools. Twitter, also @kobalttools; Facebook, look up Kobalt Tools with a K not a C, and you’ll be able to engage with us. We try to respond as quickly as possible. So that’s where we’re at, and that’s where we live.

Danny:

That is awesome. Okay, well Jonathan, thanks so much for joining us on IndustrialSage. I really enjoyed the conversation. And best of luck with the continued success that you guys have.

Jonathan:

Thank you, and I appreciate you reaching out. And I hope you enjoy the next round of Artisan Series that comes out.

Danny:

Yeah, we can’t wait to see it.

Jonathan:

It looks awesome to me, so I hope you’ll watch it.

Danny:

Absolutely. Alright, well that was another great episode. Listen, if you have not checked out the Artisan Series from Kobalt Tools, you totally need to do that. So all the links in the show notes; if you’re listening on iTunes, you can check it out there. On the website, you’ll have it there. Listen, a lot of major takeaways, so many. One big notable piece is being engaged in the community, building that community, being part of it, and listening, listening to what customers are saying, telling their stories, not so much yours. That’s a huge one. And Kobalt Tools is really reaping a lot of benefits by doing that. And don’t be like, oh, they’re B2C; we’re B2B. That’s coming together. Remember that study that Google did in 2015 and how Caterpillar found that. So take these tips; take that advice. If you’re thinking about doing this, which you should, remember, don’t sprint. We’re going to start crawling, then you’re going to walk, then you sprint. So thanks again for watching this episode. If you like it, we love that engagement on social media. Share it; like it. If you’re listening on iTunes, we’d love a rating. And if you have any questions, we’d love to answer them for you. You can reach out to us, IndustrialSage.com/questions. We’ll answer them on the show. And as always, I’m Danny Gonzales. Thanks for watching; this is IndustrialSage.

 

 

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