WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
This electrical market dominant company really knew how to throw a party - that is this information relates to their heyday pre 2000. If you don’t have the entertainment expense budget to mix it with the leaders in your industry, you may be interested in performing some market research to quantitatively find out what your customers really think and want, for entertainment rewards.
The majority of discussions about this company's unique approaches to marketing are held in the product management and Strategy sections.
HISTORY: Working in product management, the one thing that became obvious in this market share leading electrical company was it was a big family business built on years of history. From the outstanding week long customer get-aways in the Adelaide hills to the lavish pub nights run by the ‘marketing celebrant’ this company really knew how to get to the heart of it's customer loyalty. Almost every major division was run by a direct descendant of the Gerard family, meaning a tight management team.
MISSION: Uniquely I was the only person in the product management department to have marketing qualifications. Traditionally this company had favoured family relationships, salesmen or electrical tradesmen to perform these marketing tasks. This meant that when I was given charge of a small ($20M) product portfolio of heating and cooling products that I was also given a clean analysis slate. To understand the state of play of my portfolio I performed traditional sales analysis of the ranges, SWOT and competitor analysis. This was mainly done to understand what products could be rationalized and what new product development plans were necessary.
ACTION: Coming from an electronic engineering background I enjoyed the opportunity to perform primary research and define a market leading product. The main product we were looking at replacing was the flagship fan light heater. The 'Genius products' had been a great innovation for allowing multiple functions to be controlled via only three wires, but it was created at least ten years previously. It was created to remove the need for re-wiring when installing a full function fan and light product, however by 1999 this flagship product was easily being outsold by the remote controlled IXL products.
For this research I began by understanding the specifications and features of the Clipsal fan light range and that of the competition. Then I performed ‘one on one’ interviews with wholesalers and electricians. The final piece of research involved conducting several morning ‘breakfast information sessions’ which were a loose form of focus group.
RESULTS: After all of the primary research I discussed specifications and intended marketing plans with the senior product manager, the electrical engineers in manufacturing and design and the QA department to ensure complete internal support for the project. My work was fundamental in changing the way that the business and product development had been run by integrating genuine unbiased research and analysis into the new product development process.
THE RELAUNCH OF THE ECOHEAT RANGE
ISSUE: More information related to this article is given in the marketing collateral part of the Clipsal Product Management section of this site. The range had failed to take off when launched 18 months previously because it was the kind of range (radiant heating with low surface temperature and no typical red heat glow) that needed an education campaign on its launch and eye catching marketing collateral, POS material and PR.
These great products were sourced from Victorian firm Thermofilm and due to Australian manufacturing costs they also had a relatively high retail cost.
ACTION: To understand the product I discussed the product with the manufacturers and gained valuable testimonials from the clients that were happily using the product. I also performed competitive research on all domestic heating applications to find a suitable brand niche that these products could fill. While the upfront costs where high, the running and maintenance costs were extremely low.
From this research I created a brochure for the whole range (text and layout) that was produced by the in-house advertising department.
RESULTS: The research also showed that there were gaps in the range, to this end I discussed with the manufacturers these issues and we had several new models created. I also gained some free PR by using the industrial size units for a theatre show. The show was performed in a large warehouse environment with 20m ceilings and no insulation in the middle of winter. These heating units were suspended from the roof and due to their radiant heat nature were able to comfortably heat the audience economically for the several weeks that the play ran.
A display with brochures was set up in the hallway near the ticket box so that audience members could experience the units before the show and during interval. I believed and still believe in these very economical heating units and still use them today.
Good Product Management is vital in large manufacturing companies. With cheap imports created by cheap labour, true market research, analysis and innovative solutions are important for Australian companies wishing to remain competitive. Information from research and analysis can then create market winning strategic approaches. Strategy can be integrated into the manufacturing process, maintenance and lifecycle aspects of the product so the customer can be educated into not buying on price alone.
With dwindling tariff protection Australian manufactured products are unlikely to be able to compete head on against cheap imports on price or even service (look at the Dell sales model). However low carbon footprints (being produced locally with full audit trails), and the creation of high quality products and viable recycling options are now able to level that price playing field.
The companies that provide more than ‘lip service’ to these integrated approaches to product management are the ones that are likely to weather global financial downturns the best.