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April, 2024

Ken Oath it’s working: Kennards’ big brand play pays off as key metrics soar, corporate customer demand busts B2B myth of rationality, ad campaign lays foundation for entire customer service strategy

What you need to know:

  • Kennards Hire in partnership with Enigma recently launched the third iteration of its ‘Ken Oath’ campaign, with an emphasis on how customers are directly experiencing its service offering.
  • According to GM marketing and customer experience, Manelle Merhi, the narrative isn’t just resonating with the core tradie customer segment, it’s also having an impact on the enterprise end of town, with awareness and consideration showing double-digit growth off the first two campaign runs.
  • The Ken Oath has also become a rallying cry internally, with staff embracing the tagline as an ethos for how Kennards continues to deliver operationally to customers.
  • The retailer is now putting more emphasis on enterprise customers – what it dubs ‘Scotts’ – and has been investing in segmentation and customer journey mapping to ensure it can personalise and communicate more effectively with the bigger end of town.

“As a brand marketer, I fully believe you have to start with share of heart, not share of mind. It’s not the logical or rational that wins brand fame; emotive marketing wins brand fame,” Kennards GM marketing and customer experience, Manelle Merhi, tells Mi3.  

It’s a rare few B2B brands to act on such a vision (though some globally are starting to get it), but it’s what Kennards has been working to unlock with the help of creative agency, Enigma. In 2020, the pair landed on the idea of ‘Ken Oath’, a creative idea that’s since spun into a multi-year campaign series detailing and reaffirming the brand’s commitment to exceptional customer service.

In its first iteration, the pair introduced the concept of ‘Ken Oath’ targeted at Kennards’ core tradies segment. In 2022, this evolved into a campaign going behind-the-scenes and showing a group of ‘Kens’ making the ‘Ken Oath’ customer service promise.

The third campaign, which went live in ANZ in March, heroes customer experience by tapping into the feeling customers get when a job is made easy. To do this, the material fuses creative and characters while retaining the larrikin humour of previous campaigns. The campaign includes broadcast, digital, transport and social channels, leading with a TVC backed by specific communications and executions for different customer segments.

“We started this journey off the back of obsession and a lot of work around the voice of the customer – what the customer feels, their pain points, and evolving and maturing our thinking around personas over several years to understand choice and motivation drivers,” Merhi explains. “We have reached the point where we know what makes them tick, the vernacular, the psychology. What this creates is a sticky approach that makes customers think of us first, but also encourages them to like us.”

As both Merhi and Enigma MD, Jack Mason, agree, hefty work on customer personas and journey mapping, annual brand health tracking and significant service investments and commitment all made the campaign approach a no-brainer.

What’s more, Ken Oath galvanised people internally – quickly – behind the brand and service as the differentiator.

“It’s got to the point where they’re wanting to talk in that language to customers as part of the brand experience. The power of having your people rally behind an idea shows sales and marketing and the frontline working together. That’s where beautiful ideas happen,” Merhi says.

“I say it hesitantly, but to have a platform with such equity that’s almost comparable and creating the same momentum as the iconic ‘Kennards makes your job easy’ jingle is priceless. Previously, you’d ask a tradie about Kennards Hire and they’d hum that jingle to you… Now ask a tradie about Kennards Hire and I guarantee you’ll get a ‘Ken Oath’.”

We started this journey off the back of obsession and a lot of work around the voice of the customer – what the customer feels, their pain points, and evolving and maturing our thinking around personas over several years to understand choice and motivation drivers. We have reached the point where we know what makes them tick, the vernacular, the psychology. What this creates is a sticky approach that makes customers think of us first, but also encourages them to like us.

Manelle Merhi, GM marketing and customer experience, Kennards Hire

Stretching brand and campaign narrative

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been limitations. One potential pitfall of the creative idea was gravitating too much towards tradies at the sacrifice of other customers.

“We needed to ensure it wasn’t leaning too much into the f***ing element, but demonstrated the exceptional service, rigour and true strategy behind the idea – that needed to be brought to life,” Mason says. “And it needed to bake that feeling in with all of Kennards’ audiences. The insights from brand health tracking helped us identify how we needed to target those different segments, plus the type of stories or moments we needed to bubble up. That’s informed a lot of the executions.”

Merhi admits some internal people were unsure whether ‘Ken Oath’ could work with the commercial segment of Kennards’ audience, or what it internally dubs its ‘Scott’ persona.

“Their behaviour was telling us something different,” she says. “We have a range of merchandise around Ken Oath, from stickers to cups, mugs, hats and hoodies. We were giving these out to tradies, then had people working on the larger sites calling up branches, asking for those hoodies too. We could see there is a way this story connects with the bigger end. So we realised, what a great thing if we can develop a narrative that ends up stretching the brand to be multi-segment, talking to all our customers around our capability and services. We started to explore it, and this is where ended up.” 

Another challenge of B2B marketing Mason was keen to avoid was work executed “to the detriment of tone”. “You think ‘we need to be corporate and serious because we’re talking to corporate, serious people’. But to Manelle’s point, these customers also want to connect emotionally,” he comments. (Something Rory Sutherland, the founder of Ogilvy’s behavioural science practice, has long argued is a massive untapped opportunity for B2B marketers.)

Even so, the pair chose to abandon using consistent talent for the latest campaign. “That was a big change to make Ken Oath bigger than an actor and an idea informing so much of a business, rather than execution that’s funny because of the delivery of one actor,” Mason says. 

A further learning for Merhi has been directly connecting brand promise with Kennards’ ‘Trade Easy’ service offering.

“We became very mature on backing the story with our customer service pledge, then in came the proof points – the Kennards two-hour delivery promise, having one point of call, 200 network branches all connected from a network point of view. These are meaningful elements solving the problems customers were telling us via our voice of customer platform,” Merhi says.

Ken proof, channel mix

Numbers are stacking up. Kennards has moved what was already a very high consideration – 91 per cent for tradies – to 100 per cent. Consideration with the commercial segment that saw the mass brand work increased by 14 percentage points against those who hadn’t to 94 per cent. First choice for this segment also increased by 11 per cent between 2020 – 2022, buoyed by a doubling down on B2B marketing messaging across journeys and channels, says Merhi.

Commercial impact has followed through share of wallet, higher average spend, the number of customers transacting with Kennards today and using its online platform as a front door. 

A surprise in the mix was how effective LinkedIn was not only for sharing campaign messaging, but for capability documents and thought leadership. Another media stalwart is radio.

“Radio allows for an almost always-on approach to a mainstream broadcast that Kennards probably couldn’t achieve on television,” Mason says. “It’s not just tradies, but Scotts too – more often than not, these customers are going around looking at sites, so they’re still spending a lot of time in the car.”

A more instinctive execution paying off is fun, less salesy content through social channels to seed awareness and consideration. The pair landed on the ‘ventriloquist’ series of content, featuring Ken and ‘lil Ken’ discussing Kennards’ service value proposition with some added humour.

“Every Scott is still a human person sitting at night, scrolling on their phones, looking at social media. So how do we use those moments to be a brand they like but not to hard sell? How do we do that programmatic type of buy and be considered, seed awareness through fun, social content at that time so they just think, ‘that’s clever, Kennards is a cool brand’. That increases likeability, memorability and affinity. We tried that and it worked well for us,” says Merhi.

“Data after the fact told us it was some of the most effective content we’d ever delivered. It was part of the Ken Oath family, it was quirky and fun but delivered impactful stories,” Merhi says, noting strong viewing rates for the full content. The top performing pieces of content had view-through rates of 47 per cent and 42 per cent.

Service sophistication, journey mapping

Behind all this is a hefty voice of customer approach. Kennards surveys about 80,000 customers per year not only across transactional touchpoints, but all aspects of service and experience.

In addition, Kennards has spent the last two years embarking on more detailed persona work. It’s conducted a customer journey mapping exercise across segments, understanding every touchpoint and what pain points exist. It’s then ideated with human-centred design to work out how to remove those friction points.

This led to coming up with sub-personas under its commercial segment persona for targeting. “That’s because it’s potentially quite hierarchical and a different decision maker in the officer versus onsite; yet all of them are decision makers and all potentially have a revenue and commercial impact on us,” Merhi says. “Knowing how to reach, speak and design for them was quite important.”

SMS messaging has proved critical. The question was how to harness SMS. The answer was digitising a range of aspects of the journey, with the aim of making experience and service simpler and more efficient.

Over the next 12-24 months, Merhi’s focus is on self-service capabilities for enterprise customers. It’s also been building out CRM capability using Salesforce.

“These customers still want to talk to frontline staff via the phone, but they want digital to augment and tie it all together as a kind of red thread,” she says.

As work continues, CSAT data is showing Kennards is delivering operationally. With scores usually sitting around 9.3, the business has inched to over 9.4 over a three-year period. In Q1 2024 testing of specific service offerings, such as customers accessing Kennards after hours, this moved from 9.42 to 9.51.

“The architecture of how we built the Kennards creative is anchored in the TVC, with huge reach telling that story, then campaigns connected beneath that telling the story of our service model to tradies as well as what we do for the big end of town,” Merhi says.

“Then there are tech platforms underneath that – SMS, online platforms – as enablers. Not only are customers hearing about easy customer service and seeing proof points and what it means for them, they’re feeling it with new SMS messaging landing, and being able to reach us after hours via a pin on our gates. It is a complete ecosystem of breathing and living ‘easy’.”