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Valspar Paints A Brighter Future

For more than 200 years, Valspar was a private-label manufacturer of high-quality paint and coatings for Lowe’s and other independent retailers. But in 2007, Valspar made the bold decision to create a consumer-facing brand of paint to help its retail partners drive more growth and the company “better control its own destiny.” It not only called for product and marketing innovations, but also for a creative brand strategy that would distinguish Valspar in the do-it-yourself (DIY) segment. Much like a fresh coat of paint, the plan has breathed new life into the global company.

“Over the past six years we have become the number two brand of DIY paint in the country,” says John Anton, who served as Valspar’s vice president of marketing for much of the transformation before being named vice president and general manager of the Ace business unit earlier this year. “And we have our sights clearly set on becoming number one.”

Anton, who will speak at the 2013 ANA Masters of Marketing Annual Conference, October 3-6 in Phoenix, Ariz., shares his thoughts on Valspar’s evolution.

Q. In what ways did your marketing organization have to evolve to ensure success? Did it trigger an overall change in marketing philosophy?

A. Around the time we decided to invest in building Valspar as a consumer-facing brand, we also acquired Cabot, a well-known brand of wood-stain products. To properly manage these businesses, we recognized the need to beef up our marketing skill set. Back in 2007, the organization didn’t have a traditional marketing department, so we had to lean heavily on outside agencies to initiate this process. Over the years, we have worked hard to build our marketing capabilities by bringing in talented consumer-oriented marketers with more traditional CPG backgrounds.

Today, many of our marketers have come from Kraft, Sara Lee, Mars, and Campbell Soup. Fundamentally, we went from having a marketing service department that would respond to retailer requests to a consumer-focused, strategic marketing department focused on building consumer-desired brands that drive growth for our retail partners. Since the start of our branding initiative, awareness of Valspar has increased from less than 20 percent in 2006 to more than 88 percent in 2012.

Q. How did you get employees across the globe to rally around Valspar’s new brand initiative?

A. Having a brand framework and a point of view about the world in which we compete has been helpful in getting all associates to understand our mission. Valspar believes in the transformative power of color. Therefore, our associates should be thinking about ways to connect consumers to the power of color and build their color confidence throughout the paint journey.

Examples of this include training our sales reps on color theory, in addition to providing product knowledge, so they can better assist consumers with color choices in-store. It also includes launching an industry-first free sample giveaway on our Facebook page to encourage consumers to get started on their paint project. We believe these actions, taken together, will enable Valspar to build meaningful, long-term relationships with consumers as we become their ally throughout the painting process, versus simply selling a gallon of paint.

Q. What insights helped you to decide that digital and social media, as opposed to more traditional channels, were of paramount importance to driving meaningful growth?

A. As a coatings company with a heavy focus on the DIY segment, we would like for people to paint more frequently. Consumer research tells us there are two key reasons why people don’t do this more often: first, it’s a lot of work to paint a room, and second, people lack color confidence. Over the past few years, our competitors have focused on trying to solve the first problem by launching products like paint and primer in one, intended to make the painting project less cumbersome. While we have also launched paint-and-primer offerings, we knew that the bigger opportunity was to solve the second pain point -- how to instill more color confidence in the minds of DIYers.

That is what led us to launch the Valspar Love Your Color Guarantee in 2012. Valspar is the only brand in the industry to guarantee consumers that they will love their paint color, even after it has been put up on the wall. If a consumer isn’t absolutely thrilled with the initial color of Valspar paint, they simply purchase another Valspar color and we reimburse them for the cost of their first color. This is now a core part of the Valspar brand promise, as it serves as a tangible proof point of our unique ability to give consumers color confidence.

Instilling color confidence throughout the paint journey is also why digital is such an important tool for us. Consumers are seeking color inspiration from a variety of sources, including magazines, Web sites, Pinterest, Facebook, blogs, etc. As a brand, we have a presence in all these channels/outlets, but we also go further. We are the only brand to offer a free color consultation, through our new Valspar Color Connect App. We utilize Facetime technology to allow consumers, from the comfort of their own homes, to have a virtual color consultation with one of our trained color designers.

Using the dual-camera technology of smartphones, consumers can show our Valspar color consultants the room they want to paint, allowing our designers to see their furniture and style aesthetic. Our consultants then drag and drop color chips of recommended colors, which get superimposed over the existing wall to give consumers a virtual feel of what the new room will look like. This virtual consultation ends with our consultant sending an email to the consumer with all the information about the colors they discussed, along with closest retailer location, thereby providing consumers with the color confidence they are missing today.

Q. How is cause marketing also helping you elevate the Valspar brand?

A. Valspar has had a long-standing relationship with Habitat for Humanity, but for many years it was invisible to our consumers. In 2012 and 2013, we deliberately utilized our marketing assets to talk about this partnership, and for the first time ever, we invited consumers to participate with us and help raise money for the cause. We partnered with folks such as Molly Sims, Lauren Conrad, Tori Spelling, and other celebrities to create one-minute online videos, in which they share the power of a particular Valspar color in their lives. For each view, we donated $1 to Habitat for Humanity. This initiative not only raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Habitat, but it also reinforced an important point of difference for Valspar. We believe that when a philanthropic cause is directly linked to your product, it resonates best with consumers.

Q. How will Valspar reach its intended goal of becoming the number one brand of DIY paint?

A. We believe we will do this by increasing mental and physical availability. This simply means continuing to make significant investments in marketing to raise our brand awareness and salience, as well as gaining new physical distribution for Valspar-branded products. Our recently announced deal with Ace Hardware is one tangible example of increasing our points of distribution. Starting later this fall, as part of this new partnership, we have the opportunity to sell dedicated Valspar products through the Ace network of over 4,000 independent retailers.

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