About four years ago, GAF was marketing its roofing supplies just about the same way it had been since it was founded in 1886. It pitched the professional market with print advertising and waved its banner high at trade shows. A few consumer ads were primarily targeted males, although it did have a longstanding campaign in Good Housekeeping magazine.
Content marketing? Zilch. Social? Nada. Web site? Sure — staffed by one person. Partnering with television shows like “Ellen”? Why would the largest manufacturer of shingles in North America want to reach an audience that’s predominantly female?
Well, after listening to “some rumblings” from its certified contractors about the different kinds of questions their customers had been asking them lately — queries about color, style and design — the Parsippany, N.J.-based GAF commissioned some market research.
It revealed some startling insights, says vice president Emily Videtto, and led to an overhaul of GAF’s marketing that sets it apart not only from direct competitors but also from most companies in the building trades industry. Among the discoveries: About 43% of homeowners making home improvement now start their search for information at manufacturers’ websites, and 88% eventually check these sites out before making a decision.
“We realized we needed to make a significant investment,” in reaching those consumers, Videtto says. The “message couldn’t just be a regurgitation of what we’re selling the pros, because homeowners have different needs and wanted different information.” Particularly the “91% who are the key decision-makers as to what goes up on the roof.”
That would be women.
Content marketing that doesn’t “oversell and is organic and authentic” is now the centerpiece of GAF’s new efforts, which not only target the consumer market but also its base of contractors.
For example, the company's Facebook page, which has primarily looked to engage professionals since its launch in 2009, now includes posts about trends in “roof underlayment” and video interviews done at industry expos by both Videtto and marketing director Alyssa Hall.
Looking to engage consumers more directly without diluting the content of the original page, Videtto and Hall started a second Facebook page last winter called “Style My House” that offers tips on subjects like how to hang a picture or remove nail polish from a rug, or — of course — get the best look for your roof. Since “there’s only so much that somebody wants to hear about their roof,” 90% of the content has nothing to do with that topic, Videtto says. The company also “curates” information on products such as countertops or windows for which it has no vested interest except to reinforce itself as a leader in style and design.
GAF has also gotten involved in projects that help deserving homeowners renovate their homes over time. Several have been high profile: partnerships with shows such as “Orange County Choppers” and “Duck Dynasty,” for example — but none more so that one deal Hall fashioned to have GAF participate in the total teardown and rebuild of a family’s house. The process — from the surprise announcement of the project to the mom, to a peek at the new home — was featured for 17 minutes over three segments of “Ellen.”
“That was such as coup,” Videtto says. “It’s millions and millions of dollars of advertising. It’s not that we’re getting it for free, but" the benefits “no way correlated to what we paid for it.”
There were also four dedicated posts on the "Ellen" Web site -- which, in turn, reached about two million users on both Facebook and Twitter. GAF also created a video that contractors could show to homeowners to demonstrate the brand’s good-will efforts. “It was not just about being on the show,” says Videtto. “It was about, ‘How can we leverage the investment in as many ways as possible?’”
Last GAF also got into user-generated content marketing, with a contest that asked people to upload photos and videos of what they treasure most about their home and family to its original Facebook page. More than 400 people did so; one winner was chosen weekly and received a $100 Home Depot card.
Three of the winners — who had to have existing GAF roofs above them under the rules — won $2,500 gift cards and had their stories retold in compelling webisodes shot by filmmaker James Minchin III. Dr. Dale Rice, for example, gave up a corporate career that involved a lot of sleeping in motel rooms to become the oldest student in his veterinary school, and now rides the range in Colorado with his granddaughter.
App development — an iPad Virtual Home Remodeler and an estimator app, for example — is also integral to GAF’s new thrust. The latter is useful for both homeowners and contractors. The “considerable investment” in the apps is well worth the cost, Videtto says, because they engage consumers and allow contractors to talk about subjects like style and color, also providing paperless, “coffee-stain-free” estimates.
All of GAF's marketing — including traditional advertising — is done in-house by a greatly expanded marketing services department that is “much smaller than you would expect,” Videtto says, without divulging any details.
“They really know our business and the product, and can focus on the creative aspects and what the customers are looking for,” she says, “as opposed to retraining agencies on the outside to engage with our brand.”
Apropos of the above and our coverage of the Cannes branded content winners two weeks ago, consultant Michael Farmer quotes from adman Jeff Goodby’s op-ed about the festival: “Nowadays, it is more like a plumbers’ or industrial roofing convention, after which I go home and begin to explain to a friend that there is an amazing new fiberglass insulation technology that will enable us to cost-effectively sheathe surfaces exposed to the sun...” Maybe he should pitch one of GAF’s competitors?