Beautiful, functional or hands-on? CMO James Gordon on why Karcher is powering up performance marketing

As house-trapped nesters turn into cash-strapped consumers, Karcher is combining modern first-party targeting with smart brand storytelling to clean up any wasted ad spend.

Last month, domestic cleaning equipment specialist Kärcher partnered with publisher Future to promote its Wet & Dry vacuum cleaner range in a multi-faceted campaign across the publisher’s specialist home titles.

Future’s Homes and Garden category was the second top performing vertical on Amazon Prime Day this year, with the platform seeing an increase in consumers buying non-discretionary items, such as vacuum cleaners, in light of the cost of the living crisis.

The partnership represented a major shift for Karcher – a market leader across several domestic and industrial cleaning sectors – as it ramped up its performance marketing investments.

The campaign targeted high intent home shoppers ahead of the ‘golden quarter’, and included digital display, videos, social content (including ‘social instazines’), articles and advertorial content and email takeovers.

As the month-long campaign came to an end, PMW sat down with James Gordon, Karcher CMO, to discuss partnership marketing, the nuances of cleaning jobs and app-powered pressure washers.

Q. Your latest marketing campaign with Future works across many channels, how has your core audience behaviour in the domestic cleaning sector changed and how did Future help you access these audiences?

“This campaign was really interesting for us because the Karcher product line itself is quite a broad church. We know that your average DIY expert might use the product, but equally, there is a much broader audience that we thought that product was appropriate for – and we wanted to talk to them. Future enabled us to really zero in on three core audiences on print, digital, and in social, enabling us to get our messaging across to them in very unique ways.”

Those three key audience groups were:

  • The refined and the beautiful;
  • The family and functional;
  • and The practical and hands-on.

“Certainly, our products lend themselves to explanation. We had an insight that many people have a tough job cleaning the garage or outside in the garden, often because they don't yet know that there's a specific vacuum for those kinds of tougher jobs. And if you do try, you're likely to break your expensive indoor vacuum!

“We were able to then shoot and create assets that spoke very critically to those audiences in the ways that we knew would be appropriate for them. It was the first time we'd really done partnership marketing and we were very pleased with it."

View an example of the video ads as they appeared on Future brands below: 

“We did have some challenges in the campaign with the unfortunate timing around the death of the Queen, right in the middle of it. That did have some impact, certainly from a performance marketing point of view. It was our first venture into this very audience driven type of campaign and all the very specific, attitudinal marketing that went into it.”

Q. Given the growth of privacy regulation and phasing out of tracking cookies, how have you changed your marketing strategies over the past few years when it comes to reaching your key audience groups?

“Our Future campaign is a good example of how we are trying to think differently, and in partnership with our agencies, we were trying to get to know who our audience was and where they were consuming media in this new world.

“We’re trying to move away from media awareness to a much more targeted audience driven type of campaigning, where we can be absolutely sure that we're talking to the right people at the right time, in the right place. It sounds like very textbook marketing, but it's difficult to do really effectively.

“With the Future campaign we were able to really drill into those audience segments – we knew exactly who they were and we created a way and a style in which we wanted to talk to them from a product point of view, with just the right assets at the right time. That's certainly one area where we've changed; we’re trying to get more critical upfront about exactly who our audience is and how we're going to reach them."

View a sample of the native content appearing on the Future brand Livingetc... below:

“Our own channels have become more and more important in terms of the consumer data that we own through our own website, through warranty, through our Karcher Club that people can sign up for – and that has allowed us to then speak with them more directly.”

Q. There's a lot of uncertainty in the economy right now – how is Karcher approaching the golden quarter differently this year given the cost of living crisis?

Our business is coming off some highs from the post-COVID world. A lot of people were stuck at home with lots of time on their hands – cleaning jobs and pressure washing in the garden, that kind of thing. We had some very strong years. The state of the economy now is providing new challenges for us. As a result, we've got to talk about the value proposition.

“The cost of living crisis means that discretionary purchases are becoming even more discretionary. And for us to be in the consideration set, we’ve got to provide a reason as to why you should spend money with us. For us that is not just about reducing prices. That would be very easy in lots of brands. The competition's getting tougher because price points are falling and brands are coming in with entry [price point] offerings.

“We're looking a lot more at what value we provide, not just in the product proposition, but equally in the surrounding services that we offer. In terms of our business, that's critical on our B2B side, but it’s equally critical on our consumer side. Why would a consumer pick a Karcher product over a lower-priced own brand?

“For example, we have to talk about some of our innovations. We have the only app based pressure washes on the market. We know our technologies are better and we need to talk about the critical benefits to consumers that add value – whether that's in time, in durability, in convenience – all those things that will enable a consumer to make a decision on our brand versus someone else's.”

Q. How does the extra data insights and customer touchpoints gleaned for the Future campaign help you discern what ‘values’ will drive the most customer conversions?

“The extra data points we’ve got form this campaign, and taking a more data-led approach overall, helps us really understand the pain points of our audiences and the things affecting purchasing decisions.

“One thing we have learned is this: it's not just about the price point of the machine, it is often about what's in the box and, and what comes with it. Are you getting an all-in-product range that also has a detergent, and a surface cleaner? These extras provide additional value on top of the actual unit itself. This is another learning that we are putting into practice.”

Q. Karcher also operates in the B2B and manufacturing sector. How is that different to the B2C sector when it comes to marketing?Is customer behaviour really different and are there similarities?

“For me this has been an interesting journey because I'm the marketing director across both sides of our business. Prior to having that role, B2B had never really been a part of my career. I've been a sort of consumer B2C champion in both sales and marketing over many years.

“So I very much had to learn the B2B sector of our business. It's been a great opportunity for me to delve in and understand the differences. It is very different even though there is an end user that needs to understand the product and probably has similar pain points to a consumer.

“When I joined the business, we felt the story of why you should invest in Karcher’s solution was not being told as well as we maybe would've liked. How we reach that end user is incredibly different and the shopper journey is quite different.

“For Karcher we've identified our B2B audiences as ‘target groups’. For example, this would be facilities management companies, or the automotive sector or manufacturing. We are understanding of the nuances of those businesses. What are the pain points for cleaning in those environments? Because cleaning in a car showroom is very different to cleaning in a bakery or a food manufacturing facility.

“Instead of being product-led across all target groups, we've switched our marketing to be target-group led. So understanding what the pain points within that industry sector is, and then providing the solution rather than just assuming that our product is appropriate across all of those businesses.

“Equally in the same way that we talked about the golden quarter and values, we were very heavily invested in lead generation activities, but with somewhat low conversion. We've worked very hard now on ‘why the low conversion’?. Our assessment was ultimately that we weren't able to explain why Karcher was different to an incumbent brand that was equally offering into those sectors. What we've identified as way more important is the offering that we can portray around after sales services. The strong suite of service engineers that we have on the road. We will stand behind our product. It's not a ‘sale and forget’ type of mentality.”

Q. What new marketing channels are performing best for you at the moment? What marketing channels and practices do you anticipate becoming more important in the future?

“The Future campaign again was an example of us going into one campaign having many touchpoints and a broad array of channels. This helped us to learn and we're doing a deep dive post campaign analysis into which elements worked and which didn't.

“I feel that channels that are working best are the ones where we can explain things, such as YouTube, with opportunities to give a more lengthy story to the consumer about why you should use our product. So some of those longer format digital opportunities. Advertorial is also strong and the Future campaign was a big part of our medium. But again, it probably comes back down to understanding where our key audiences are consuming media and making sure that we are there.

“Social, of course, has become more important and as a business we've really upped our internal resources. We used to use some external agencies, but we brought in an expert to manage our social media channels in house and resource that department internally… of course using the guidance of our partner agencies as well.

“Test and learn is something that we’re doing a lot of now – we will try things that don't work, but as long as we can measure them and get clear return on investment, metrics and understanding of what levers we need to pull to either improve or stop doing – then that's the way. Most of those digital performance marketing areas have very clearly defined metrics and measurement tools, which we are very keen on. It’s all about testing and learning.”