Kerry Munro called much of his marketing work “bottom of the iceberg stuff”—it doesn’t sound sexy, but it’s the key to being a strong marketer today. In his role as VP of ecommerce and marketing at The Home Depot Canada, Munro is focused on delivering an integrated, seamless retail experience regardless of how the customer interacts with The Home Depot. True, it doesn’t sound very sexy, but a connected experience is vital for retailers today.
Marketing talked to Munro about The Home Depot’s approach to connected retail, and why the retailer is focused on the customer experience, not award-worthy ad campaigns.
Your career has spanned roles as group president, digital delivery network at Canada Post; global chief operating operator at Syncapse and general manager at Yahoo Canada. Why did you decide to join the retail world?
My joining the retail world was more guided by my interest and desire to join Home Depot. If you look at retail in general, it’s a really interesting, dynamic industry, one that’s in constant flux and change and one that’s going through a fairly considerable transformation. I’ve always been intrigued and have gravitated towards [industries] where transformation is taking place. For me, it’s about finding companies that want to lead in that transformation. From a brand standpoint, Home Depot always impressed me because the composite of the brand is not just about the products that you select, but it’s the experience when you go into the store or now online.
Given the point in time where the industry is at, it was also an opportunity to step into a role that allowed me to make a difference within the organization, but also do our part to transform retail and ecommerce in Canada. There’s this dichotomy where Canadians are the most connected consumers on the planet when it comes to internet utilization, and yet from an ecommerce standpoint, we’re somewhat of a third-world country. We’re still far behind. And so [part of my focus] is trying to figure out how do we evolve the industry and move it forward.
How do you make ecommerce work at Home Depot? You obviously sell some big items and home-improvement projects that people might not think to buy online.
For the average consumer, the range of choices has never been bigger. So that’s a great thing—you can have a selection that never ends. The challenge is you have a selection that never ends, so how do you know what the best selection is? Our approach to ecommerce is consistent with our approach to marketing and the customer experience, which is to help solve [our customers’] problems on a number of different dimensions that make the shopping experience simple and easy to understand… We’ll take those millions of products that are out there and we’ll make sure that we provide the best selection and the best value for those customers.
Secondly, we’ll make sure the “find and buy” experience is simple. Most people aren’t as digitally inclined, so [we give them] the ability to jump on our mobile website, look at the products that they might be interested in, and then ultimately understand where that product can be found within the aisle and bay [in stores]. I don’t think there are many people who say they have too much time on their hands, so our ability to serve up that product and say here’s exactly where it is in the store and here’s how many there are, is really key.
The last piece is making sure that we’re serving customers on their terms. You have customers who exclusively want to shop online. So, it’s not just about creating that frictionless “find and buy” experience online, but it’s about making sure that the delivery experience—whether that involves a direct ship from the vendor, or buy online and pick up in store, or another shipping solution—is seamless, simple and on those customers’ terms.
Why is a connected customer experience so important?
Tell me the last time you had what you would classify as a perfect experience… It’s a hard thing to do.We’ve grown up expecting less than perfect service. We’ve gotten okay with sitting on the phone and waiting too long. We’ve gotten okay with having to find things on our own and not get the support of someone in the store, or have to do all the work ourselves online and get frustrated with a site that doesn’t load as quickly or doesn’t give you the products you’re looking for.
[A connected experience] is all about ensuring the customer enjoys the experience of shopping with you, that you have the right products, that those products are available when they’re looking for them, and that when they have a question or a concern that someone is there to help. That’s across all mediums, whether it’s a call centre, a chat environment online, ecommerce versus in store, or now omni-channel… [It’s important to make sure] a connected customer experience rings true end to end, from the time they’re starting to discover the project they need to do or the product they need to buy, to the buying process, to the support process, all the way through to post purchase.
What’s been your focus on the marketing front? Are you doing any big campaigns?
We’re always doing big campaigns. [But] I have a very different view than the traditional marketer. There are a lot of marketers who default to “we need to do some cool and sexy things. We need to put on these massive events or we’re going to do these funky technology things and be the most innovative,” whatever innovative truly means. I firmly believe the real opportunity is how do you solve for the omni-channel experience.
There is more of a pendulum shift of “here’s traditional media, now we need to shift it all to digital.” I’m not a big proponent of that. It’s all about connecting with the consumer on their terms, so if a customer is more inclined to receive marketing messages in traditional channels, such as TV, radio and print, then who are we to say they should change their views? By the same token, if there’s someone who wants to engage with us in mobile or in social media or in digital, we should cater to that.
It’s really about that omni-channel experience and setting the environment up so that all these mediums work together… It’s not about “let’s do an interesting campaign or let’s drive everyone to the web and offer a discount.” To me, quite frankly, that just marginalizes the value of marketing. And that’s the struggle that every marketer has faced since I’ve grown up in marketing, which is convincing the CFO that marketing is actually an investment versus a cost. A lot of marketers do these salacious campaigns and then [try to win] an award and put that in front of the CFO and say “look how good our brand is.”
To me, it’s about being able to integrate marketing into that awareness process and buying process… not create funky campaigns. And the facts that come out of that demonstrate the value to our CFO. Marketing is now viewed as an investment here at Home Depot and it’s because of the approach that we’ve taken.