Brad Shaw, VP of corporate communications and external affairs at The Home Depot, talks to Alexandra Bruell about the role of research in its communications strategy, brand partnerships, and the future of marketing integration.
How is the way in which you approach research changing? What role is it playing in your marcomms?
It's less traditional research and more listening and monitoring to the conversations taking place around our products or company. We use a number of outside sources: Radian6, Visible, as well as our own team to pay really close attention to how topics are trending as it relates to Home Depot, the products we sell and the stances we take on different initiatives. To us it's real-time feedback to the business. If we launch a product that as we listen to the conversation we know has some deficiencies we need to mitigate, or benefits we need to amplify, it's real-time now. The notion of convening a focus group or conducting online research over six to eight weeks and slowly feeding that back to the business, those days are over. We get instant feedback now through the real conversations taking place. That just changes the game for companies that can move fast.
Does that require additional resources such as manpower or agency involvement?
Not necessarily additional agencies. There are outsourced third-party resources such as the ones I mentioned that help automate that listening. I'm also a firm believer you need a human element to it so there is some staffing required that has people who are bringing intuition to how the dialogue is going in a specific area. It's so easy to lose context in the social space and for things to feel bigger or smaller than they are. It really does take a human judgment element beyond what you see from the technological standpoint.
As a major retailer, how are you partnering with your product brands?
We're in the early stages of it. As we just launched this community, the first steps were to get it up and running. The next step is to figure out how to better integrate our vendor partners. We've got hundreds if not thousands of major vendors whose products we sell that can play a role in this community and help with that product knowledge. As the community builds, we're going to look for ways to integrate that and that knowledge transfer.
That will be through PR?
As much through the community activation as traditional PR. Now we've got an embedded community of folks who are DIY enthusiasts and experts and people want to know more, there's a great opportunity for our vendors to play a role.
What does the future look like for integration? How will the various marketing disciplines react to each other and work together in the upcoming years?
The term react to each other and work together is exactly the right description of how an enlightened company should approach using social media tools to communicate with its customers. PR and communications can't own it outright, nor can marketing, nor can dot-com. It takes an integrated effort in terms of the assets each of us brings to the table to really bring this customer communication to life. For example, marketing and merchandising has to determine which products and projects are core to our business. And the homedepot.com team is critical to building the platform to make all of it work. To us, it is an integrated, matrixed effort going forward where everyone is working together.
It sounds too good to be true. There's no push-back?
There are always minor turf battles here and there, but people look at the opportunities as being much bigger than any one turf grab or ego play in the grand scheme of things. The opportunity technology provides for us to replicate online what we're doing in our stores is much bigger than any one group trying to get credit for it.