Halfords overhauls marketing strategy in search for emotional connection

Halfords has totally overhauled its marketing to put the focus on data, insights and building an emotional, rather than just a rational, relationship with customers in a bid to boost loyalty and drive up sales.

Work on the new strategy began more than 18 months ago when Halfords embarked on its most extensive piece of customer insight work to date. It interviewed thousands of people, both online and offline, to get an understanding of what they thought of the brand and its place on the high street.

The aim was to find a way to reposition the brand so that it meant something to consumers. Marketing director Karen Bellairs admits Halfords had previously only really spent its marketing budget on price and promotion, meaning most customers had little affection for the brand or understanding of what it offered.

“Customers all know Halfords, it has been on the high street for 100 years and there are shops within 20 minutes of every UK household. But they didn’t know exactly what we offered,” she told Marketing Week.

“This all started from a real ambition to make the brand mean something and have an emotional connection with customers. We want to help them understand why Halfords plays a role in their lives, we want a relationship with them.”

Using customer insight for a new brand platform

The research surfaced insights into what is important to customers in relation to journeys. It found that customers are busy and when they visit Halfords they are looking to make taking a journey easier.

From that came a new brand platform for Halfords – ‘For Life’s Journeys’. Bellairs says it aims to promote the service propositions and products Halfords offers that can help give customers “peace of mind” and make the difference between a “good journey and a bad journey”.

To promote this new brand platform, Halfords will be relaunching the brand starting this week (8 June) with a new logo, point-of-sale, website and brand guidelines that will enable it for the firs time to be visually and verbally consistent across all touchpoints.

There will also be a TV brand campaign, created by Mother and supported by radio, print and digital planned by media agency Carat, that uses a real family to tell the story of one particular journey and that for the first time brings together everything Halfords offers.

Future TV spots will promote Halfords service proposition – including free car and bike checks – on TV for the first time.

“This is a big change to our marketing strategy,” explained Bellairs. “This is about brand and the depth of our product and service offering for the first time.”

Putting the customer at the heart

The new brand position is part of a wider business strategy, dubbed ‘Moving up a gear’, that aims to put the customer at the heart of the brand. This strategy is to CEO Jill McDonald’s attempts to turn around sales at the brand.

McDonald joined from MacDonald’s where she headed up its UK business having previously held a range of marketing roles. Bellairs says McDonald has been “hugely supportive of the work” and truly endorsed the new brand platform, ensuring that marketing is now at the heart of the business and see as an investment, rather than a cost.

“When she [McDonald] arrived she was surprised at the lack of insight and customer information we had. That has been a fundamental change and helped me to go out and do research to cement our brand positioning,” Bellairs explained.

Halfords has also embarked on a separate project to improve its understanding of its customers. It introduced e-receipts in January and has since collected more than 1 million email addresses meaning it can now match 15% of retail sales to customers, up from 3% in November.

That has meant for the first time Halfords can personalise its marketing, with the aim to have a full customer view by the end of the year.

“What this means is we can talk to customers with relevant information and targeted communication rather than a blanket one size fits all approach,” said Bellairs.

The key reason behind all the changes is to address the issue that while consumers know the Halfords brand they don’t know what it actually does. Bellairs said key to success will be to drive relevant awareness so more customers “know why we exist”, visit us more often and buy more.

“We want customers to come to us in a bigger way and stay with us. Ultimately this is about how we can drive footfall and increase traffic, boost our like-for-like sales and increase loyalty,” she concluded.

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