How customer insight is driving a new type of marketing at Kennards Hire

Kennards GM marketing and customer experience talks about her approach to personas, utilising data and how it's helping the equipment hiring company realise better customer service propositions


Data is of most valuable if you’re using it to be more intimately connected to your customer and identifying pain points you can solve for them.

That’s the view of Kennards Hire general manager of marketing and customer experience, Manelle Merhi, who caught up with CMO to discuss how building detailed customer personas through data has helped the organisation better serve customer needs through the last 12 months and into 2021.

The turning point in Kennards’ journey to build customer intimacy was a project to define detailed personas that harnessed the wealth of internal and external insights and information at the equipment hiring company’s disposal.

“Kennards has been around for 70 years, and we have phenomenal brand equity. In our industry, but also as a general Australian brand, when people think of construction, we’re iconic and top of mind,” Merhi told CMO.

“But we used to view customers on a one-dimensional level – such as the tradie, or the DIY guy. With the persona project, we really defined who are they, how they feel, the challenges they face, their psychology and mindset. We brought all our external and internal data together to come up with personas that feel real to you. I feel like that was a critical, strategic step for us.”  

From there, Merhi said Kennards could go on the more strategic journey of intimately knowing who its audience is and re-engineering the go-to-market approach to solve against their needs.

“Using that, we could brief IT and analytics teams to say this is who our customers are, and these are the problems we’re trying to solve,” she said. “When you don’t know what you’re looking for or what you’re trying to solve for, you can get overwhelmed by data. The smarter way to do it is to solve for a problem.”  

Manelle MehriCredit: Kennards Hire
Manelle Mehri


Merhi pointed to the ‘tradie’ category, one of the key customer cohorts for Kennards. “The difference in our shift is we understand what troubles them and what motivates them,” she explained. “From there, the messaging, how we reach them and what we’re talking to them about is executed very differently.”  

To illustrate the point, Merhi said Kennards has identified two key types of tradie: The individual who is working to live and enjoys the status quo; and the more aspirational tradesperson with business ambitions and a more progressive approach. Each has specific motivators that inform everything from the way Kennards communications with them at an awareness level, through to distinct customer service models.

“Awareness is a key area of where we can bring that to life,” Merhi said. “These two personas consume information at the awareness level in various different ways. The less organised tradie is finding information at the last minute, whereas the more aspirational tradie is consuming information to manage a job coming up down the track. How we find them on the journey and the content we share with them in different channels at that awareness level is key.

“Because if we capture them there, we feel we can then also nurture them in a more relevant way through the funnel.”

Rethinking marketing

According to Merhi, this shift in customer thinking has made her look at marketing in an entirely different way. Importantly, it’s also led to stronger cross-functional alliances.

“Understanding intimately how a customer navigates through the customer journey and those critical touchpoints has made me think about marketing more from a customer experience-led point of view. It’s not only changing the way we find them and the channels, advertising and communication, it’s working with observations and refining and re-engineering the customer experience to match what they actually need as we learn more about them,” she said. “We’re learning all the time and trying to iron out those friction points.

“I feel today we’re a much more customer-led organisation in the sense that marketing and operations work hand-in-hand. I know in my career these two functions used to be so fragmented and separate. It can’t be like that anymore. There are a million choices and customers can easily opt out and abandon a cart or choose to use another competitor. What you’re messaging to market better be backed up with customer service and experience.”  

As a premium brand, Kennards prides itself on backing its service promise in the marketplace with execution, Merhi said.

“We put our hand up on being the best. With that today comes marketing, operations, service and procurement, all working together to hear the customer and refine the experience as we go along,” she added.  

Learning through data during COVID-19

This commitment to executing against customer insight along with agility around real-time data gathering played a vital role in how Kennards navigated the rapidly changing COVID-19 retail environment and resulting customer behaviours.

A big area of focus was safety around what has historically been a high-touch physical offering. Offering a contactless solution became key, and Merhi said the team quickly re-engineered operational processes to respond to the trust and safety concerns of customers, checking it regularly against their expectations. A critical data source informing the approach was customer satisfaction surveys served at the end of each hiring job.

“We were feeding in questions around if customer were feeling safe and asking what else we could do. That gave us live intelligence on the market,” Merhi said. “We launched our contactless pick-up service as a result and were one of the quickest to market doing it.”

Other important data sources for Merhi and the team include Google Analytics, social media sentiment and patterns in how people consume information and purchase through its online platform, physical store traffic and repeat purchasing behaviours. Notably she highlighted blending physical and digital insights to glean a more comprehensive customer story.

“It’s not necessarily a bad story for us for example that the entry point for trialling us is ecommerce, then the repeat occurs in the branch. That’s usually indicative of the customer experience in the branch being so phenomenal a customer is investing in that relationship. It’s a good story,” she commented.

New service propositions

Intelligence from personas on what makes their lives easier has also led Kennards to create new service propositions. For instance, a key insight from trade customers that a piece of equipment breaking down or being delivered late was perceived as unbillable hours has led to a new service delivery promise.  

“We [marketing and customer experience] worked with operations to create delivery service promises and marketed that out to say if you’re hiring, you’re going to get it within two hours of agreed time or you’ll get your money back,” Merhi said. “We said to customers, we know it is important for you, so we’re going to deliver a service promise around that and work with operations, transport and all our branches to deliver that.”

Another innovation stemmed from recognition customers wanted a single point of contact. While tradies move around locations, the relationship with their local branch was key to a positive experience.

“Tradies didn’t want to have to go through their account each time, licence number or what they’re hiring. So we launched a single point of contact concierge service, called Trade Easy,” Merhi said. This sees the local branch representative responsible for getting the products a customer needs from across the network so that when the customer gets to next job, they have what they need.

“It is a bespoke service design program as opposed to a marketing campaign. That’s the shift and the magic,” Merhi said. “We are working with operations to design something the customer actually needs. The messaging comes after that.”  

Insight is only as good as the number of people you have acting on it, however. Merhi tipped her hat to the importance of a customer-led culture at Kennards in both its ability to act on customer information promptly. This goes all the way through to KPIs and performance.

“People do what you drive them to do. If something is important, you will see that focus in an organisation from the top down. How customers are feeling and experiencing our brand, and what they are saying about our brand, is important throughout this organisation,” she said. “We have a good mix of intel coming in, but also people listening to and doing something with it.”  

A genuine commitment across the executive leadership to the mission and brand promise is also playing its part. “There is real commitment to customer satisfaction and what we call ‘customer raving fans’. Yes, you have to do the mathematics and understand the commercial figures, but there is always this integrity aspect to what we do,” Merhi continued.

“The numbers need to make sense, but we also recognise we need to do what’s right for our customer. That may mean we need an uplift in revenue or reduction in churn to achieve it, but we’ll then work to do just that.”  

Plan of attack in the next normal

While the commitment to data and customer hasn’t changed for Kennards in 2021, Merhi recognised the scenarios that played out in 2020 are going to have a lasting impact on how the brand continues to be relevant to customers. As a result, a refresh persona project, driven by the rapid digital acceleration witnessed off the back of the global pandemic, will commence shortly.

“People we never would have thought would jump into digital have. That means in a vertical where we typically think they’re late adopters, digital uptake has accelerated,” Merhi said. “We want to read into all of that to understand where we think their customer experience journey is going in the future.”

Merhi also flagged innovation around the Internet of Things and digital products as on the cards.

“We want to nurture a customer journey that’s right for now, but that’s also future fit. That requires us to unpack and go through the discipline of customer journey mapping across those different micro touchpoints. We need to use data to inform that.”

Vital to achieving this ambition for Merhi is an inquiring mind and recognition that being customer-led is an ongoing journey of learning, optimising and reassessment.

“We are so obsessed with listening to the voice of customer and designing around it that we want to be known in the industry as know customers better than they know themselves,” she added.

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