CMO50 2022 #18: Manelle Merhi

  • Name Manelle Merhi
  • Title GM marketing and customer experience
  • Company Kennards Hire
  • Commenced role April 2020
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 35 staff
  • Industry Sector Construction
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    One brave call Manelle Merhi, general manager of marketing and customer experience at Kennards Hire, made was to pursue the ‘Ken Oath’ creative. 

    Kennards Hire is a family-owned business, which historically has been conservative. ‘Ken Oath’ is bold, cheeky, courageous and emotive, while bringing to life its core value proposition of service. 

    “We trusted our gut and took a giant leap. Delivering the campaign in market has been a tremendous success. Not only externally, but internally. Our marketing has our people rallying behind the ‘Ken Oath Service Pledge’ proudly. If marketing is about driving the outside in, having staff rally behind marketing is the inside out,” Merhi says.

    Innovative marketing

    Does Kennards Hire have exceptional service? Ken Oath! In a category defined by range, availability and price as a premium service provider, Kennards needed to find a way to strategically differentiate themselves to grow share and volume whilst maintaining price premium.

    Exceptional customer service has consistently been the reason DIY and trade customers come back to Kennards Hire time and again. Merhi wanted to lean into this and find a simple way to both communicate and demonstrate Kennards’ obsession with making their job easy.

    The solution? Ken Oath! Two small words which reinforce Kennards' pledge to deliver outstanding customer service. Two small words which say: ‘Yes! We understand you and are always here to make the job easy’. A brand platform which has united the business and created priceless chemistry between customers and brand, Merhi explains.

    “The 'Ken Oath' brand platform is now in its second year in market and has created an extremely positive connection with our audience, particularly tradies. Building the confidence of the executive team to trust my leadership and take this bold campaign and tagline to the world is an achievement I’m immensely proud of. I’m equally proud to see it as a bumper sticker on our CEO’s car, as well as the patriarch of the Kennards Hire group, Andy Kennard.”

    Ken Oath increased business revenue, achieved a +23 per cent average value per customer, a 12 per cent uplift in unprompted brand awareness, a 17 per cent uplift in ‘great service’, a 30 per cent uplift in ‘friendly knowledgeable staff’, and a 27 per cent uplift in ‘leader in equipment hire’, according to KPMG.

    Business smarts 

    Kennards’ most valuable asset isn’t its equipment, it’s the team. But like most businesses in 2021, employee retention and attraction were one of the biggest challenges facing Kennards Hire. 

    “In our business, a first-time customer comes for the equipment, but they return for the people. Our most valuable asset isn’t our quality equipment, it’s the over 1600 team members across Australia and New Zealand who make Kennards Hire the best hire experience in APAC,” Merhi says.

    “To support retention, attraction and training, in collaboration with our people and culture team, I led the refresh of our 'Why Program'. Capturing real stories of our values [Fair Dinkum, Every Customer a Raving Fan, One Family, Take Hire Higher] in action from across our operational footprint, we created a training toolkit which enables our local leaders to instil the values of our family-owned business into our team members across the business.

    “Launched to 250 leaders at our group managers conference in June, we’re already seeing the benefits of the program materialise, with a clear and strong Kennards Hire story resonating in branches, creating an engaged and aligned team driving exceptional service.”

    Customer-led value

    Merhi says it took the higher ground and lent hard into the thing which made Kennards famous in the first place: Exceptional service.

    This led to ‘Trade Easy’ aimed at increasing trade share of wallet. Using human-centred design, the team reviewed, optimised and extended service capabilities to make sure it protected the leadership stance in service of tradies. 

    “The culmination of this journey was a suite of 10 transformational service benefits available to all tradies to make their job easier," Merhi continues.

    Trade Easy launched nationally in February 2021, with an integrated campaign across radio, social, experiential, out-of-home, in branch, PR and key partnership activations.

    “During this time, we delivered a 23 per cent increase in our market share and have increased our share of wallet for this segment.”

    Commercial and growth acumen

    Historically, the brand had a strong hold on DIY and trade segments. These segments have been the foundation for Kennards’ success. But with the changing nature of the construction industry, and increased large-scale infrastructure development, the brand was consistently being overlooked within the largest segment – the top end of town.

    Merhi says Kennards operated for years with high awareness within this segment, due to weekend DIY hire needs. 

    “Through a tightly-focused marketing campaign, supported by a robust B2B sales toolkit, we have empowered our commercial division to achieve a 36.3 per cent growth in FY22 over FY21 in sales. As a result of increased awareness of the depth of our capabilities, we are also experiencing an uplift in loyalty with an increase of 38.1 per cent in customer spend.

    “We will be soon be receiving our 2022 Brand Health results to determine the impact of consideration and how this has changed, but early signs are showing a positive momentum,” she says.

    Leadership impact

    Merhi is not alone in finding the last two years a challenge to create positive momentum in team culture and performance. 

    “I’ve learnt a lot and adapted my style and focus to find new ways of connecting with my team and increasing performance, whilst accommodating health, safety and flexible working requirements,” she says. “As a people-first leader, I believe my team should be personally recognised for their contribution, and I seek to nurture each of them so they can perform to the best of their ability."

    Some examples of the programs and policies Merhi has put in place are:

    • A back-to-work coach for staff returning from parental leave,

    • Nominating staff for industry programs and awards such as the Women in Hire mentorship program,

    • No meeting Fridays,

    • A flex work environment with WFH/leave when they need to, and

    • Rewarding staff with gift vouchers/lunches.

    “I’ve doubled down on the planning, communication, training, and collaboration principles which have always been at the heart of our marketing function, and extended these principles to invest time and efforts to embed a measurement culture into the team over the last two years," she explains.

    “Kennards Hire is an operations-led organisation, which has historically found attribution of business performance to the marketing team challenging. I’m sure I’m not alone in facing this.

    “Working closely with the CFO, I’ve connected the marketing team closer to the finance and analytics functions of our business to further embed measurement and analysis into our strategic decision-making processes.

    “Beyond supporting me to elevate the profile of marketing to the executive team, my team has a spring in their step through a closer relationship between their efforts and business success.

    “Focusing on people is one of the greatest joys and greatest responsibilities of being in a leadership role. The golden moments are spending time coaching, mentoring, inspiring and supporting people to grow, finding the stages and platforms you can provide them, and putting them on those stages and cheering from the side lines.”

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