CMO

CMO profile: Building a brand community via timbersports

Stihl marketing director, Joanne Katsos, talks to CMO about how she's changing the outdoor power equipment company's marketing program with community engagement
Joanne Katsos

Joanne Katsos

As a young girl, Joanne Katsos would marvel at the strength of the timbersports competitors at the Royal Melbourne Show as they chopped and sawed their way to glory.

Little did she know that as an adult she would find herself in the role of marketing director for the Australian operations of an organisation that is one of the world’s key supporters of timbersports.

Katsos is the marketing director of Stihl, a German manufacturer of handheld gardening and forestry power tools that is now approaching its centenary year. Since joining the company two-and-half-years ago, she has set out an ambitious program of change geared towards having Stihl become the number one destination for outdoor power equipment purchases.

“It’s been about setting up a consumer insight-driven strategy that will help us make that transition and become a household brand for home gardeners,” Katsos tells CMO.

It is a challenge made all the greater by Stihl’s strategy of selling through its 600 authorised dealers, rather than ‘big box’ retailers.

“We have really strong awareness – second in the category – and we have the highest consideration out of all brands in the category,” Katsos says. “But where our brand challenges lie are in converting from being the highest consideration brand in the market to ‘ever-bought’, because of that habit consumers have of going to big box players thinking they have all brands. So our marketing challenge is to educate consumers that in order to buy Stihl, they need to find their local Stihl dealer.”

That is where timbersports come in. Stihl is the primary supporter of the sport through the Stihl Timbersports series, which sees competitors from around the world competing in individual and team events. It’s aired on the 7mate free-to-air channel on weekends.

Timbersports accounts for a large proportion of Stihl’s marketing budget in Australia and is a key element in the company’s connection to the broader community. It also helps the Australian team, the Chopperoos, was this year’s champion team – a feat it has now achieved six times – with Victorian wood chopper, Brayden Meyer, taking out the 2019 Individual title.

“The timber sport series allows us to create a high adrenalin, action-packed sport that helps us keep the craft of sawing and chopping alive,” she explains. “It is a platform allowing us to create a TV series, and also gives us a huge platform to market through PR and social media. And it is a platform where we bring in Stihl consumers and a younger demographic who enjoy the sport.”

Charity outreach

Katsos has also extended Stihl’s community outreach through sponsorship of men’s health charity event, Movember, taking a playful perspective by tying it to the launch of a new battery-powered lawn mower range and adopting the moniker of ‘Mow-vember’.

“Our dealers are strongly run by men and women, and our consumers are predominantly men as well,” Katsos says. “This was a way to not only help support our network and our consumer base, was also a good platform to create awareness of our new mower range.”

In 2018 the company raised $45,000 for Movember, and this year almost doubled that by raising $82,000. Stihl also lifted sales of its battery-powered lawn mowers by 176 per cent.

“We have more dealers on board, we have created more awareness of men’s health issues, and we are able to make this fantastic donation to the Movember foundation,” Katsos says.

Other projects Katsos has undertaken include improving the consumer experience within Stihl’s dealers and revamping the company’s digital presence, including launching individual dealer websites and creating click and collect websites to more easily send consumers to dealers.

All of these initiatives are enabling Katsos to continue chipping away at her long term goal of achieving brand primacy in the outdoor power tools market.

“It is an audacious goal and it is a long term play, but in the things we are able to measure day to day, we know that we are bringing more consumers to the brand than ever, and that we are growing our market share,” Katsos says.

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