Home Depot's Big Bet: Participation is Marketing

You’ve heard me rail about the fact that advertising agencies do a brilliant job of creating campaigns that drive clicks, but too often fail to develop long-term relationships between brands and consumers.  You may have even heard me audibly cringe when I learn about “top Social Media campaigns” that measure hype and sex appeal rather than impact and participation.

Home_depot_logoHow do you create a communications program that combines the best aspects of the sexiest advertising campaigns with the consistent, contextual, respectful and relevant gruntwork embodied by relationship management, a.k.a. public relations?

Home Depot (HD) seems to have figured it out.  Last week the hardware retailing giant rolled out Home Depot’s How-To Community, which connects Do-It-Yourselfers of all skill levels in one place on the Web.

In addition to the peer-to-peer support you’d expect in this type of community, HD invited a select group of tenured Home Depot Store Associates to answer members’ product and project questions.

And here’s the kicker: those HD Store Associates will not only answer “DIY” questions in the hosted forum, but, with the Customer Service Dept’s ability to monitor for response opportunities across the Web, the in-store professionals will also be empowered to respond to users — while they’re working in the stores! — in the online zones where the questions are being asked, even outside the HD site.

PatinpaintSo, you have a question about how-to prep a room for a new paint job? Tweet about it, or visit any of a number of well-known DIY sites online, or visit Home Depot’s own new community. Regardless of where you post your question, you can reasonably expect HD’s resident expert, PatInPaint, to either write or videotape a 1 -2 minute response, right from within the Paint section of his homebase HD store in Atlanta.

PatInPaint’s helpful instructional video will be posted for you in the forum you’re hanging out in, but may also be posted in the Home Depot DIY Community, and/or on their Facebook Page, and/or in their YouTube channel.

Now – think back to the Old Spice campaign.  Remember how psyched we all got, when the sexy spokesman responded via video directly to our tweets … and subsequently disappeared from the scene forever?

Think about how much harder – but more relevant and helpful – is Home Depot’s approach than Old Spice.

  • They’ve got the 1:1 responsiveness.
  • They’ve got custom videos.
  • They’ve got maximum SEO potential by echoing content across the socialsphere.
  • They’ve got a singular place where all the best stuff can be aggregated
  • And at the same time, they have loosened the reins enough that hardcore DIYers can become stars in their own right, at the How-To Community site, as they interact with fellow craftsmen, with HD experts, and with newbies alike.

Home Depot has enabled community, and hopes to fill their new How-To Community site with content (and users) by being actively, relentlessly helpful, across the rest of the web.

Participation is marketing.

Bookmark this post as a reminder to check back on HD’s valiant, groundbreaking effort.  I expect we’ll see they’ve built something lasting.

DISCLOSURE: SHIFT Communications is a consultant to Home Depot.

Posted on: October 25, 2010 at 12:26 pm By Todd Defren
21 Responses to “Home Depot's Big Bet: Participation is Marketing”


  • Megan munsell says:

    I have recently learned about the Home Depot community. It seems like it’s a phenomenal resource, whether other brands have similar experiences or not. Every novice knows how frustrating it can be to get home and be halfway through something before you get stuck. My question regarding this is how are customers becoming aware of this? I learned about it from a social media outlet. But, I’m wondering if this is also being presented to customers in store so they know there are resources once they get home.

  • Trinity says:

    Sure looks a good move for Home Depot. I think this is really going to have a positive effect on its ROI provided that they really will deliver what is promised and consistent about it.

  • Tim Otis says:

    Hi Todd,
    Isn’t this approach very similar to what Best Buy is doing with @twelpforce? What makes it different?

    I agree with DarkNaga76: “Basically Home Depot is building on Best Buy’s Twelp Force idea- adding video and a consumer community.”

    BTW, love Home Depot. The place to go for paint and so much more.

  • Nicole Kureshi says:

    It’s great to see how a social media campaign can function to improve customer service and how Home Depot is engaging its audience. As more companies are realizing the benefit of using social media to improve their client relationships and their ROI, it will be interesting to see if this becomes the new standard in customer service in the future.

  • Chris Osche says:

    Great strategy for aligning the community of DIYers out there. A couple of questions for you:

    1) Is there an expectation of ROI at the local level and if so, how are you tracking it? From a pure branding standpoint, the campaign can obviously have an affect on purchase consideration as it provides information and customer support that Lowe’s, for example, may not.

    2) How do you see this creating relationships at the local level? I.e. – creating the type of brand loyalty that sees a local home owner say, “I’m going down to Home Depot to ask Brad. He can help me.” If, and I say this without knowing the details, the 1:1 responsiveness exists in an online forum, how is that translated to the local store where the customers will actually visit and interact with associates?

    A truly interesting concept, but I’m curious about its ability to create local engagement in the community. Would love to hear your answers.


    • Hi Chris – great questions. I don’t have specific answers for you on local engagement. It’s something we’re watching but our goals are a bit more broad at this point. Simply, we want to bring the knowledge and expertise of our store associates closer to our customers, at the time when they need us most.

      Imagine you’re selecting materials for a new dog house, and Tom in lumber is helpful and gives you some ideas on how to tackle the project. You return home eager to build a new home for Fido, but quickly you realize there’s a step that you’re not clear on. We still want to be a resource for you at this point in your project, and now there’s no need to get back in your car and head down and hope that Tom is still working. Log the question right from your home and quickly get answers from other DIYers or from one of our associates. You can select the best advice from among those responses and quickly get back to your project.

      As the community grows, you can also hop on and do a quick search to find previous discussions on this topic, and find answers that have already been reviewed and expanded on by other members.

      Social Media, The Home Depot

    • Greetings Chris and thanks for your questions,

      As a Home Depot store associate as well as a member of the Social Media team, I have felt the impact already at the store level.

      I have established long term relationships with a number of customers in my home store in the Atlanta metro area, and occasionally there will be a unique problem that requires more research than time will allow in the store. There have been several such occasions since the launch and I was able to address each problem in detail by offering step by step instructions, photos, and in one case a video. Needless to say the customers were thrilled.

      As far as ROI is concerned, it is difficult to gauge dollars or increased sales from the addition of the community. It simply creates an environment where ideas, solutions, and projects can be shared by many talented and experienced people within the community. The intention was simply to enhance the service we provide to our customers.

      Thanks to all for the posts on our community, we are happy to be of service.

      Home Depot Associate & Social Media Specialist

  • This reminds me of something that Exercise TV is doing too with video responses to follower questions. I sent them a question for one of their trainers (it was in response to their request for user submitted questions) and this was their response just a few days later:

    From @ExerciseTV: “@MrsMoNJ Hi There! @hollyperkins answered ur Work-at-home-mom fitness question! http://ow.ly/2ZeNJ #extv”

    The extra effort definitely pays off. These national brands are starting to use social media as a way to connect with customers on a small/local business level. I think it’s great and very creative. Old Spice may have started the trend, but that was more for entertainment. These are actual constructive responses to assist the end user.

  • DarkNaga76 says:

    The comparison to Old Spice is kind of irrelevant. These are two completely different brands, with completely different products and category involvement levels.

    Basically Home Depot is building on Best Buy’s Twelp Force idea- adding video and a consumer community.

    This program seems great, but isn’t really all that revolutionary. Frankly they should have been doing this years ago.

  • @OZinOC says:

    Love to see the customer service you experience in-store being translated into online engagement – PLEASE be sure to share case study with us!

  • Kevin Sime says:

    Congratulations! This looks like a social media effort that delivers tangible, useful benefits to consumers while building relationships–and business–for the company. I’m eager to see how it unfolds!

  • PRESTon Charles mossman says:

    My grammar check failed me on that one!

  • PRESTon Charles mossman says:

    As a Home Depot store associate I am very pleased to see the strides our company has made in the past few years. We’ve been enabled to ‘wow’ our customers on a very consistent basis. Only a couple years ago the response I got when I asked customers how their trip to Home Depot was, their dissenting remarks were “you were out of the product we needed, I couldn’t find the help I needed”, now its that they got asked five times if they needed help as they were rushing to the bathroom. I’m proud of that, and this serves as another great boost towards our customer service focus!

  • Peter says:

    Participation is marketing! I love that line. It’s so simple, but it illustrates exactly what organizations need to be doing. It’s sometimes difficult to figure out ways to bring effective participation into a company’s marketing mix, but that’s the fun part. The creative license that these projects allow is only limited by the public relations practitioner’s imagination. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

  • This truly is a great example of a company that fully understands the value of relationships. If you invest in the long-term vision and not go for the quick buck, the results will be there. Thanks, Todd, for bringing us this success story.

  • Bill Hankes says:

    As someone who regularly endorses his paycheck over to Home Depot, I think this is a smart move, and, done right, I’ll find a lot of value out of it. And perhaps make fewer (expensive) errors :) .

  • Thanks for your perspective on our effort, Todd. These are early days on our new how-to community and we are already seeing some great knowledge-sharing. In fact, my favorite discussions are the ones that include the expertise of our store associates AND other customers on the site, who are adding some fantastic, unique ideas to the discussion. We encourage customers to dive in with their advice as well so that we can all learn and share.

    I’d love to hear feedback from your readers, either through comments here or by contacting me directly; sarah_social@homedepot.com.

    Social Media, The Home Depot

  • This is an extraordinary example of a well thought campaign.
    I am sure the kind of ROI will be much higher than Old Spice’s flat zero one, mainly because of the different kind of product.
    Stories like this really shed a new, positive like into social media tools as a whole.

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