Q&A   //   July 3, 2024

Lowe’s new CMO is focused on improving the “big experiences that matter to our biggest customer segments”

When Jennifer Wilson first joined Lowe’s in 2006, Facebook had yet to officially launch its ad platform. Instagram wouldn’t hit the App Store for another four years. And many retailers were still bifurcating their e-commerce and physical operations, let alone figuring out how to get shoppers to shop in-store inventory from their mobile phones.

“Having sat in a marketing seat here back in 2007 looks very different than what it looks like in 2024,” she said. “Going through those gyrations and learning moments has enabled me to have a very unique perspective on the brand itself, and also around how to accelerate the brand and what we’re known for.”

Wilson became CMO at Lowe’s in June after most recently serving as svp of enterprise brand and marketing. And while the home improvement chain is planning to spend double-digit increases next year in areas like connected TV spend and on its retail media network, much of Wilson’s focus will be on the end-to-end customer experience online and in-stores.

“Everyone’s had an experience with a brand that they feel like, ‘Okay, it was good until the wheels fell off,’” she said. “What we’re after, ultimately, is a great customer experience on the biggest moments that we can deliver. And by doing that, I’m convinced that there will be incremental sales opportunities.”

Lowe’s, like other home improvement brands, is weathering a moment of softness. The Covid-19 pandemic saw demand pull forward as people invested in upgrading their homes. But now, consumers are getting cautious about big-ticket purchases; Lowe’s saw $21.5 billion in total sales in the first quarter, a 4.1% year-over-year decline that was partially offset by professional trade sales and online growth.

On the marketing front, the company has been working to protect its business against softer demand in the home market by touting the expertise of its in-store employees. Last year this manifested in the form of the Lowe’s Knows campaign. This year, it added soccer star Lionel Messi to its lineup of athlete partners for its Lowe’s Home Team campaign. When Messi makes an assist, Lowe’s rewards members can get extra points to spend on their purchases.

Modern Retail spoke with Wilson about the ways that Lowe’s has upped its marketing game in recent years, best practices for marketers, and what’s ahead for the Lowe’s experience. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Lowe’s has worked on a repositioning of its brand that’s most recently resulted in a partnership with soccer player Lionel Messi. What was the impetus for this campaign?
When we dug under the hood, the real question was, ‘What does Lowe’s stand for?’ particularly post-Covid, where consumers want to know what they sign up for that they can expect every time. What we learned was that we are most notable and most known for our friendly, helpful associates. And this idea of helpfulness, and being this helpful brand has emerged throughout the storytelling we do.

When we think about wanting to be the most helpful branded home improvement, or the most distinctive brand, we thought “Who better to partner with and the most assisted soccer player in the world?”

Many marketers are looking to raise brand awareness while still having measurable performance marketing tactics. How do you balance these objectives?
I personally don’t think there’s a universe where the two are mutually exclusive. Look at the Messi campaign. It is a very much a brand campaign to say, “Hey, these two are coming together to show how we can assist.” But that campaign goes all the way down to a performance lead campaign where if Messi assists on the field, we’re giving customers [in the MyLowe’s Rewards loyalty program] 10 times the points the day after when they shop. And there’s all kinds of performance media that’s really targeting those customers through push notifications, and in their email through retargeting, and even ads copy on paid search when they’re looking for an item.

I believe, wholeheartedly, that eight out of 10 things that we do need to be a combination of both. There are going to be times where you lean a little bit more performance lead, or you lean a little bit more brand lead. But my philosophy is that art and science have to combine to make great marketers.

Lowe’s has been active in the world of connected TV. How do you approach that channel and what are your plans for it moving forward?
We are heavily investing in connected TV through our media network. That’s one big way that we’re going after our vendors advertising dollars. This holiday, we will be ramping up our shopping through connected TV, so you can be on the lookout for us doing more of that. We’ve been testing around with it all year. 

We want to understand what the product that they’re gravitating towards, we want to understand what some of their habits are. One example [of how we figure out customer interest] is QR codes. You can track the QR measurability there. And what we’re what we also try to discern it is it may be may have been on the QR code side, but it also might have been on our experience side. So in some cases, we have good QR growth. But then we said, ‘Hey, something broke down from the experience on site to the conversion that we need to address.’ So we’re just trying to make sure that the consumer experience is optimized before we go all in. But you’ll see us doing more of that during the holiday.

As you get so much further out of linear TV, because so many people are in either connected TV or some sort of app-driven TV, we find that our upfront buys are changing. We’re finding that our overall mix is changing. I think we’ll probably be up double digits, as we think about turning the corner into 2025 on buys in that type of program.

What are your thoughts on the booming interest in retail media networks, and how is Lowe’s working to grow its program moving forward? 
It really is performance media in its most purest form. You’re going after very discrete audiences using very discrete insights to drive more sales from a certain audience.

What’s exciting about the Lowe’s media network is not only taking insights to action, which is really important to activate a great media network, but we’re moving into a lot of new channels. CTV is one of them. In-store audio is another one of them. We’re looking at in store digital signage, and we’re doing a lot of off site advertising.

A lot of media networks are just selling their on-site inventory, like banners on a on a mobile app or on a desktop on your website. We are doing end-to-end campaigns, and I think that’s what makes the Lowe’s media network work.  We’ve had double digit growth two years in a row. But now we’ve got our foot on the gas.

Part of your new role will include building out a new customer experience integration organization inside Lowe’s to improve the online and in-person shopping experience. What is the goal of this new team?
This is one of the most exciting endeavors that I have on my plate, and it’s really thinking about our end-to-end customer experience from a brand lens. Ultimately, what we want to do is pull up and say, ‘Who are our biggest customer cohorts?’ It might be a first-time homebuyer, it might be a mover. What is their end-to-end experience with our brand, from the moment that they start browsing and navigating a site? To going into a store, or making a phone call for help, to the very end where we fulfill either a product or service experience for them, and into post purchase.

What are those big experiences that matter to our biggest customer segments? Where are we potentially falling down? Or where do we have areas of opportunity to improve those and then working with our cross functional partners to make sure that we address those. 

What kind of work will this team do on a day-to-day basis to understand the customer experience?
We’ll use third parties to help either audit existing experiences, or make sure that we’re thinking about new experiences that perhaps we haven’t laid out right. Once we audit what those experiences look like, we will then validate within our internal partners to say — and I’ll make this up — ‘Listen, the end-to-end process on a direct appliance customer is great until we have to go deliver. And then when we deliver sometimes we’re not communicating clear delivery windows, and it could get kind of confusing for a customer.’ If that’s the biggest piece that we have to fix, how do we address that with the right cross-functional partner?

Then we’ll put folks through the funnel again. We would hire people to go through that end-to-end process and we would create an after-purchase voice of the customer survey, so that we’re able to then measure pre and post. Did we improve that experience? 

If you think about, I’ll just say the five biggest buying occasions at Lowe’s, how do we make sure that those are the best experiences for our customers? And once those five big, big buying occasions are off the list, what are the next five, so that we can drive ultimate customer experience. Because if you’re going to be a brand known for being the most helpful brand, we have to make sure that we’re helping every step of the way.