Why Wren Kitchens is wrong in trying to be all things to all people

April 2021

Back in September and October 2018, I wrote a two-part blog which outlined the principles of the STP model – which stands for ‘segmentation, targeting, positioning’. The model is a fairly central tenet of marketing strategy, with the basic idea being that you a) segment your market into relevant groups (e.g. segments might include discerning and affluent consumers down to low income but with lots of them), b) decide which of those segments you’re going to target, and c) decide how you’re going to position your offer and brand to the segments you’re targeting. There’s a fair bit more to it than that of course – which I cover in the two-part blog mentioned above – but you’ll no doubt get the basic idea.

For the vast majority of consumer brands that understand the STP model and regardless of business size (so including SMEs), only certain market segments will be targeted because this will make the most commercial sense. This is because – and it’s probably obvious but I’ll say it anyway – that trying to appeal to everyone inevitably dilutes how the brand differentiates its offer and what it ultimately stands for. For example, BMW don’t manufacture and sell a no-frills budget car, and, equally, Ryanair don’t offer long-haul business class tickets at £10k apiece. And if either tried to do those respective things, then it’s inevitable they would significantly reduce sales of their core offers in the longer term.

There are though exceptions, and this very much applies to some FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) brands whose products are deemed largely essential. For example, a toothpaste brand such as Colgate can target pretty much everyone because, well, we all need to keep our teeth clean – and any difference in brand positioning within that market and targeted at specific market segments, will be for more niche product (think Sensodyne).

My largest client operates in the kitchen industry, and as a manufacturer, retailer and supplier to other independent kitchen retailers. So fair to say I take a good degree of interest in what’s happening in the market and what competitors are doing, with Wren Kitchens commanding a good degree of my attention. And Wren command that attention because they’ve been able to take significant share of the mid and mid-upper segments of the market (£15k-£25k kitchens) – which is very much where my client operates, and both its own retail showrooms and the other independent retailers it supplies.

Wren has been hugely successful in growing its business over the last decade or so, and whilst I don’t doubt this is partly down to an apparently ‘forthright’ sales process, there’s no question that its marketing has been the principle reason (if they didn’t get folk through the door as a result of successful marketing, there’s nobody for the sales people to pounce on). Their marketing has been impressive in every way, with all bases covered from brand positioning, brand identity (in particular verbal), inbound marketing (notably through dominance in SERPs through use of PPC) and outbound marketing. It is though the latter where they’ve really exceled, with their beautifully crafted TV adverts representing a masterclass in how to build brand salience. And achieving brand salience (essentially meaning you think of the brand when you think about buying the type of product they sell) is hugely important for any type of product which is broadly represents an infrequent, relatively high value and discretionary purchase. Why? Because chances are when you see the advert on TV you’re not in the market for a kitchen right then, but when you are in the future – perhaps 6 months, one year, five years or longer – then the brand which will spring to mind may well be Wren.

I was therefore staggered to see Wren’s latest TV advert, which focuses on budget kitchens and including a £2k flat pack option. Whilst this radical departure will no doubt bring in sales at the very bottom of the market, it not only also seriously undermines Wren’s brand positioning but also hugely devalues the very significant investment (like many millions) in advertising they’ve made to get it there in recent years.

So how’s it come about and why have they done it? Well one thing I can say with some confidence, is that the very idea would not have come from Wren’s marketing director. Indeed, I imagine that very person would have pushed back strongly on it, and in a way that any competent and senior marketing professional would have. I’m therefore concluding that it’s been pushed through the boardroom by either an overly zealous sales director, or from the very top which would be the owner Malcom Healy – a truly brilliant businessman but even the best don’t always get it right.  In any event and whoever is responsible, I believe the initiative was born out of greed and a desire for market dominance and almost regardless of market segment.

The lesson in all this is clear: Unless the nature of your product or service means that it’s universally wanted or needed by pretty much all consumers, then the greatest financial reward will always come from segmenting your market, deciding which of those segments are best aligned with your offer and business model etc., then positioning your brand to those segments in the most appropriate way.

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