How DeWALT Turned Customers into Influencers

Dan Stiff of Leadership Performance Development offers us a terrific example of creating customer influencers, which always creates long term and very loyal ambassadors. Another very important point Dan brings out is the quality of the products. DeWALT could not have pulled this off if the products were not top notch.

In the Credibility Pyramid (see graphic), this is number two (after a strong and credible management team). If the product does not deliver a clear return on investment AKA value, then engaging the customer as an ambassador just won’t work. Then coming up with marketing programs that illustrate the value is the next logical step (that a surprising number of companies miss). DeWalt hit a home run on this one. Thanks Dan for the important case study of credibility branding in action.

A Credibility Branding Case Study:

By Dan Stiff

How do you build credibility for your brand? How do you gain loyalty from customers? At industrial tool manufacturer DeWALT, a division of Black & Decker, we did it by turning customers into brand ambassadors.

DeWALT had a special challenge: to make the difficult transition from being a little-known business-to-business brand to becoming a household name in the consumer industry. During the launch of DeWALT, our team created an end-user marketing approach that coincided with the introduction of the product line. I was district sales manager for the western U.S. on the original team, and later became director in charge of the sales and product training program.

Ours was the first marketing campaign in the industry to bring the product to the users where they worked, lived, and played. This “24/7” approach turned ordinary customers into enthusiastic, loyal brand ambassadors whose endorsement of DeWALT tools spread brand credibility throughout the country.

Let me give you some specifics from our campaign.

We went where our customers worked. We did blitzes in local settings, going right to job sites during lunch hour where contractors and construction workers were building homes, businesses, and industrial projects, and demonstrated our power tools and accessories on site. We made these demonstrations dramatic and memorable.

We went where they lived. We took our demos to local lumberyards on a weekday with the three F’s in mind: food, fun, and free stuff. We served pulled pork sandwiches, ran drill-off contests, and gave away hats with DeWALT’s logo. These events were so popular that users clamored to be there. The winner of each drill-off contest, where we see who can drill the most 1 1/4-inch drywall screws into a piece of drywall in 10 seconds, would receive the coveted goldenrod DeWALT tee-shirt that had our logo in bold black letters—Guaranteed Tough—with the inscription “DeWALT Industrial Power Tools.” The tee-shirt winners gained bragging rights, and DeWALT gained walking billboards.

We went where they played. In another groundbreaking strategy, our team extended the brand beyond the workplace. We took our demos to NASCAR races, to professional rodeos, and to the speedboat races where our customers were enjoying their leisure time. At these sponsored events, we built relationships with users, demonstrated our tools, and of course, gave away lots of free stuff.

We made our brand story come to life. At Home Depots, Lowes, lumberyards, and construction suppliers across the country, we set up engaging demonstrations of DeWALT’s attributes. For example, we would take our tool housing (the “outer skin” that houses all of the moving parts) and put it in a gunny sack along with the housings from all of our competitors’ tools. After describing the extra quality that we put into our glass-filled nylon-reinforced housings compared with the plastic housings our competition used, we would pick up a sledgehammer and whale the tar out of the gunny sack, sometimes letting customers participate. When the contents of the gunny sack were emptied onto the floor, customers saw a slightly dented but never broken DeWALT housing next to piles of multicolored plastic shards. Our customers had a noticeable emotional reaction to this demonstration.

We showed our contractors appreciation. At DeWALT, we had a contractor appreciation program that worked like this: Buy five tools and we’ll give you the sixth for free. This program was wildly successful, and created tremendous lifetime brand loyalty.

Our universal branding strategy at DeWALT, which aimed to take DeWALT out of the 8-to-5 brand and move it into customers’ everyday lives, paid off in a big way. Our customers felt an emotional connection to DeWALT and became brand ambassadors, spreading the word to friends and coworkers, and reaching more buyers than an ordinary marketing campaign could hope to access.

The end result? Black & Decker’s market launch of DeWALT was one of the biggest turnarounds recorded in marketplace history. It is now a Harvard Business School case field study on how to use a strong brand and end-user strategy to take back a market.


Dan Stiff is president of Leadership Performance Development, Inc. (, a training and consulting company specializing in sales, leadership, and organizational development, and the author of Sell the Brand First: How to Sell Your Brand and Create Lasting Customer Loyalty (McGraw-Hill).

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