Looking back at channel engagement for the last 18 months or so, few brands stand out as much for us as Lowe’s. As an Atlanta-based marketing firm, we’re not playing favorites here — after all, their main competitor is headquartered right in our own backyard.

The home improvement brand has, for the last few years — and especially this year — seemed to make all the right moves. That’s why we are naming them our 2020 Brand of the Year.

No Empty Marketing

As if you needed reminding, the current year brought one of the worst economic disruptions in history in the form of a tiny, starburst-shaped virus. It caused economies all over the world to shut down. With no sense of when a return to normalcy might occur.

The summer brought a slight reprieve in the virus worries — only to be replaced by months of civil unrest and a growing concern about the social issues facing the country and the world. Then, in fall, the virus took on renewed vigor. At the same time… one of the most contentious election seasons in US history reached its climax.

It has been an exhausting year. And an unstable economy. However, something interesting happened that — in hindsight — seemed only natural.

Consumers renewed their focus on their homes. After all, it was where they spent most of their time. And Lowe’s was poised and ready to take advantage of this sentiment. But they did so with more than empty marketing campaigns and tone-deaf promotions.

Instead, they did it with heart and authenticity. With a recognition of what was happening in the world. The anxiety their customers were feeling. And a genuine desire to set a positive tone.

There may be no better example of this than their “Making It…with Lowe’s” campaign from this fall. It was remarkable — because it went far beyond platitudes and pledged to make a real difference in people’s lives. How? By giving minority-owned businesses a real shot at life-changing success.

What made the campaign so good — beyond its design — was that it came straight out of the company culture. And that culture demonstrably values diversity. Yes, with that kind of foundation, dare we say to “build on”… you almost couldn’t go wrong.

Rising to the Challenge

Lowe’s has made several other smart marketing moves in 2020 — leveraging digital channels and partnering with the NFL on local marketing. The retailer also has been recognized for its commitment to sustainability.

Chief Marketing Officer Marisa Thalberg, who joined the company only weeks before the pandemic, credited the company’s fundamentals for their success. She said in a recent interview:

“We’re going to look at 2020 as marketers and say that it was a year where some of these concepts that we’ve spent a lot of time espousing to each other and at industry conferences — agility, purpose — those all came home to roost. You either were really showing you were about that or not. A big part of it was just putting that into practice: Can you continue to do the right thing commercially and also be the kind of company and brand that knows how to navigate very sensitive waters?”

That’s really what makes Lowe’s such savvy marketers. They pay attention to the basics. And make sure they get them right. That sets a foundation for everything they do… ensuring that their brand is grounded in real values. Rather than reacting. Or shifting with the wind.

That authenticity can’t help but shine through in Lowe’s marketing. Everything they do just feels right… like it rises effortlessly out of the company culture. Because it does. They have a genuine concern and love for their customers — as well as for their associates — and it shows.

This approach goes beyond culture, however, into the blocking and tackling of making sure they’re positioned to meet the needs of today’s customer. The shift to e-commerce took a huge step forward with the onset of the pandemic… while many other Building Product brands in the channel may have been flat-footed.

Not Lowe’s. Thalberg said the company’s agility was critical to its success:

“We’re a retailer and thank goodness a lot of fundamental work was already underway in strengthening our omnichannel capabilities. We were fortunately much better poised than Lowe’s would’ve been a couple of years back to accommodate much higher levels of dot com traffic, sales and moving fast on institutionalizing certain capabilities like buy-online, pick-up in-store.

Of course, it’s a big role within marketing to be looking at how we market total omnichannel experiences at Lowe’s, how we drive traffic-to-conversion to our dot com business, how we really think about the totality of not just selling what we sell, but also selling our services.”

And they are enjoying the success of their efforts.

A recent report indicates that Lowe’s expects sales to grow by 22 percent in 2020, and that the company is aggressively capturing market share. The company has also initiated a $15 billion share buyback program — and unveiled a new ‘Total Home’ strategy — designed to grow its business with pro customers.

To be sure, 2020 brought a welcomed rising tide in the home improvement category. And other brands have been able to benefit from that demand.

But none more so than Lowe’s. Whose smart marketing — grounded in authenticity and heart — has allowed them to rise to the many challenges experienced during this unprecedented year.

That’s why Lowe’s is our 2020 Brand of the Year.

Want to learn ways to help your brand shine in 2021? Send an email to Steve Kleber at skleber@kleberandassociates.com.