ENGLEWOOD CLIFFS, N.J. – When David VanderWaal was tapped by LG Electronics USA as the new head of brand marketing activities for home entertainment and home appliances, the time had come to bring the company’s disparate businesses together.
The former brand marketing director for the company’s home appliances business was tasked with handling the marketing, advertising, research, consumer insights, sponsorships, promotions and in-store merchandising for not only digital appliances, but LG’s rapidly evolving consumer electronics products in the United States as well.
VanderWaal, a 25-year industry veteran who joined the company in 2007 and took over brand marketing for home appliances in May 2012, will be challenged to help U.S. consumers come to know LG for the diverse range of products it offers.
VanderWaal recounts some of the changes underway in this Q&A.
TWICE: Now adding consumer electronics to your responsibilities with major appliances, what’s your goal for LG in years ahead?
VanderWaal: I want to make LG a consumer-centric, driven organization. I want to get in touch with our retail channels and be a best-in-class co-equity partner with our retailers. I also want us to realize the potential for what the LG brand could be, not just the LG product. We’ve done that on the appliances side, I think. I think we’ve done it to a certain degree with televisions, but I think we can do more.
TWICE: Will we continue to see LG taking an aggressive stance in building the brand through advertising and promotional activities, as some of your key competitors have done?
VanderWaal: The way I’m positioning it is, we are a challenger brand. So we’ve got to be disruptive and we’ve got to be aggressive. That doesn’t necessarily mean in pricing, but it does mean in positioning. We are going to go after claims that we can support, that are consumer relevant – like “Best TV Ever” – we are going to go after the consumer in digital and in-store, because today’s consumer is shopping everywhere and they are learning everywhere. I think in the long history of marketing, consumers have always wanted choice, and we’re a brand that can provide an equal choice to the market leader and also the ex-market leader.
TWICE: How do you plan to leverage the synergies between what you’ve been doing with appliances and what you plan to do with consumer electronics?
VanderWaal: That’s a big focal point for me in 2015. We are going to leverage what we’ve been doing with the NCAA and other vehicles in a different way, so that we can connect across all of the business units that we have, including mobile, and make consumers understand that LG makes all of these different products under one brand umbrella. Just looking at the data recently, about onethird of consumers know LG as an appliance company, one-third know it as an electronics company and one-third know it as a phone company, but only about 20 percent actually know us as making all of those products, so that to me spells opportunity. We are a technology company, and we have to help consumers understand that.
We have to be very consumer-centric in our outreach. We do a lot of that anyway from a productengineering standpoint, but on the marketing side we have to be more consumer advised as well. What you will be seeing from me is a lot more research into the U.S. consumer and understanding the way that they want to be spoken to, and then driving those marketing assets through the channel. We will be working with our retailers on this because, ultimately, we own the relationship of our brand with the consumer all the way through the shopping journey. So we have to work with the retailer to go after that co-merged opportunity in their stores, both digital and physical.
TWICE: You are now single-handedly launching a major new display technology in OLED TV and 4K Ultra HD OLED TV that you call the “Future of TV.” What will this mean in your sales and marketing effort and to LG going forward?
VanderWaal: I’m extremely excited about the opportunity to market something so unique. By looking at it from a marketing perspective, I think it’s a challenge for us in an industry that’s full of technology jargon, and consumers that are overwhelmed. I think it’s our opportunity to breakthrough. We have to make sure that consumers understand the difference between OLED and all of these other technologies that are going to be marketed.
I think LG as a brand has so much potential. We are still at a place where consumers are making their first impressions of LG – they’re experiencing their first lifecycle of the brand. OLED is going to give us an opportunity to invest in a brand and not just sell a product.
TWICE: How big is LG’s window of exclusivity with large-screen OLED TV?
VanderWaal: I’m urging all of us here to take advantage of what we’ve got right now. We can’t predict what’s going to happen, and it may not even be something that we can control. Our competitors may come out with a way of doing OLED, or at least a limited quantity of OLED, so now’s the time. It’s the fourth quarter. We’ve got it. There’s a lot of talk and buzz around it. We have something to capitalize on, and if [the competition] comes in June, great, we’ve got huge first-mover advantage.
This is a product that if all retailers with assisted sales floors get behind it and sell it correctly, they will find that they can do this. It will sell. Every retailer in every market has an early adopter with disposable income who is interested in getting the best of everything.
TWICE: Over the years LG has used a variety of go-to-market distribution channel approaches to reach the target customer, what is that strategy now on your watch?
VanderWaal: Since I’ve been here, the strategy has always been to put an LG product within arm’s length of every U.S. consumer. So the choices that we’ve made in television and the appliance business have been based off of that fundamental principle. There are consumers who prefer to shop in clubs. There are consumers who prefer to shop in mass. There are consumers who prefer to go to regional assisted selling stores, and there are consumers who certainly prefer to shop in consumer electronics specialty stores. You’ve got to be everywhere, really.
TWICE: Which distribution channels do you handle best today, and which would you like to see developed better?
VanderWaal: We rely most on the stores that offer the sales support to explain the new technologies that we introduce. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to sell into the clubs or mass merchants. But I think our preference would be to have a really well-reasoned value proposition for the consumer in the store.
But the reality is that there are still so many people who don’t want to be helped by a sales associate. It’s staggering to me to see the change in the way that consumers want to engage with retail sales associates since the internet really got going. There are a lot of consumers, quite frankly, who are very cynical about having to deal with a retail sales associate. So we have to do a good job as a brand because, baseline, nobody may be there to help sell our product. How do we tell our story? And then on the top of the line where we have a well-trained, well-grounded sales associate, how do we sell our product?