Grainger taps the power of emotion

Stephen Whiteside

"We're an industrial supplier," Victoria Morrissey, W.W. Grainger's director/brand strategy and advertising, told delegates at the Association of National Advertisers' (ANA) 2014 Masters of Marketing conference.

"Do you know what that means? It means we don't make anything. And everything we sell you can buy somewhere else – and probably for less money."

Grainger is a Lake Forest, Illinois-based business-to-business retailer offering more than a million products, from pool tables to office chairs to batteries. Alongside the logistical issues involved in handling such a vast portfolio, the firm competes with an enormous selection of rivals, and trades in categories where price generally is the main purchase driver.

Although Grainger enjoys strong brand equity, and is well known for reliability and efficiency among its 2.5 million customers – be they hospitals, oil rigs government buildings or coffee shops – its huge product selection held no deeper resonance helping it stand out. "It's a commoditised market and … suppliers are seen as incredibly interchangeable; there's not a lot of differentiation," Morrissey said.