Impact Driver or Impact Wrench? Once More Hardware Marketers Hurt Themselves with Names

End-user confusion about drills and drivers is rampant – although the model in this stock photo looks more bored than confused.

Tool makers have created a wilderness of product, category and project names that stand in the way of revenue and market share growth. And no category is more confused than drills and drivers.

At the Oregon State Fair recently I ran into some impact drivers from a major brand. You know impact drivers – those great compact tools that use small bursts of torque to deliver turning power around the screw, bolt or nut.

“Impact driver” is a strong label for the category of tools because they are used by pro and DIY alike primarily to drive screws and self-tapping hex headed screws (e.g. those used for steel studs). Impact drivers are also used, but less often, to drive lag bolts, remove small stuck bolts, and in a few other driving situations. In other words, from both the pro and DIY end user point of view, they are an evolution of the drill/driver.

But at the fair, the boxes were labeled “impact wrench”. Huh? An impact wrench?

An impact wrench is a big tool used on cars, trucks, and in factories that delivers 2500 to 7000 in-lbs of torque and is used for the heaviest duty work on cars and trucks. It also exclusively drives sockets and is used on heavy bolts.

But the tool in that package was an impact driver – a tool that delivers small bursts of usually 500 to 1300 in-lbs of torque – torque that is light enough to drive screws or hex head screws without breaking them.

How can we expect consumers to buy products without consistent categories and names? This challenge is particularly miserable in the drill and driver category.

These impact tools are a recent innovation (last decade). But even before they were put out to consumers, purchasers at all levels were already confused by the chaotic range of language used to describe the features and benefits of drills, drivers, and hammer drills. And they were even more confused by battery sizes and types.

Why all this confusion? In part, companies have grasped for short-term profits in ways that fragment the categories. But also, there has been very little effective mass communication for these tools.

The confusion is quite serious. To see it, just walk the aisle at any retailer and try to envision what a consumer faces.

As just one example, many contractors think the hammer function and the impact function are the same. Except, they’re entirely different. The hammer drill adds impact along the axis of the drill to help masonry bits break out more material. The impact driver is entirely different – generating small impacts in the plane at a 90 degree angle to the axis to tighten or loosen screws, bolts, and nuts.

Two recommendations:

My agency’s research finds that nearly every area of the hardware business is losing money because of problems with language. It’s particularly problematic for products like saws and drills. It’s even worse when it comes to talking about projects and the best practices for those projects.

1. If the tool & hardware business is to make its next step in growth, we’ve all got to become better at controlling these names. Because clear naming drives product sales. In fact, good, clear end-user driven names can drive sales as much as 3 or 4 times higher.

2. The tool and hardware business must start communicating about it’s products. Lack of communication created the confusion amongst impact drivers, impact wrenches, and hammer drills. But it goes much deeper. Engineering teams throughout the business are inventing amazing new products faster than potential buyers are told about them. But without communication it’s as if the product advances don’t exist. (If a product’s invented and no one knows about it, was it really invented?)

These product advances are exciting. So it’s sad that our business too often lacks the communication savvy to cash in on the value of those advances.

This situation won’t last. The companies who figure out how to communicate best with their consumers will own their markets and make much higher profits.

Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett

About Doug Garnett
Growing retail based businesses through television, DRTV, and all forms of video. Doug is a strategist, executive producer, director, author, & teacher.

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