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Exec says to win, be different

By Candice Ferrette
The Daily Times-Call

BOULDER — A Home Depot marketing executive told 500 University of Colorado business students Tuesday that they should “think big. Then think small.”

In thinking big, John Costello, Home Depot’s vice president of merchandising and marketing, said he strives to develop a distinctive and compelling point of difference for the brand or product he is marketing.

Costello said that at Home Depot, the distinctive difference is “we can help you get the job done.”

For example, he said Home Depot has marketed paint in a distinctive way by emphasizing paint color as a way to express character.

“Differentiate,” Costello said. “What’s the uniqueness that consumers feel about paint?”

He also advised the students on how to keep a 24-year-old brand like the Home Depot growing over time.

“How do we build on a $6 billion brand?” asked Costello, “How do we build on success and continue to grow?”

He said sometimes the answer is thinking small and connecting with customers on a personal level. Costello said the company was reaching out to some of its most important customers when it held a Do-it-Herself program, a free workshop for women who want to learn how to do household repairs.

The program was offered on Monday night for the first time in all Home Depot stores and was featured in several broadcast news shows.

“We got millions of dollars of visibility for free,” Costello said.

David Jacobson, 19, a freshman, said he thinks hearing a high-level executive like Costello enhances his learning experience.

“It is an excellent idea,” Jacobson said. “I love hearing perspectives from professionals.” Jacobson said he is currently transferring into the business program and has an interest in working in finance.

Costello was recently named one of the 50 Most Influential People in Marketing by Advertising Age magazine. He started his career at Proctor & Gamble and later worked at PepsiCo.

From 1993 to 1998, he served as senior executive vice president of Sears and was a key member of the team that launched the “Softer Side of Sears” advertising campaign. Before joining Home Depot, Costello worked at Yahoo! as chief global marketing officer.

Costello said that he has a warm spot in his heart for Colorado because it is where he launched his career with his first job at Proctor & Gamble. With 1,700 stores, Home Depot is the world’s second largest retailer, behind Wal-Mart.

Costello spoke at the University of Colorado at Boulder as part of a lecture series sponsored by the Leeds School of Business.