The best industrial penetrating oil on the market isn’t sold at big box stores. It has a cult-like following. Its formula hasn’t changed in 82 years. People use it to effortlessly bust loose locked up and rusted bolts with nary a knuckle scrape. Those in the know use it religiously and then tell others about it – religiously.
“It was this organic word-of-month that immediately caught our attention,” says Liza Klein, VP of Marketing for Kano Laboratories, LLC, the company that manufactures Kroil Penetrating Oil. “The fact people were spreading the message really spoke to the quality of the product.”
Unseizing the day since 1939
The Kroil brand and Kano Labs were founded by Thomas J. O’Kane in Chicago, IL. O’Kane moved the company to Nashville in the 1950s; in the late 1970s he passed away and left it to his employees.
The employees found that running the company themselves was challenging, so they sold it to the Zimmerman brothers, Rhodes and Peter, in 1980. The brothers expanded the product line and the manufacturing facility to accommodate the growth of the business.
In 2020, the Zimmerman brothers retired and sold the company to private investors, who relaunched the refreshed brand in 2021, with the intent to grow market presence.
“Our first step,” says Liza, “was refreshing the brand. The packaging was dated and challenging to read, and the products had naming inconsistencies and treatments.”
As part of the refresh, the marketing team kept several key elements, including the orange background and logo, with a different treatment of the oil drop. Using the new branding elements, they redesigned the website.
Most important, however, they had to make sure customers knew the formula hadn’t changed. A callout on all cans reads, “New look, same formula.”
Building market awareness via word-of-mouth
According to Liza, the Zimmermans did very little marketing. Instead, they ran sampling programs, meaning they offered “Buy 2 get X% off” or “free shipping” promotions. These promos were then mailed with print magazines – which was costly but it got people to try the product.
As part of the marketing asset transfer, Liza and her team were given various flyers with testimonials the Zimmermans had collected over the years. Social media was non-existent.
“When we read the testimonials and saw how enthusiastic people were, we knew word-of-mouth had to be a driving factor, so we set up a Facebook page and group and an Instagram page. Word-of-mouth then grew organically,” says Liza.
The Kroil marketing team takes a hands-off approach to the social media activity. For example, the Facebook group has over 1,000 people. Someone will ask a question, and individuals in the group will answer. Liza and her team monitor what’s being discussed but don’t like to interrupt.
“What’s really fun for us,” she says, “is seeing the knowledge transfer. People talk about and share how they’re using Kroil. We see things like, ‘My grandfather used to have a can of it on his workbench’ or ‘If I see a can of Kroil in a shop, I know they know what they’re doing.’”
The team asks people for permission to use their quotes and then adds them to the website testimonials page. They’ve also been creating customer video testimonials.
The company sells its products through distributors and to business members on Amazon. They also have several manufacturers reps and do sampling programs with them.
“What’s been interesting about watching word-of-mouth grow organically,” says Liza, “is seeing it span age groups. Our customers are industrial maintenance repair and overhaul techs (or MROs) and specialty trade professionals doing heavy-duty repairs or disassembly. We’re marketing to an older and a younger audience – but no matter the age, they all swear by Kroil.”
To learn more about Kroil and where to buy it, visit www.kroil.com
You can’t beat word-of-mouth, and it seems to be a sadly overlooked (forgotten?) marketing tactic.
I especially liked how the new team *monitors* its FB group but tries not to interrupt, letting happy customers do their marketing (and knowledge transfer) for them. Ditto getting permission to put customer quotes on its Testimonials page.
Mark — Agree about WoM being an overlooked marketing tactic, as well as how the Kroil team doesn’t interrupt conversations.