Kenmore Rebranding – Risky Business

Betsy Owens, Kenmore vp and general manager, is saying all the right things. Reading this article in which Elaine Wong from Brandweek interviews Ms. Owens about Sears’ decision to rebrand Kenmore appliances, you can check them off as they are mentioned. She seems to recognize Kenmore’s iconic history as a great American brand – check. She understands the generational disconnect conundrum in which great brands from one generation can struggle to translate to younger buyers – check. And she acknowledges that this economy provides a tricky launch pad for a rebranding effort – check. However, the most salient question for me is, “How do you not wreck the brand you have now?”

Let’s face it. Rebranding is based on a grass-is-greener mentality. It goes something like this: our brand currently captures a market share equal to X. We feel that the difference between X and 100 percent market share is not addressed by our current brand identity. So, we feel it is worthwhile to change our brand identity in the hopes of capturing as much of that difference as possible. Sounds reasonable, right? Then, someone inevitably asks, “But what about the X market share we have now? Those people may not make the jump with us if we change.”

This is true. Hopefully, as part of the brand evaluation, a consideration has been made for whether that market is worth keeping. Ms. Owens characterized Kenmore as the brand of their target customer’s “grandmother and mother.” So, for Sears, the question is purely generational. Let’s face it, grandmother and mother are getting older. Sears understandably want the younger generation to embrace the Kenmore brand. And if Sears’ plan comes to fruition, this younger generation will connect with the Kenmore brand. Then, as they age, they will continue to value the connection and buy more appliances throughout their lifetime. That means they will ultimately spend more money with Sears. Brilliant, right?

Well, maybe. But what about mom and grandma? Ms. Owens claims the new target is women in their 20’s. So “mom” is in her 40’s and “grandma” is in her 60’s? How large is the “mom” market plus the “grandma” market right now? And as our population ages, won’t that segment get heavier towards the “grandma” market? And doesn’t that segment buy appliances?

If you accept the idea that no brand can be everything to everyone, all rebranding is about the calculation. I believe what Sears is saying is that they can capture this new market and lose a little of their current market resulting in a new market share gain. Or, to put it another way, they can focus on the 20-something moms and let a certain percentage of the current core customers go. What makes this idea work is that a certain percentage won’t defect. The problem is this: the percentage of customers who don’t defect will likely determine whether the rebranding is a success.

How’s that? The rebranding will capture a certain amount of the new target market, right? That conquest business will be what Kenmore focuses on to see if the effort is working. However, if the defections in the larger mom/grandma market are larger than the gains in the conquest market, sales will suffer.

Iconic brands take a huge risk when they try to change their identity, particularly if their strategy relies on a younger, more fickle conquest market. “New Coke,” anyone?

The gamble Sears is taking now can be rationalized; but they will have to be extremely patient to see if it is worth it in the long run. They may see some degradation in their overall market share now while they wait for the 20-something moms to mature and demonstrate that they will continue to come back to the brand as they age. Meanwhile, the more mature market will be ripe for conquest marketing of Kenmore’s more traditional customers. Will Sears find a way to avoid alienating this market at the expense of their conquest market? Or, better yet, can they figure out a way to treat their alienated traditional customers as conquests in their new branding scheme? Something tells me that the answer to those two questions might determine the ultimate judgment on the rebranding of Kenmore.

Agree? Disagree? I’d be interested in your thoughts on Kenmore’s rebranding.

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4 Comments

Filed under Branding, Kenmore, Population Trends, Sears

4 responses to “Kenmore Rebranding – Risky Business

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  2. Underlying all of this is some research that we’ll never get to see. They’re clearly seeing mom/grandma erosion and have concluded that the current course is untenable. And I’m sure they’re testing the pants off the new brand.

    Of course, so did Coke.

    This is why they get paid the big bucks, huh? 🙂

    • I hope that’s the case. However, the “grass is greener” mentality is an intoxicating thing. I’ve seen perfectly good marketers go after a younger demo even when the growth was in a more mature market. Sometimes clients, too, see the younger market as “sexy” and it blinds them to the more sound business decision.

      And I’m sure on some level they all feel as though they are underpaid.

  3. One of the dynamics driving this probably has to do with the growth-rage of our businesses and with the rabid biz culture demand for everybody to make a mark. If I’m a brand manager and I inherit a legacy, I don’t get rich or famous by leaving well enough alone. I have to “take chances” and so on.

    When failure occurs, as it often does, I doubt the businesses ever stop to examine what it is about their own cultures that led to the debacle.

    Or maybe I’m just imagining things….

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