Why Sears Is Rebranding Kenmore

Sears Holding Corp. has undertaken a huge task: To completely revamp and relaunch approximately 450 Kenmore appliance models. The move is part of a larger effort for the home appliance brand, which is sold exclusively at Sears. Right now, the changes are rolling out on washing machines, and soon, on refrigerator units. Kitchen appliances will follow later this year. The goal is to contemporize Kenmore, an 83-year-old, iconic American brand, said Betsy Owens, Kenmore vp and general manager. Female consumers, primarily, saw Kenmore as a brand that their grandmothers and mothers bought, but that didn’t necessarily speak to them, Owens said. So to update the brand and its image, a new television, in-store and social media campaign was launched. The push also includes a new visual brand identity and a Web site, with features that speak to this modern female demographic. Despite the unstable economy, Owens said now is the perfect time for the rebranding and the related campaign. “We have a product for every pocket, and from a value [standpoint], the Kenmore brand is so aligned with where Americans are right now that I don’t think we could’ve picked a better time to do this,” she said. What follows are excerpts from Brandweek’s conversation with Owen, who further discussed the rebranding.

Brandweek: Sears Holding Corp. is relaunching Kenmore in a downturn. Why so?
Betsy Owens:
Kenmore is one of those great, iconic American brands. It’s been around forever. It invented many of the categories it competes in today and it has been the leader in appliances for many, many years. It’s always been a highly innovative brand: It was the first one to bring front-loading washing machines to the U.S., the first to introduce color on [these] machines, the first to [introduce] induction on freestanding ranges. It has a lot of firsts behind it. But even great brands like Kenmore need to adopt and adjust and reinvent themselves periodically, and that is really what we’re doing [in this campaign].

BW: So how did consumers perceive of the brand before this?
We’re hearing from customers that “My grandmother and my mother had Kenmore. I grew up with Kenmore. I love it for that reason, but it doesn’t necessarily speak to who I am.” So, we saw an opportunity to reach out to consumers with a more stylish product.

BW: Define that customer more precisely.
It’s more women, although we recognize more and more often now, males are involved in the purchasing decisions. But first and foremost, it’s women from their 20s—when you’re first setting up a house—all the way up to their 50s. What we’ve done differently than in the past is we really focused on attitudinal segments, so our sweet spot for the core consumer is someone we’re calling the “savvy mom.” We see her as someone who is true to the Kenmore spirit. She’s practical and resourceful, but she’s also someone who doesn’t feel that she should have to trade off among style, performance and price. She is someone who believes she can get it all and not make any compromises. We think we’ve got the sweet spot in terms of a product that will appeal to her at that level. She is also someone who sees stylish design and technology as a way to make a statement about who she is and her home. She is someone who prioritizes her role as mom and wife, but she feels younger than her mom did at that same age.

BW: And you’re communicating this through ads, like one currently running, which show a couple admiring a Kenmore washer’s five-motion spinning properties. But you’re also using social and digital media to launch this. Can you talk about some of those programs?
We’re doing online advertising and we’re more aggressive in using [online communities] in social media, so we’re using Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. One thing about Kenmore is it’s always been such an accessible brand to so many Americans. We saw that as an opportunity to use real people as our brand ambassadors, so [in our online advertising], you’ll see not only the people behind Kenmore—the engineers and the product designers—but you’ll also see us using real consumers and capturing their stories about Kenmore’s past, present and future.