Step into a Home Depot, hhgregg or any of the other big-box stores and you can see just how much space is devoted to selling and marketing major appliances. Lowes and Home Depot now account for the lion’s share of major appliance sales along with Best Buy. (Sears once the dominant player but that retailer blew it.)
These retail locations often have many different brands in an attempt to cover all bases. But how does a consumer decide on which brand to purchase?
Sometimes the reason to buy is to replace a worn-out or broken appliance. In many of those cases, consumers generally want the same brand to match their other household major appliances.
Others may have experience with a particular brand and still others know that they are simply in need of a new appliance.
Since there are some manufacturers that produce a number of brands (such as Whirlpool), do customers choose on the basis of manufacturer or brand? For the purposes of this study, we will only look at consumer brands, as marketing major appliances are based on brand not manufacturer.
What is important here is to look at the individual brands to get an understanding as to just how similar they all are and where there is room for them to improve.
What follows is a snapshot of where we see major appliance brands today.
The High-End/Premium Segment
First, let’s examine the high-end or premium segment. We won’t spend a whole lot of time on this segment only because they account for a very small percentage of major appliances sales in the US, though it is increasing.
Viking has fallen on hard times. Just a few years ago, Viking had a premium price point the quality of its products did not warrant. Issues, particularly with its wiring and general overall quality, plagued the company.
Since then, Viking has regained some of its clout. But, as a brand, it is much need of repair.
Viking’s messages are expected, introducing the new Viking as something better. That is a defensive position against the competition.
Being better than what? Better than the way its appliances used to be or better than all other major appliances?
If it is the latter, that is not a claimable position because there is no opposite claim. Without an opposite claim in the market (“We’re worse!”), it does not provide a choice. For a brand to succeed, it must say who it is for and, often more importantly, who it is not for.
Miele is a German manufacturer with the themeline of Immer Besser, which means Forever Better. Like Viking, Miele talks about the product and not the user (big mistake). It’s still a pretty strong promise, as far as it goes.
It is a reminder that the product will actually be better forever and gives the consumer the confidence that they are always ahead in the technological changes in the market. That feeling – being with a winner – can be a strong claim. It suggests that you, the customer, is a winner by association.
The Wolf/Sub-Zero brand, with its characteristic red knobs and stainless steel finishes, has a pretty solid history of quality and performance – except when your built-in refrigerator needs repaired. The built-in workings of the appliances means repairing them is expensive and may require you to buy a whole new appliance.
That being said, Wolf talks about creating moments worth savoring. Is that about creating a moment or creating good food? From a brand perspective, it is a mixed message. Brand works best when it is single minded.
Make no mistake, the Wolf and Sub-Zero brands have generated growing awareness and preference. The red knobs of the Wolf major appliances and the stainless of the built-in refrigerators are iconic and the brand has been very successful in working with builders who specialize in high-end homes.
Thermador has been around for quite some time. It focuses on innovation, as there have been many in its history. One of its exclusive features is the 5-star burner design, which serves a functional and cosmetic purpose. Its tag line, real innovations for real cooks, does a decent job recognizing the customer but it stumbles because it is still about Thermador.
One of the problems with the position of innovation is that, with the speed of technological change, innovation has become a table stake in the category. This is particularly seen in major appliances on the next tier down.
There are refrigerators that are connected to the internet and can send pictures of their contents so you know what you need at the grocery store. Even washing machines now have two separate washing areas. While Thermador promises innovation in cooking specifically, that is still a table stake promise.
With ovens that can connect to your mobile devices and touch screen ovens, Jenn-Air looks just as innovative as Thermador. However, Jenn-Air leaves the consumer guessing as to what its brand actually means.
Jenn-Air says its brand is about “sophisticated design, innovative technology, and exceptional performance.” So in other words, it has high-end major appliances. Actually, that theme could really apply to any appliance brand as the emotional difference between them is slight.
Bosch is a bit of a tweener, falling both in the premium and mass-market segments. Some would argue that Jenn-Air might be in this spot as well. Bosch takes the same approach to its brand as does Jenn-Air, although it encapsulates it more clearly with “Invented for life.”
Bosch talks a little about its attention to detail and, much like Jenn-Air, says its major appliances represent, “uncompromising quality, technical perfection and maximum reliability.”
As a business, Bosch has done an excellent job in product performance, especially in its dishwashers and cooktops. Its dishwashers especially are viewed as some of the best on the market today.
There are a number of other high-end brands but all of them are much of the same. Brands like La Cornue, Bertazzoni, Gaggenau, True, Dacor and Aga Marvel tend to play in specific niches of this niche category, but their brand promises are very similar.
Other brands like Samsung, LG, Frigidaire Gallery and Professional, KitchenAid and Electrolux may have some products that are premium but, for the most part, they still mass market brands.
The sales process and what we know about premium major appliances brands
Looking at marketing major appliances in the premium or high-end category, there are a couple of things that stand out. For one, many attempt to differentiate with themes on design, the culinary experience, heritage and innovation. In other words, they all talk about the same things.
Their advantage is that consumers of premium major appliances are already predisposed to purchasing them. The premium appliance consumer is not one who, when the microwave breaks, heads to Home Depot to go get another one.
In a kitchen remodel, for example, a premium appliance consumer discusses appliance options with their designer or contractor who will lead them toward a particular brand or brands.
From the perspective of the premium appliance manufacturers, this is a terrible place to play in because they have no control. Marketing major appliances in this segment the brands cede control the contractor or designer.
There is little innate brand preference and that preference comes as a result of past experience with the brands. But that’s not stealing market share.
One thing is clear, premium appliance brands don’t know what drives customers to purchase their specific brands other than what drives a premium appliance customer to purchase ANY premium appliance brand – design, innovation, quality and cooking, if you go by what the market’s players say.
The Mass Market Segment
For the remainder of this study, we will look at marketing major appliances brands that are readily available, particularly in big box retail.
Samsung does have a premium-like line of major appliances called Chef Collection, but the vast majority of its sales are in mass market. It is a bit difficult for consumers to separate the Samsung appliance brand from the Samsung Electronics brand – especially since Samsung has used the same actors for both, Kristen Bell and Dax Shepard.
Samsung Electronics ad:
Samsung Washer ad:
Samsung is attempting to create a lifestyle. After all, Samsung can be used for everything from phones to major appliances. That is actually one of the things that makes it approachable. It’s clear that Samsung is leveraging its innovation-driven electronics brand to drive preference in the appliance market. It wants to be known as a technology expert.
The problem with this strategy is that a product failure, product substitution, or, more dangerously, a technology failure on either side hurts the Samsung brand as a whole.
And let’s be honest for a moment, when you see the washer ad, how innovative is it if you can add to a load mid-cycle? Top loading washers have had that capability for years. If you are really concerned about adding additional items, wouldn’t one just choose a top loader in the first place?
Samsung tells the consumer that its major appliances can handle anything you can throw at them. The messaging is all about what the major appliances can do with the single exception of the ranges in which the messaging shifts to what the consumer can do with the range.
Although Samsung blurs its electronics and major appliances brands, neither owns a distinct position in the market space. For the Samsung appliance brand, you get design, innovation and ease of use.
All are table stakes of the category. Nothing Samsung says is a true reflection of the customer or who the customer aspires to be when they use the brand.
LG feels very similar to Samsung but humanizes its brand when marketing major appliances through its Life’s Good tagline. While not highly emotional, the tag line does attempt to connect with the consumer as if to say, “If you believe life’s good, then LG is the brand for you.”
However, it is much more likely that the brand is really trying to convey, “With LG, life’s good,” making the brand more about LG than about the customer it wishes to influence.
You also recognize that it’s about the manufacturer and not the customer by the way that the initials of Life’s Good are LG. If noticed, then the line becomes non-believable. It’s becomes only clever.
Much like Samsung, LG talks about innovation, design and ease of use.
LG Twin Wash Commercial
However, in a bit of a non sequitur, LG also introduces a new concept of fitness meeting fashion. This is a web series with Malin Akerman where she talks about staying healthy while looking great. The videos are a minute and a half long and she spends less than 10 seconds, at the very end, talking about the washing machine. These videos are clearly aimed at women who might connect with her but they do little in terms of building the brand of LG.
LG Side Kick where fitness meets fashion:
Unlike Samsung, LG is trying to market by just being different. Differentiation in the marketing sense requires two things: being different and being better. Other than the loose tie with fashion and fitness, there is nothing in the LG brand that represents anything better.
GE Artistry is the Target of the GE family of major appliances. It claims to be the height of appliance design and style, but it has stripped down all of the fancy features (like a timer on their range, for example) to give consumers major appliances that heat, clean, cool and cook.
Like the Target brand, GE is attempting to make GE Artistry cool, cheap and chic. It is a slight change in the marketing major appliances strategies.
This is a good example of an appliance brand understanding its consumer. There are many consumers who are just starting out, perhaps buying their first major appliances and who are drawn to a brand that enabled them to buy style without breaking the bank.
Below is a co-opted online ad of the GE Artistry series where the brand differentiators of cool, stylish and inexpensive are clearly laid out.
So the question is, does cool overcome cheap in major appliances? Major appliances by their very nature are meant to last for a considerable amount of time. With the GE Artistry sub-brand, at what point does the cool factor wear off?
While it may have a certain style today, appliance style may completely change in a matter of just a couple of years. For anyone thinking of an appliance that is supposed to last more than a couple of years, GE Artistry is probably not for them. From a brand perspective, the GE Artistry brand is often too of the moment.
The GE Café sub-brand claims to be restaurant inspired. GE Café is also the only one of the GE sub-brands that says anything about innovation. The intention of the GE Café brand in marketing major appliances is to be for the serious cook who needs the features and power of restaurant quality major appliances.
This first ad discusses the power and advanced cooking technology of the major appliances to take “food further.”
What is seriously wrong with this ad is that it gives no credit to the cook. The ad is about the major appliance. While it assumed that a consumer knows that major appliances alone can’t make food, the argument is backwards. “GE major appliances take food further.” Rather, the argument should be “If you are always looking to take food further, GE Café is designed for you.” Then it becomes a real reflection of who the consumer aspires to be.
Compare that with the ad below:
While this ad demonstrates the innovative feature of the Keurig brewing system, it portrays this innovation as something that’s normal. It just makes things easier and good enough for everyday (and extra special days). All the power and advanced cooking technology seen in the other ad, and what GE Café is supposed to be about, is completely gone. Now the GE Café brand is about ease of use and everyday cooking.
GE’s other brands, such as GE Monogram, GE and GE Profile, are about sophisticated style, craftsmanship and modern style, respectively. GE Monogram is meant to be GE’s high-end brand where the GE and GE Profile sub-brands are the everyman’s brand.
Instead of consumers identifying with a particular sub-brand of GE, they are stuck comparing features and price between the brands. There is no true preference.
That opens up the rest of the brands at Home Depot to the consumer’s considered set. The power GE thinks it is getting from differentiating its sub-brands actually makes the brands more suspect to competing non-GE brands.
In marketing major appliances, GE has tried to segment its market to the point where it is trying to be all things to all consumers. As such, it is for no one. GE wants to leverage the power of GE throughout all of its sub-brands but is depending too much on the consumer to be able to navigate them.
Walking into a Home Depot, for example, you can find all of these GE brands sitting together with price hangtags. There is nothing differentiating one from another thus canceling out any brand differentiation and reducing the individual power of marketing major appliances. How is the GE Café refrigerator that sells for $2700 any different than the GE Profile that sells for $2300? Standing in the store, is the GE Café brand worth $400 more without an ice and water dispenser?
But the innovation and design come as a result of Whirlpool’s corporate position of making the most out of the moments that matter and innovation that develops at the pace of life.
Corporately, Whirlpool is focused on avoiding flash. Its major appliances are designed to be as easy and flexible as possible so that they do not impede running the house. Whirlpool understands that major appliances are simply tools to do tasks.
In this ad, Whirlpool credits consumers with taking care of their household, knowing that care can be messy. Then the ad posits how the product can help you “care.”
In this ad, the caring aspect of the brand is still present and is much less about the products than about the whole idea of caring. Whirlpool has successfully separated the product from the act of using the appliance in its strategy of marketing major appliances.
Just about anyone with children can think of a time where they were in a similar situation. Parents make lunches for their kids (yes even with cute notes) and they do laundry when a child falls in the mud or has an accident.
At those times, the appliance that keeps the food cold or washes the soiled clothes is irrelevant. It is everyone’s expectation that, when they go to the refrigerator to pull out the lunch meat or put a muddy shirt in the washing machine, that the food will be cold and the shirt will be clean.
These are table stakes of the entire appliance category. The brand of appliance does not matter.
Whirlpool says its refrigerators are not simplified but that their refrigerators somehow make “your coolest creations simple.”
Whirlpool should certianly be commended for at least attempting to make its brand a reflection of the customer, but can a refrigerator make what a consumer wants out of its contents more simple?
While the brand of Whirlpool is certianly a feel-good kind of brand, it lacks a key ingredient to incite change in a behavior. It is not pursuasive.
The Whirlpool brand wants consumers to believe that choosing another appliance brand will get in the way of running the house and taking care of the family.
Unfortunately for Whirlpool, that simply is not true. Unless the appliance is broken, which happens to all major appliances, getting in the way of running the house is not a point of failure. All major appliances work and are easy to use.
KitchenAid is probably best known for its stand mixers and food processors. But it does have a full line of major kitchen major appliances as well.
Its brand is for those who create, paying homage to the users of the appliance for their ability to create. KitchenAid does bring the consumer into its brand, probably better than the rest of the competitive landscape. The spot demonstrates that the user has more control over creating even better dishes with the KitchenAid line of products.
KitchenAid backs up those statements with the table stakes of design, performance and features to back up this idea. The important part is that the main themes are the reasons for preference and, therefore, make the table stakes more important.
Maytag was once the king of marketing major appliances. There was a time when Maytag had a single message represented by a single iconic figure, the lonely Maytag repairman.
Jesse White was the original “loneliest guy in town” and that campaign went on for nearly 50 years. As everyone knows, the Maytag repairman was so lonely becase he had nothing to do – Maytag washers and dryers, and other major appliances, were so dependable that they did not need repairing.
In 2014, Maytag shifted their approach to the Maytag repairman:
The more active repairman is no longer a repairman. Rather, he represents the “hardworking hum of a Maytag home.”
Maytag once owned the whole idea of dependable in marketing major appliances. In much of the same way that Volvo once owned the idea of safety, Maytag very successfully owned what is supposed to be a table stake value.
However, as competitors’ products became more reliable, Maytag shifted its once iconic position.
While the concept of dependability is not as pronounced as it once was, it is still tightly woven into the fabric of Maytag, at least in words. It talks about its products as being “All kinds of (insert kitchen product category), one kind of dependable” or “You can’t have delectable without dependable.”
What is odd is that Maytag has nearly dropped all references to dependable in its print ads, with its washers and dryers and kitchen major appliances, instead focusing on best-in-class cleaning and hard work. It is a change fir them in the strategy of marketing major appliances
Even the print ads are missing the idea of dependability.
The equity of dependability is gone. It is is now simply nostalgic.
Maytag has diluted its brand with the repurposing of the Maytag repairman. Because dependability is now a table stake, it was right to step away from it. However, Maytag has landed in a spot that is unemotional (although quirky).
We can combine these brands because there is so little difference between them and they are part of the same company. For the most part, Electrolux, the parent company, makes the same products for both then labels them differently even though there isn’t much difference between them in the first place.
The Fridgidaire/Electrolux brand as it currently stands is about time savings.
It has attempted to demonstrate how all of their kitchen major appliances can save their owners time, either with stainless steel that reduces fingerprints, faster preheating or a dishwasher that has more water coverage.
However, while time savings may not be completely applicable to a smudge proof refrigerator, Fridgidaire/Electrolux does a good job with living up to that promise with its washing machine, which can clean a load in 20 minutes.
From a brand perspective, the question is, “Is time savings a brand or a characteristic of a brand?” Further, is it the single most emotionally intensive thing that could be said to get a consumer to consider the Fridgidaire/Electrolux brand? What makes marketing major appliances effective?
To answer the first question, the idea of time-savings is not really true to all of Frigidaires products. Its gas cooktops don’t boil water faster, its microwaves don’t cook faster and its refrigerators don’t cool faster.
Secondly, do consumers who purchase Frigidaire products see themselves as someone who saves time or do they buy them because they believed they were the best value? Or do they believe that the product has the most features?
In marketing major appliances, there are other brands – Kenmore, Hotpoint, and Amana for example (all manufactured by Whirlpool). Hotpoint and Amana are low-priced value brands. Kenmore, once highly sought after, has become an also ran in this category, partly because of Sears/Kmart’s struggles and very limited distribution.
Summary of Marketing Major Appliances
What have we learned about marketing major appliances? It’s pretty easy to divide the category into two – high-end major appliances and mass market. Brands have a distinct fit in to each of these very broad categories.
After that, things get pretty murky.
Marketing major appliances in the high-end segment, brands talk a lot about luxury, innovation and creating an experience. There are varying degrees but thematically each of them fall here. In effect, all of the high-end brands are claiming table stake values.
What the premium appliance brands have in their favor is that there are fewer of them to choose from, so each can have a bigger piece of the market share pie than their mass market brethren.
The high-end appliance brands work very closely with builders, interior designers and architects to build a relationship with the brand. Secondly, these brands either have a dedicated sales force or are sold only in stores that sell other high-end brands, making the sales force more knowledgable about each brand. The caveat to both of these advantages is that the brands are giving up control to a third party to sell their major appliances.
In marketing major appliances in the mass market, the story is even bleaker. The mass market brands have done a poor job in creating differentiation. The brands have nothing to do with the user and instead are all about the major appliances.
On the other hand, some brands attempt to own a table stake of the entire appliance category – innovation, design, style, it cools, it heats, it washes, etc. In effect, the mass market brands are trying to convince consumers to buy their brands simply because they are major appliances.
Further, there are any number of retail outlets selling one, two or all of the mass market brands. The brands are mixed up on the floor with specific major appliances grouped together. Consumers are then forced to make decisions on the brand of appliance based on features and price.
Even if a consumer has a preference for a particular brand, with all of the brands present, that preference could easily be overcome by a feature or a sale on another brand. That’s because in the marketing of major appliances, brands themselves have not given anyone a real reason to choose.
Sure, appliance manufacturers and brands are likely saying, “Oh, we are the best designed, we have a washing machine that you can add to mid-cycle, or we make our major appliances easy to use and clean.” But again, those do not create preference. They should be the supporting points for an emotional brand that creates loyal customers.
Like Electrolux/Frigidaire’s attempt to capitalize on the idea of saving time or Maytag’s durability claims, it should be woven into everything the brand is and does.
This does not just apply to the mass market brands. The high-end brands should also take note. As this space becomes more and more crowded, the survival of all appliance brands may depend on it.
There is a better way
When marketing major appliances brands that can connect with and be a reflection of the consumers will have a distinct advantage in this category. In marketing major appliances, it would drive preference if a brand could give consumers the answer to, “Who am I when I use this appliance brand?”
This answer must come directly from the consumer’s beliefs not simply a fulfillment of a passing want or need. Beliefs are powerful. They are not transient but rather enduring guideposts that influence each and every decision we as human beings make everyday.
When brands are really derived from belief, not just wants and needs they have the DNA of the consumer built in them and resonate on such an emotional level that choosing a different brand would be akin to emotional suicide – a consumer would actually be choosing against who they believed they are or aspire to be.
Its easy to satisfy a want or need there are many options with many substitutes.
Aligning with a belief, now that is something different and in marketing major appliances, brands would be wise to pay attention, because the opportunity is there to steal market share.