Going in to 2001, Sears had a 38 percent market share leadership position in national appliance sales. The competition was heating up, however, with two of Sears’ biggest competitors—Home Depot and Lowe’s—entering the appliance business and stealing market share. Home Depot began to sell appliances in more than 800 of its stores with plans to open 200 appliance-focused stores in 2002. Lowe’s opened more than 100 stores offering appliances in 2001 and announced plans to open over 100 more in 2002.
Sears’ goal was to defend and then add to its current market share by attracting more customers to its two newest appliance products and to its entire line of Energy Star-endorsed appliances in general. This launch was the largest in Sears’ 117-year history. An additional challenge was to convey the emotional appeal of the appliances in order to gain broadcast coverage.
Sears commissioned three key pieces of research to uncover consumers’ attitudes toward energy usage and conservation (see appendix for research highlights):
Roper/Starch National Survey of Americans’ Attitudes Toward Energy
Objectives and Planning
The results of Sears’ research showed that consumers in areas of the country that had gone through the energy crisis of 2000 were particularly aware of the benefits of energy-efficient appliances and more likely to purchase them. Therefore, the public relations campaign to support the product launch began in California and Arizona and then spread across the country. In non-energy crisis areas of the country, the research highlighted the need to educate consumers about how much they could save by switching to more energy-efficient appliances.
Therefore, the program targeted the following key audiences:
The main objectives of the program were to:
Strategy and Execution
Public relations first forged a strong partnership with other key groups in the company also responsible for the product launches to ensure an integrated approach: marketing, employee communications and store operations. The team developed tactics and key messages that linked the research findings with key attributes of Sears’ Energy Star products (one example: research showed that many consumers were unaware of how little electricity new refrigerators like the new product being launched used. Therefore, the key message around the refrigerator launch was “The new Kenmore Ultrafresh refrigerator runs on the same amount of energy required to power a 75-watt bulb.”
The plan’s three main components and key supporting tactics were:
The results of the PR-driven program to support the launch of the new Kenmore washer and refrigerator and general sales of Energy Star-endorsed appliances at Sears far exceeded expectations:
“The PR campaign for our energy-efficient appliances helped us achieve higher results than we expected,” said Tina Settecase, vice president/general manager of Sears appliance business.