Appliance Industry Struggles to Build Emotional Connections
Whirlpool is the most intimate appliance brand in the 2019 Brand Intimacy Study and the leading manufacturer of major appliances in a $177B industry.1 The corporation also owns a dozen well-known brands, including Kitchen Aid (2nd) and Maytag (8th), that rank among our top 12 appliance brands.
In an industry plateauing in growth, brands are facing forces of commoditization, the Internet of Things, and increasingly digital customer journeys. It will be interesting to see which of these brands can win the hearts of consumers in the long term.
Importantly, we have found that stronger intimate brands deliver higher financial performance. Intimate brands outperform the Fortune 500 and S&P 500 in terms of revenue and profit annually. Additionally, the more intimate customers are with a brand, the more they are willing to pay and the less they are willing to live without it.
The appliance industry, which ranks 12th out of the 15 industries surveyed, performs well below the overall average (19 vs. 31). Moreover, no brand in the industry beats the average quotient score for an individual brand. Whirlpool, the #1 category brand, ranks 106th overall. Considering the disdain that people have for airline brands or the curious underperformance of luxury brands, it also is surprising to see appliance brands fare so poorly.
The Brand Intimacy archetype most associated with the appliances industry is enhancement, which describes a brand that makes customers better through its use—smarter, more capable, and more connected. The industry’s average enhancement score rose 10 points since 2018 to surpass the previous top archetype—fulfillment, which is about exceeding expectations and delivering superior service.
Another interesting observation is that hardware manufacturing brands in the technology and gaming space, by contrast, generally perform better than software or service brands. One would imagine that the tactile and physical nature of the products in appliances could benefit similarly.
The automotive industry is perennially top performing. However, we don’t see the same emotional connection with other big-ticket, infrequently purchased items, like appliances. Contrary to what one might expect, the relative frequency of use of these products doesn’t translate into more emotional connection.
Intimate brands are measured using our proprietary model. We factor only users of the brand, and then we combine measures on the characteristics of the brand (6 archetypes) and intensity of relationship (3 stages). Whirlpool rose from #7 in 2018 to the top brand in the industry this year. Its Brand Intimacy Quotient more than doubled, and it has the #1 brand in the category for the archetypes of fulfillment, ritual, and nostalgia. The Whirlpool brand performs better on archetypes than on stages, although it is important to remember that whereas the brand is #1 in appliances, it performs weakly overall, ranking 106th, and the industry itself ranks 12th out of 15. However, the combination of the fulfillment archetype (exceeding expectations and delivering superior service), the enhancement archetype (becoming better through use of the brand—smarter, more capable, more connected), and the nostalgia archetype (focusing on memories of the past and the warm feelings associated with them) is a potential power mix, differentiating against other industry brands like Samsung or Dyson.
Demographically, the brand generally performs better with male, lower-income, and younger audiences, which clearly signals an area for improvement. The brand has also had a strong year-over-year performance in overall quotient score.
Perhaps the biggest challenge the Whirlpool brand faces in terms of building strong emotional bonds with its customers is in the intensity of the bonds. Too few of the brand’s customers have any degree of intimacy (12 percent). Compare this figure with a brand like Apple (2nd overall), which has 47 percent of its users with some degree of intimacy.
Looking at both the Whirlpool and Samsung brands reveals some interesting differences. Whirlpool has higher archetypes overall and also a more interesting mix than Samsung. Samsung, on the other hand, has built stronger emotional connections and intensity with their users. This is significant because the higher the degree of intensity, the less users are willing to live without the brand, and the more they are willing to pay.
As devices in the home are becoming increasingly connected and intelligent, there is ample opportunity for appliance brands to use technology to build stronger emotional bonds. We believe there are lessons to be learned from hardware and automotive companies that create stronger emotional intensity through the tactile and physical nature of their products.
Whirlpool (the product, not the holding company) also has the opportunity to focus on driving more emotional intensity with users in the stages of intimacy, where it performs the weakest. Whirlpool might focus on the first stage, sharing, which is when the person and the brand engage and interact. There is knowledge being shared, and the person is informed about what the brand is all about, and vice versa. These are relatively attainable associations for a brand to foster and can be leveraged across channels or initiatives.
Although improving its performance, the Whirlpool brand can still do much to build better emotional bonds and could start by better leveraging its form factor and technology and focusing on the sharing stage.
Check out our annual study and rankings of intimate brands. Visit our most recent rankings of intimate famous figures—BFF. Our Amazon best-selling book is available at all your favorite booksellers. Additionally, MBLM offers Custom Dashboards providing extensive data for brands included in its annual Brand Intimacy Study. To learn more about our Agency, Lab, and Platform, visit mblm.com.
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