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Monday, November 22, 2004

The bland merging with the blind: What will Sears & Kmart promise the consumer?

I shop at Target because I understand its point-of-view – cool stuff at good prices. While I don’t choose to shop at Wal-Mart, I understand what the retailer is all about. Wal-Mart is successful because it, too, has a point-of-view that people understand: almost everything you need at really low prices.

But Kmart and Sears? Neither company has a point-of-view. The merger announced last week is like the bland (Sears) following the blind (Kmart). What do these retailers stand for? What’s the shorthand reason to shop there? Beats me.

I’ve seen many new Kmart television ads this fall but they confused me more than helped me understand Kmart. Why exactly would I shop there? The ads seemed disconnected from any bigger positioning. And Sears? Aside from buying Craftsman tools, I’m not sure why I’d shop there.

A point-of-view helps we consumers understand what a brand is all about. It’s the promise that helps us understand why to buy. Done right, it drives brand communications so it all adds up to set the brand apart. (And it makes it easier for marketing managers to plan, prioritize and really integrate different marekting communications techniques.)

Staples gets this. Its promise is to “make buying office products easy.” And they do. Last week I bought cartridges for my home office printers and received a rebate. Rather than having to fill out forms and mail them, which I never get around to doing, Staples let me go to a Web site, fill in a couple of numbers, and presto, the rebate process was complete. That was easy.

But merging two dying brands rarely succeeds. It would have been far smarter to resuscitate K-Mart or Sears with some real marketing. I tend to agree with retail consultant Howard Davidowitz who says that the Kmart and Sears merger will produce one thing: a cadaver.

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