In an up-and-coming neighborhood on Chicago’s north side, you’ll see a storefront filled with top-of-the-line Sears brand products — from gourmet Kenmore ranges to front-loading washers and Craftsman tools. But don’t take out your wallet, because this space is unique. You can’t buy anything here. The space is Sears brands’ Kenmore Craftsman Brand Live Experience, essentially a recording and production studio for capturing live, streaming branded video content, hosting DIY radio shows, and capturing building and cooking demos.
You know all those people talking about big brands becoming media companies? Kenmore Live Experience is that transformation. And it’s quite a leap.
How to create hip, classy branded content
Back in 2009, Sears was on a mission to have customers take a fresh look at Kenmore products. The company faced strong competition from brands like Electrolux, Samsung, and LG, and Sears asked a short list of agencies to come up with a plan to breathe new life into its flagship home appliance brand. How could Sears act young again and drive more authentic branded content engagement without resorting to internet slapstick? The company approached Barry Krause for advice.
Krause had a distinguished career at Publicis Groupe and Leo Burnett, among others. He directed the agency team responsible for McDonald’s Burger Wars, masterminded Subway’s Jared blockbuster, and was the architect for a half-dozen other highly recognized traditional ad campaigns.
At the time, Krause was wrestling with how brands behave in a digital social world, and had recently formed Suite Partners as a content marketing resource for major brands.
Krause told Sears there was just one answer: “Show up live.”
He felt the Kenmore line offered a unique opportunity to serve up fresh, hip content in a live studio format. The appliances would take a supporting role to the star: high-quality branded content. Explains Krause, “We all know advertising and marketing are no longer about interrupting what people are interested in. It’s about being what people are interested in.”
Using the storefront studio, Sears’ Kenmore brand executives put together a lineup of live streaming shows five nights per week, plus programming for children on Sundays. The studio hosted everything from famous chefs to fashion shows and a bridal contest — literally hundreds of live episodes. Then a technical team edited the live feeds to repackage the videos for YouTube (you can check out a sample of the Kenmore/Craftsman video lineup here).
Krause says that when he began this journey into live branded content, he was experimenting — like every other advertiser and marketer — trying to understand the difference between good-but-forgettable content and the great content users want to share with friends. And he wasn’t totally sure how great content would translate to sales. What he and Kenmore executives knew, however, was that they wanted to create content that would get them closer to their customers — both online and in the real world.
The magic of live, says Krause, happens in unexpected, unscripted moments: “We hosted a big fashion design contest and show in the Kenmore Live Studio. At 1 a.m., the night before judging day, a contestant accidentally spilled red Gatorade on a competitor’s dress. We could not have scripted that. We put this ornate dress into the state-of-the-art Kenmore washers and dryers. I have footage of the designer crying and someone else putting the gown in the washer. Son of a gun if that dress didn’t come out perfectly. You just can’t buy that.”
Over time, Sears has adjusted its strategy, using the studio space to record the live content, as well as serial broadcast content. “The studio space gives us a chance to truly engage with our customers,” says Ryan Ostrom, CMO of Craftsman and divisional Vice President of Digital for Kenmore, Craftsman, and DieHard brands. “We are doing a lot of work with on-demand video content. We go out to our communities and ask, ‘What do you want us to do?‘ Then we make that content and push it back the next day. We are having a two-way dialogue. We’re not just asking questions on Facebook and saying ‘Like us if you like this item.’”
Consider this example of what on-demand video can look like: Craftsman asked its Twitter followers what they would like the team to build in the studio. A customer tweeted back, “A picnic table with a beer caddy built in.” Within 48 hours, the video demo was complete and published on YouTube. Voila! On-demand video content.
ComScore recently measured the value of the Kenmore and Craftsman studio’s candid-capture content, and found the format doubles social media reach and increases engagement by 50 percent.
Sears has now expanded the live studio concept to include the Craftsman tool brand. The studio space hosts DIY demos (build a new deck or put up a shelving unit), new product launches (Buell Motorcycle used the studio to launch a new line) and expert carpentry classes (e.g., how to build an acoustic guitar).
“Our entire social platform now drives off the content we produce out of our content studios. Some of it is live, but these studios also allow us to react quickly to questions from our social media platforms. Someone may say, ‘Hey I’m building a fire pit. Can you help me out?’ We then quickly get in the studio and film a project that answers that individual’s question. We’ve seen that type of quick-turnaround, one-to-one interaction really drives engagement through our social channels, as well as our email communities.
Making your own content will be a key driver in every brand’s arsenal in the future. It has to be. Think about all the various digital touch points a brand now owns: e-commerce, online experiences, mobile, tablets, in-store kiosks and digital displays. Because we have a studio that builds original digital content, we’re able to touch all these different formats in one consistent brand voice instead of going off in 20 directions with 20 different voices.” — Ryan Ostrom, CMO of Craftsman, divisional Vice President of Digital for Kenmore & Craftsman.
Ostrom explains, “Before the studios, we were stuck at a boundary. We would know of a concept that was new and that we wanted to share with our customers, but it would take us a couple of weeks to get content out to our customers. Time was not in our favor. With the labs, we’re able to be on the pulse of what’s going on in our market, and turn things around in 24 to 48 hours.”
Other big brands have also bought into the concept. Krause’s Suite Partners now offers brands the same live social media and studio experience, called LiveLab. Nike used LiveLab to help build the Nike Field House, a studio to support the launch of its Nike+ line, including the new FuelBand. And Cars.com uses LiveLab for Salesforce training in social media and innovation.
Think a production studio is only for consumer brands? Not quite. LiveLab worked with Accenture to build out its Accenture Consumer Innovation Network, which includes small, on-site LiveLabs to keep clients abreast of the latest developments in the digital age. The lab produces custom multimedia shows for Accenture clients visiting their innovation centers (think of a case study through the lens of “The Matrix”).
The studio also offers something beyond content creation, says Ostrum. “We organize events for the branding team to come in and get our hands dirty building things. We get to live and breathe the brand we represent, and focus on the passion points. It’s an unexpected but great benefit for us.”
What’s next for Kenmore and Craftsman? “We are ready to go wherever our customers want us to go with content,” Ostrum says. And judging by the most recent entries from the lab (#cookingwithcraftsman), who knew your cordless drill could power a whisk attachment?
You’ll find more examples of content innovations from big brands in CMI Books’ “Bold Brand” by Josh Miles.