Well-done Weber, almost.

May 30, 2006

Happy Memorial Day everybody! Last weekend was the official kick-off of the U.S. grilling season. And my husband, like most men I suspect, spent much of the weekend sweating over a hot grill.

Weber did a good job building its brand with word-of-mouth and maintaining it with effective advertising that reinforces its credibility. I just wish they could take the gas out of the brand. It would make the strategy even more powerful.

Brands are built by establishing yourself as the first in each new category. Trying to cover all the new emerging categories with one brand name will weaken your brand in the mind of the consumer as new brands are launched by specialists.

Keep Weber as a “charcoal” brand, period. And launch the gas grills with a new brand name. Maybe even a new name for the portable gas grills. As we say in the Origin of Brands, over time every category will divide and become multiple categories.

So what should Weber have done?

Having an enemy is the most overlooked, underestimated element in developing a branding strategy. If you can’t think of the enemy of your brand, then your brand strategy is flawed.

But because of Bud Light they can’t say that. All Budweiser had to do was give Bud Light its own brand name. There is nothing wrong with competing against yourself. Think Toyota and Lexus.

The same it true for Budweiser. The enemy of Budweiser is Bud Light, and the best strategy for Bud is to say: “Hey guys, be a man, don’t drink that wimpy watered-down girly stuff. You need to be downing the king of beers.”

The missing element of strategy is the enemy. The natural enemy of Weber is the gas grill. But that can’t happen if Weber also makes several lines of gas grills under the Weber name.

I love the Weber television ads showing real people enthusiastically grilling, supported by a terrific interactive website with tips, classes, recipes, etc.

When you talk to men, they are either gas grillers, charcoal grillers or smokers. There is very little middle ground or love loss between them. They are three very different methods of accomplishing the very same thing. The strength of a brand relates to the authenticity and power of the individual grilling method.

After you build a leading iconic brand, the last thing you want to do is undermine it with a line extension that goes against the core belief of the brand.

But is this the right brand strategy? Could there have been another way? Does it leave the brilliance of the latest campaign with a loophole? No. Yes. Yes.

By the early 1980’s gas grilling was becoming popular. So Weber introduced a line of grills called the Weber Genesis.  And most recently portable grilling has become popular so Weber introduced a line called the Weber Q. In the absence of strong competition these two lines have also become popular. Weber is a private company so there is no published data on sales or profits.

Today, Weber is synonymous with grilling and the original kettle grill has become a symbol of Americana right up there with Coca-Cola and apple pie.

You build brands by being first. Weber was the first covered-kettle grill. It launched a new way to grill with its innovative design and got into the mind of the consumer by word of mouth.

But it was not a sure-fired or instant success. George’s grill didn’t look like any other grill that had ever been made and at the price of $50 it cost way more than the typical $7 open grill. But big brands are not built by being like everybody else.

At the Weber Brothers Metal Works where he was employed, Stephen ingeniously cut a metal buoy in half and fashioned a dome shaped grill with a rounded lid. The original Weber kettle grill was born.

Stephen’s story is so typical of how great brands are built. After he became frustrated with the uneven and uncontrollable flame of open brazier grilling, George Stephen set out to build a better grill that would protect his precious steaks from the wind and possible downpours.

Weber-Stephens is the leading manufacturer of charcoal and gas grills. In 1952, founder George Stephen Sr. designed the original Weber kettle with a lid that allows grilling in all kinds of weather.

So it was no surprise that I noticed Weber grills new advertising campaign called Weber Nation. A wonderful, eye-catching campaign centered on a website

www.webernation.com for real people who love their Weber grills.

In backyards across America men were grilling up hunks of beef, chicken, shrimp, tofu (I’m a vegetarian) and vegetables for hungry family and friends. Like most men, my husband loves to grill and prides himself with his grilling skills. I am thankful for that since it gives me the night off from cooking everything but the side dish.