Monday, October 29, 2007

Weber Grills

I recently took a class on leveraging industrial design in marketing. Throughout the course, I was responsible for analyzing several brands and their product line-ups...basically discussing what design cues the brand was leveraging to help convey the brand image. One of the brands I investigated was Weber. In doing so, I discovered they have an important cue they are not leveraging - their iconic kettle grill design.

So...What Is A Weber?
On its website, Weber invites its customer to “barbeque with a legend.” The iconic kettle design of the brand’s charcoal grills have been satisfying consumers for generations. Since 1951, the kettle’s reputation for durability, quality cooking, and simplicity has given it a cult-like following amongst serious grillers.

After moving into gas grills and specialty products, like smokers, outdoor fireplaces, and portable grills, Weber claims to have the “right barbeque for the job,” offering professional-style grills to fit every need and budget. It relies on having easy to assemble designs and claims even its portable models are able to deliver flavor like their larger grill models. Besides fitting every budget, Weber’s grills are very accessible. They are available at major home improvement stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s), online, and major retailers like Sears, Wal-mart, etc.

What Is Weber Actually Communicating To Customers?
Weber’s charcoal grills have the most distinctive style out of all of its product offerings. The apple-shaped kettle grill is iconic and for years has been the primary image associated with the Weber name. Its round curves, clean lines and polished enamel tones, speak of simplicity, friendliness, and honesty. The sturdy metal shell and plain, but strong, tripod legs make it sturdy and confident. This is a grill on which a customer will not hesitate to cook an entire chicken or enough hamburgers for a neighborhood gathering. Weber relies on the recognition of their charcoal grill design. As proof, the brand uses the kettle as logo, design accent, and primary cooking surface at the Weber grill restaurants.

Although the kettle design is distinctive, in looking at Weber’s overall product line-up, there’s a hodgepodge of design cues. It makes me wonder...what does Weber think it's communicating to its customer? Unfortunately, when Weber decided to go into propane grills and specialty markets, they lost almost all of the elements the iconic kettle. It is strange Weber decided to do this since the charcoal grills supposedly have superior cooking characteristics in part due to their round shape.

In the propane market, Weber seems to be following the lead of other grill makers and thus, its grills get lost in the crowd. Here, Weber does try to differentiate itself from other products other than sometimes offering grill “top hats” in muted, primary tones like blue and red instead of the typical black, gray or stainless steel. Customers visiting stores or viewing products online will have a hard time differentiating between a Weber and any other gas grill (Charbroil, Kenmore, etc.) since the grill possesses the same flat, double doors, slightly slanted lid, and squared off sides and back. The HMI is typically the same as all other grills with knobs to turn up/down the heat and a handle to open the grill lid. To a Weber enthusiast the Weber gas designs don’t meet brand expectations. They are simply boring. They don’t say “Weber.” By looking like everyone else, customers surely have to wonder if the grill truly is just like every other brand. What's special about it?

Looking at the rest of Weber’s product line-up, there are only a few hints back to the iconic kettle design. The smoker has some round characteristics, but is not much different than other smokers on the market. The outdoor fireplace is a squatty, tripod-like product that has much more angular lines than the round icon, making it appear a little less friendly. One of Weber’s latest “specialty” product offerings, however, does lend a nod to the kettle. This product is the “Q,” a cute, hermit crab-like, portable grill. Although taking on some round qualities characteristic of a Weber, it’s still missing some of the puffed roundness of the original design, making it comes across as more modern and perhaps less tough/ masculine.

So...What Should Weber Do To Change?
Weber’s propane grill design is positioned the furthest away from the icon associated with the brand’s name – the kettle. Right now, the propane grill looks like a copy-cat. It doesn’t stand out from other grill designs and is a watered down shape that probably no one loves and no one hates. It is unemotional. My suggestion is for Weber to redesign the top hat of their propane grill to reflect back on the brand’s history and reputation for superior cooking.

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