Our old friends Sears are in the news again.

Having, against all odds, staved off bankruptcy, the venerable challenger home improvement retailer is trying to build a new brand image and distance itself from its troubled past.

And what do you do when you want to recharge your brand? You create a new logo, of course! That’s what Sears has done, and the reaction so far has been lukewarm at best.

Sears Attempts to Renovate its Brand

Too often, executives think of branding as a design exercise. A collection of colors, fonts, and trademarks to be plastered on store graphics, billboards and even their NASCAR race cars. It’s understandable. When you think of the Nike brand, you think of the Swoosh mark. When you think of the Apple brand, you think of the highly recognized fruit-shaped icon with a bite on one side.

But those are just the visual representations of the brands. The actual brand lies in audience mind-space. What people think about, when they see those logos and trademarks.

For Sears, unfortunately, what comes to mind for most people is mismanagement, empty stores and an outdated retail model. It’s going to take a long time to shake that image… and a new logo isn’t going to do the trick.

For Sears to establish a new brand reputation, they’re going to have to start demonstrating to consumers that they’ve turned a corner. They’re going to have to start delivering on their new promise before they can start shouting from the rooftops that a new Sears has arrived.

To be fair, it appears as though they’re finally starting to recognize that. Yes, they’ve opened a handful of Home & Life stores and are implementing plans to revitalize the few remaining stores that are still open.

That’s where their attention should continue to be. Creating a new logo and declaring that a new Sears has arrived is premature… and only invites skepticism. Especially when the new brand mark has been mocked by social media users who say it looks eerily similar to Airbnb.

To see challenger branding done right, they might look at one of their rivals.

Lowe’s Targets Pros

Big Box home stores have long coveted the professional builder and contractor market. Unlike homeowners, contractors have the potential to be steady, consistent customers — buying materials on a weekly or even daily basis.

Lowe’s is taking some real steps to solidify their brand among this coveted market – and to better compete with established leader, The Home Depot – by launching their “Pro Ready” building products marketing campaign… a lesson in putting substance ahead of style.

To be sure, there is a good amount of promotional muscle behind this campaign. Lowe’s has signed on to be a major sponsor of the NFL, which of course carries a hefty price tag.

But the retailer’s efforts to attract pro customers goes beyond expensive sponsorships and commercials.

The retailer announced an integrated, five-point plan to enhance the contractor experience at their stores. Their approach includes:

  • Competitive pricing with a pro account
  • Stocking pro-relevant brands
  • Better, more consistent in-store service
  • Special contractor parking, loading and off-site support

Most importantly, Lowe’s is focusing on improving relationships with pro customers… utilizing in-store sales managers as well as outside sales managers and even a national accounts team.

This effort promises to help make Lowe’s a stronger player among the pro customer segment. It would have been far easier for Lowe’s to simply throw out some ads during NFL games and hope the branding tactic draws more contractors into the stores.

Yet despite down-beat first-quarter earnings and lowered full-year outlook, they clearly understand that to make a brand promise is only one thing. But delivering on that promise — in a real way — is far more important.