Mini shows us the power of “Brand”

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It seems the automotive industry does a better job of “talking the talk” of branding than it does of “walking the walk.”  Of course there are exceptions, and Mini is a great example.  When introduced a few years ago the creative work for Mini was widely lauded (see link below) and it set the marque on a path that led to the events of last couple of weeks.

First, on June 22nd, JD Power announced the results of its 2009 IQS study and Mini was at the very bottom indicating that it has the most defects per 100 vehicles of any manufacturer.

Then on June 24, the Wall Street Journal published a piece headlined: “Sticker Shock: Cars that Sell for Full Price.”  Here’s what they had to say:

“Yet there are few more-modestly-priced models from less-ostentatious brands. Cars from BMW’s Mini brand, which start at just under $20,000, are selling for close to sticker price, according to Edmunds”

Finally, the New York Times published an article today headlined “Mini Conundrum:  Does Quality Matter?”  Illustrating the conundrum:

“In the latest J.D. Power & Associates Initial Quality Survey, Mini ranked 37th in initial quality — out of 37 brands — with 165 problems per 100 vehicles (which is the metric J.D. Power uses). In other words, Mini was dead last…..At the same time, Mini has been a much-beloved brand with strong sales.”

These three data points make a nice case for the power of an automotive brand.  Strong sales at almost full whack in the worst recession in generations despite the worst IQS scores in the industry.  BMW has created a desirable consumer brand that is positioned uniquely in the the marketplace.  They have a group of customers for whom owning a Mini is more than just having a vehicle, they are part of a tribe.  A tribe that pays full price to be a member, knowing full well the experience won’t be perfect…but it will be special.

Mini is doing well in a terrible market in great part because it’s marketing has been smart and consistent from day one.  Certainly the product is a big part of the success (even if it isn’t perfect), as is the way they have limited inventories to keep demand high.  That said, recession plagued consumers won’t pay full price for “transportation” in a market where everyone is getting a deal, they pay to be part of brand idea that is bigger than the product and bigger than themselves.  They pay full price for something special, a brand that stands for something.  They want to be the “Us” in “Let’s Motor.”

By the way, even when Mini management is answering questions from the media about the company’s poor IQS score, they answer from the brand’s platform:

“Mini has some idiosyncrasies that we engineer into our cars,” Jim McDowell, vice president of Mini USA, told The Associated Press (via MSNBC). As examples, Mr. McDowell cited the Mini’s unusual ambient interior lighting and windshield-wiper control, which is a button instead of a knob.

It turns out that one of the reasons Mini gets low IQS scores is that it takes a while for the owners to get used to the fact that the cars they bought because they were different, are actually different…brilliant.


Introductory Mini TV commercial:

JD Power IQS press release:

Wall Street Journal “Sticker Shock: Cars that Sell at full priice”:

New York Times “Mini Conundrum:  Does Quality Matter?”:

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9 Responses to “Mini shows us the power of “Brand””

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