Archive for January, 2010

Muller said Saab can be “very, very profitable,” partially by staying true to its own DNA.

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

Mr. Muller and Spyker have finally got a deal to buy SAAB from GM (Automotive News 1/26/10).  It sounds like Mr Muller and his team understand the importance of a brand’s DNA.

By rebuilding the uniqueness of the SAAB brand they will be able to re-ignite the passion of their enthusiasts and build the business. SAAB will never be a quarter of a million unit business in the US but it can be successful.  Forcing SAAB into GM’s”success” model was the problem, now it has a second chance.

Congratulations to Mr Muller, Spyker, and SAAB loyalists everywhere. Finally, an automotive brand that will be coming back rather than disappearing.  Like Audi before it, bringing SAAB back in the US market place will be a labor of love and a “mission from God.”   Sign me up.

Do you know what your automotive brand’s promise is?

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

There’s an interesting piece in this week’s Adweek by Dean Crutchfield, Chief Engagement Officer at Method: “A Brand by Any Other Name…”

He posits that one of the issues with “branding” as a marketing discipline is that we lack an agreed-to definition, which subjects it to interpretation based on circumstances or agendas.  He closes by saying that agencies and marketing services firms need to more tightly define branding:

“If we don’t address this, we could be perceived as an industry made up of people who don’t know how to define what it is they’re not supposed to do.  As Grouch Marx would have told us, ‘These are my principles; if you don’t like them, I have others.”

Leaving aside the issue of agency credibility, the automotive industry needs to dedicate itself to building or re-building its brands. Manufacturers who do will succeed in the hyper-competitive “new normal” automotive marketplace, while those who don’t will languish.

The automobile business has traditionally had a shaky relationship with the idea of “branding.”  Programs designed to define or position the “brand” are often perceived as the “soft” part of automotive marketing.  This perception is in contrast to the marketing specifically designed to drive traffic to the stores or in industry parlance “make the doors swing.”  Often manufacturers feel that they have to choose between “branding” and “retail” and more than often than not they choose retail.

I think that part of the problem with the discussion of “branding” in the automobile business is that it most often devolves into a discussion of advertising, as in “this is a brand ad, that is a retail ad.” Brand ads are the ones that attempt to speak to a company’s “values” whereas retail ads feature “product, place and price.”  This either/or conversation is specious and has led the industry to it’s current situation, products that are perceived more like commodities and customers who focus on pricing.

Let’s be clear, in the “new normal” automotive market the traditional brand vs. retail discussion is a path to commodity status, decreased sales, decreased profitability and the loss of already weak brand equities.  The truth is, every successful automotive competitor will do both jobs, build brand leverage and make the doors swing.

The marketing conversation needs to start in a different place and I agree that it needs to start with a definition of what we mean by “brand.” (more…)

“Lexus’ plans: Not just big-bucks sedans”—Do you know where your BOHICA t-shirt is?

Monday, January 18th, 2010

Here it comes again, another automotive luxury brand seeking to have “wider appeal without tarnishing the image” (Automotive News 1/11/10).

Lexus is concerned that their customers are too old and they are not appealing to the next generation of luxury car buyers.  A reasonable concern.

Lexus appears to be addressing this concern in the usual way that automobile manufacturers do.

First,  you add product to your line-up that is designed to meet the requirements or interests of the new target group (after all, they’re very different from the current customers),  then you lower the cost of entry into your franchise (they don’t have as much money as the current customers) and finally use marketing to convince the younger target that your brand is cool (at least cooler than they think it is).

Unfortunately, this approach always has the same result, you may succeed in selling a few more cars to the new target group but you leave your current customers confused and your brand weakened.

The Automotive News article even quotes Jessica Caldwell from Edmunds.com who says: “Lexus was really strong, but they have lost their footing….BMW is the ‘Ultimate Driving Machine.’  We’re not really sure what Lexus is.”  I agree with her. The overheated luxury segment experienced so much growth in the ’90s and early ’00s, that many of the luxury marques that were fortunate enough to have clear positionings in the beginning were weaker and less distinct at the end of the run-up.

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Super Bowl XLIV—Will the auto industry carry the day?

Friday, January 15th, 2010

The 2010 Super Bowl may or may not be a good football game, but there will be a whole bunch of automotive commercials to watch. Here are the six manufacturers who will be advertising on this year’s extravaganza:

With 2009 behind us it will be fascinating to watch what each brand does with their piece of the most expensive advertising real estate in the world. The Super Bowl represents an incredible opportunity to reach the biggest television audience of the year.  Brands that have used the opportunity well, have in some cases changed their fortunes…Apple’s introduction of the Mac comes to mind:

Here’s the challenge with the Super Bowl.  The Super Bowl is not just the game that decides the NFL champion, it has become the crucible in which winners and losers are defined in the advertising business. USAToday will not only report who won the game, they rank the advertising gladiators. There’s a lot at stake for the agencies and their clients.

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