Posts Tagged ‘positioning’

BMW & Joy: “Danger Will Robinson”

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

It has a feeling of inevitability attached to it, but still, I can’t help but feel let down.  For years many of us have held up BMW as the example of a car company that understands its brand and sticks to it. That all just changed. BMW is no longer the manufacturer of The Ultimate Driving Machine, according to this commercial “at BMW, we don’t just make cars, we make joy.”:

The longest running and probably best known automotive industry positioning line has been thrown in the bin in favor of “Joy.”  I’m conflicted. On one hand, I’m shocked and I really believe that BMW has made a horrific mistake, but on the other hand, there are aspects of this new campaign that I like.

“The new “Joy” campaign ‘is a big departure for us,’ said Jack Pitney, vice president of marketing for BMW North America. ‘We hope to really add some humanity to our brand’ and show the diversity of its buyers,”Wall Street Journal 2/15/10

In fact, what I like about the commercial is the humanity.  It’s fun to watch people enjoying life in and around their BMWs.  To see enthusiast communities enjoying their passions together.  To see all kinds of people, some even like me, joined together by a common bond created by a car.  It is truly what makes great automotive brands great, that sense of being part of something bigger than you are.


Toyota’s brand: People don’t love their refrigerator either.

Friday, February 5th, 2010

Toyota is in deep stuff given the allegations of unintended acceleration, several huge recalls that will cost BILLIONs of dollars, continuing investigation by NHTSA, civil penalties, reduced sales, weakening brand image scores and deflated residual values.

There has already been plenty written about the impact of this on Toyota’s brand reputation.  It certainly is going to set them back, some pundits say it’s a “speed bump” for Toyota, others say the situation will effectively “kill” the Toyota brand.  I suspect that the “truth” will be somewhere in the middle, the Toyota brand has been damaged, it will take a good deal of time and effort to recover, but it will recover.

Rather than debating the current health of the Toyota brand, I’ve been thinking about the discipline of branding in the automotive category and what its practitioners can learn from Toyota’s experience. Certainly the need to manage the media and to do so in a transparent way is critical.  Time is of the essence, the internet can take your reputation and spin it out of control in a heartbeat.  Beyond the crisis management learnings, I think that we are seeing the danger of having a brand that is based solely on rational underpinnings. (more…)

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 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.


Opportunity knocks for well-articulated automotive brands

Monday, November 9th, 2009

The automobile industry is entering new territory as the recession wanes and consumers, who have been emotionally scarred by the last 18 months, remain cautious.  Many believe that consumers have been forever changed by this recession and that they will be more conservative with their money for years to come.

No one expects that the automotive industry will achieve the heady sales levels of the early part of this decade.

“By 2013, car and truck sales in North America will rebound to the new normal rate of 15 million to 16 million units”  Automotive News 8/5/09

At best, we will attain a “new normal” of 15-16MM units in 2013.

That means that competition for customers is going to be tougher than ever and no one’s business is going to grow just hanging on to the industry coattails.  Historically the manufacturers have reacted to these types of circumstances by using incentives.  These tactics artificially inflated sales earlier in the decade, pulling sales forward and contributed to the most recent “correction” that has pummeled the industry.  Using short-term incentives to steal share is not the answer to long-term prosperity, it’s merely a tactic that gives a franchise a quick shot in the arm.  Establishing a brand’s immutable points of difference and creating consumer affinity for it, is what creates value over the long term.

Last week, BusinessWeek published a piece by Ed Wallace about GM making the same mistakes; in it he made the case for branding:

“True, people want a “deal” when they buy a new car. But more important, they want to buy something exceptional….The automotive selling process, done right, has little to do with negotiation: It has everything to do with building value in the vehicle.”

It’s about time the industry took “branding” seriously.


Will the BMW brand lose its focus too?

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

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This article in today’s New York Times got me thinking about BMW and its brand:

I think that just about anyone could argue pretty convincingly that of all the imported luxury marques, BMW has done the best job of sticking to its positioning over the long term.  Encapsulated by “The Ultimate Driving Machine,”  BMW has year after year developed and sold products that live up to this brand standard.  The marketing has also been remarkably consistent in supporting the brand positioning.

So it was encouraging to read in the NY Times that BMW is serious about maintaining its independence and at some level is rejecting the industry’s argument that “scale” is critical to success.  What a crime it would be if BMW ended up married to someone else, sharing parts and technologies and the products became less distinct.  I hope the same applies to their view of their brand positioning and marketing.