I am a Hilton Diamond member. This puts me into elite status as a customer of their brands. It also means I travel so much on business during the year that I spend my life in airports and sleep in unfamiliar beds, sheets and pillows. It entitles me to a free breakfast (believe me, you get what you pay for), complimentary Wi-Fi and a bottle of water when I check in.
I am in Seattle on business today and I am staying in another Hilton property (I hesitate to call it a brand) called Home2 Suites by Hilton.
It is quite seriously the dog ugliest hotel I have ever seen. It looks like it was built from corrugated metal and scrap. From the outside, you would expect to enter the lobby and find folding chairs.
When I checked in last night. I told the very nice desk attendant that the hotel was the ugliest thing I had ever seen. Her reply was interesting. “Yes,” she said. “We are an extended stay hotel.”
I guess in order to qualify as an extended stay hotel it has a prerequisite of being hard on the eyes.
The limited service at Home2 Suites.
As I write this blog from my hotel room, please excuse any ramblings or tirades. I am not quite myself. You see the rooms are not soundproof and the gentleman in the next room apparently can’t sleep with the TV on full blast with a never-ending parade of action movies. I have the opposite affliction and was not able to sleep with explosions and bad acting ricocheting around my room all night.
Despite telling the front desk about this, that TV is still in a continual loop here at breakfast time. I am assuming that limited services in extended stay also apply to front desk help.
Home2 Suites is poor excuse for a hotel and has no place in the Hilton brand. (And I know something about the Hilton brand, having done brand work for Hampton Inns, Doubletree and Homewood Suites.)
This is a terrible industry for branding because the chains slice and dice the category into such fine segments that you can see through them. They think we know the difference between their descriptors of those who stay at their brands. Here I am. Staying at Home2 Suites. Who am I?
Hilton has no brand permission to be in this low tier segment. It is a boil on the brand’s butt.
So who am I? Well, I am a chump, according to this past stay. Let’s see if they have that as a market segment.
Home2 Suites by Hilton is the worst was last modified: October 5th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
AB InBev, the global brewery that owns many of the world’s most famous beer brands, has decided that it will keep that name even after it purchases SABMiller.
Is that a good idea? My answer: It doesn’t matter.
Brand naming is an important process in gaining preference but, in this case, the name AB InBev is only as important to its beer brands as P&G is to its products. That is, consumers don’t even know the parent brand name and preference, if there is any, comes from the individual beer brands themselves.
AB InBev owns Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois and many others, and you’d be hard pressed to find drinkers of those beers who know the name AB InBev. It’s the same thing with SABMiller. Consumers know all the Miller beers, plus Henry Weinhard and Fosters. But SABMiller? Not a chance.
The AB InBev brand structure is not for everybody.
It should be noted, however, that this is a very inefficient way to build a brand. For one thing, it’s extremely costly. Being a house of brands means you have to invest in each product like it is its own entity. There’s no relationship between, let’s say, Budweiser and Corona. They each have their own unique brands that have to create preference by themselves.
Most companies do not have the cash to do that. If you are a medical device company, for instance, giving each of your products its own unique brand name – instead of a descriptive one – means your parent brand does little to affect market share. Without the cash of a P&G, you don’t even create preference for those products.
Yet, it’s a parent brand that presents the easier path to preference. P&G has put some effort into highlighting the parent brand but it’s being half pregnant. The P&G brand, whatever it means, doesn’t really help Tide or Febreze.
It’s important for CEOs to remember that, if you have a powerful umbrella brand, then the success of one product lifts the preference of the rest.
So, is AB InBev keeping its name a good thing? It won’t matter until it invests in the parent brand.
AB InBev as a parent brand for its beers was last modified: September 28th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
Brands should hold every business to a high standard of eliminating wasteful spending. For example, few industries are worse at spending money on foolish efforts than medical devices. Pick up any corporate brochure from a medical device manufacturer and here’s what you’ll see: Mountains and mountains of individual product brand names.
For some reason, companies are in love with giving every single product they manufacture its own unique brand name. That’s not product naming for any meaningful purpose. That’s reducing preference.
The medical device industry is a $150 billion industry in the US alone. Few industries would tolerate the sheer amount of money wasted in product naming. In fact, the value of a company lies not in its individual products, but in the company brand and its equities. When consumers buy products, they are purchasing the brand.
But medical device manufacturers have gone insane over spending countless dollars that actually hurt the value of the company. No matter if it is a stent, wire or an ICD, it will have some clever brand name that means little to anyone but the company’s own marketers. Doing so does nothing to help define the parent brand or the brands of other products.
Instead, the medical device parent brands are crowded into the same space. They all claim to be forward thinking, innovative and reliable. Yet millions of dollars and countless resources are spent marketing the individual products like they are their own entities. Even when they are using the same language.
That reduces the corporate brand into an afterthought.
Cleverness is the enemy
The overabundance of cleverness is certainly not unique to the medical device industry. Marketing executives, in general, are convinced that a name or theme will be remembered if it’s clever enough.
The opposite is exactly true, which means the money to market them is ill spent. If the name or theme is clever, then it is not believable because it feels like an advertising firm wrote it. It will sound like marketing.
Let’s use an example from the medical device industry. St. Jude Medical, through its acquisition of Thoratec, has a left ventricular assist device called HeartMate. Its meaning is clear. It assists the heart.
But it still sounds like marketing and made up. It has no emotional meaning. Considering the sheer litany of products with made-up names like HeartMate, it won’t be remembered because no one says “Nurse, give me the HeartMate.”
Think about this. These names do nothing to create preference or add to any financial or emotional investment in the company. Just because a device has a clever name does not mean that hospital administrators and doctors will prefer that product. So why do it?
Product naming as an inhibitor to switching
Stealing market share means you must convince your target audience that what you offer is something you do not already have. That’s the definition of a switching trigger.
Switching is often seen as difficult because it means adjusting to something new. It’s a change even if it is a minor one. That means you must reduce the hurdles to switching if you want to attract the customers of your competition.
With so many branded products that have no relation to each other, but operate individually from other products, doctors and hospital administrators are reluctant to switch to them.
The same holds true for any manufacturer. A litany of unique product names creates a hurdle to adoption because audiences are asked to learn something new. That is especially difficult when you consider the entire scope of products.
It is easier for audiences to switch is if they know they are buying the company brand name instead of the product. It is just simpler.
What to do?
The answer to that question should be obvious. Don’t overdo product naming when it comes to individual products. We live in a world in which simplicity and control rule, meaning it’s the customer who is in charge.
Medtronic, the giant in this industry that actually does better than most, makes thousands of medical devices. Nobody can remember the sheer litany of branded product names.
A list of its endoscopic suturing accessories lists these products:
Endo Stitch Single-Stitch
Endo Stitch Tripe-Stitch
V-Loc Wound Closure
Surgitie Ligating Loop
Surgiwip Suture Ligature
Endo Slide Single Use Knot Pusher
It would be better if the names were:
Medtronic Wound Closure
Medtronic Ligating Loop
Medtronic Suture Ligature
Medtronic Single Use Knot Pusher
Now the company is actually investing in the parent brand and not just talking about it. And the sheer amount of wasteful spending has been reduced while market share increases. You’ve asked customers to choose the parent brand. That’s all any brand manager could want.
The wasted dollars of product naming was last modified: September 8th, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
There are many brands at play in the United States today and, while the political party brands are mere sub-brands of the US parent brand, we need to be careful as to the values of the sub-brands and recognize that they reflect upon the parent and often change the parent brand.
As an example, Volkswagen, the parent brand of the German automaker, has been adversely affected by a breach in trust from one of its automobile sub-brands. The diesel emission controversy has affected the Volkswagen brand itself. We all wonder how trustworthy any claim made by VW itself might be taken. This loss of brand luster is not felt just by the purchasers of the cars and the dealerships that sell them. Rest assured that the workers and engineers that make and create the cars also feel let down and betrayed.
Both political party brands are guilty.
My comments today are aimed directly at both main political party brands today because they are both guilty of the same offense. They both besmirch the parent brand. The United States itself.
Recent polling indicates that most citizens in the US today are furious at the government’s ability to work. Shelby Foote, the late great Civil War historian, once said that the Civil War was a result of an inability to come to peaceful compromise. To which, he added, “had always been our genius.” We all know that the vitriol being eschewed by both parties, while entertaining, is at its root destructive. Look to history to see examples of change agents who created a sense of American accomplishment while correcting government ills. Both political party brands can lay claim to this.
Ronald Reagan, one of the most revered of American Presidents ignited a powerful desire for corrective change while instilling in Americans a sense of accomplishment and destiny. No one could accuse Ronald Reagan of meanness or pettiness. He was at the same time passionate and affable.
On the Democratic side, look to FDR as an example of a President elected in a period of great problems. His positiveness and affable personality guided the nation through its most challenging times. No one could accuse Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan of the meanness and woe is me politics we find ourselves subjected to today. Ronald Reagan and Tip O’Neil were friendly adversaries. They liked each other and found a way to be united in purpose. As a result, government worked.
Is it possible to be a proud American and think our nation is on the verge of ruin? Can we elect officials who tell us that government can’t be trusted? Do we wish to be party to the sort of rhetoric that is in many ways responsible for the very state of affairs to which we all complain?
Let’s demand more from our emotional sub-brands. Let’s remember that all is not bad in America and that by working together, building bridges and not by constructing barriers we all benefit and our proud parent brand— the United States of America — is no longer sullied.
Political party brands today was last modified: February 2nd, 2016 by Tom Dougherty
The global automobile market is injuring its shoulder patting itself on the back for improved sales in 2015, but there are warning signs that the industry really hasn’t changed at all.
No matter what part of the world you consider, the brands within the auto industry are a blur of similar messaging, imagery and tone. That’s one of the results of a global automobile market study by Stealing Share strategists focused on automobile brands and models in the US and Europe, with further investigation into the Asia market.
The recent bump in overall sales (expected to be over 2% worldwide throughout the year, with Europe coming out of a recent slump) is attributable to consumers replacing old cars and the stabilization of gas prices. While that may continue, manufacturers are struggling to find why some brands and models resonate in the market place, while others don’t.
It’s the reason why manufacturers have been eliminating brands (Pontiac, Saturn, Hummer, Mercury, etc.) as they constantly adjust to shifting sales.
Little loyalty in the automobile market
However, this global automobile market investigation revealed that there is little loyalty to brands themselves. Sales are rising and falling among the models without manufacturers knowing why.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, sales of Skoda Octavia are rising fast (21%) in Europe and, despite the furor over gas-guzzling trucks in the US, the Chevrolet Silverado and Ford Explorer have increased sales.
You might point to market trends for this and that might be so. What should concern the automobile market is that there is little loyalty to the manufacturer brands.
Where are the strong brands?
Ask yourself this. If Ford is such a strong brand, why are the sales of its Fusion, Escape and Focus dropping, while the F-Series truck remains strong and, as mentioned, the Explorer is taking off?
Their sales do not seem to be impacted by whether they are a Ford nor not. Otherwise, if the Ford brand were so strong, all of its sales would be rising. Instead, they fluctuate like a rising and falling gnat swirling around the back deck.
We could show other examples where the brands, with few exceptions, are not being coveted because the sales of their individual models are unstable.
Our global automobile market examination demonstrated the reasons why. Yes, market trends affect purchases, which means manufacturers are victims to events out of their control.
These are not new problems in the automobile market
But the lack of brand loyalty arises out of major problem that the automobile market has been struggling with for years. The brands and models are all basically the same once you put them into a category (such as big trucks or economy cars). The advertising would be identical if not for the logos airing at the end. You could replace an Opal logo with a Kia one and nothing would change. You wouldn’t see the difference.
There is a root problem to all of this. The automobile market has been left to the select few agencies and consultants who have worked in the industry for years. It’s like the NBA coaching tree. Coaches are recycled, fired, then hired again by another team. Like that would make any difference. Auto manufacturers switch the same strategists, personnel and advertising agencies like trading cards, expecting a different result.
This approach means more stale branding and marketing that gives consumers little reason to remain loyal in the automobile market. Automobile advertising and branding has become as clichéd as the bad guy in a movie having a European accent.
Let us count the ways.
The Europe automobile market: The sophisticated continent?
If you’re selling cards in the European automobile market, you are going against Volkswagen, which sports the continent’s two top-selling models with the Golf and the Polo. Volkswagen, also first in overall market share, owns nearly a quarter of the European market. (It is 14th in the US.)
That’s astounding for a company that started during the Nazi era when Adolf Hitler wanted a cheap, simple car to be mass-produced for Germany’s road system. (In fact, Volkswagen means “people’s car” in German.)
After WWII, it was basically defunct as US automakers wanted no part of it with Ford EVP Ernest Breech saying it “wasn’t worth a damn” and its primary model, the Beetle, was considered laughable. It survived by producing cars for the British Army and gradually became the powerful European brand it is today.
Today, Volkswagen positions itself as “The Car,” with its US advertising messages currently centering around gas mileage, a lifestyle and the question: “Isn’t it time for German engineering?”
In Europe, however, it is all about lifestyle, especially urban and upscale. As this ad says, “As advanced as you are.”
This approach works because it suggests a reflection of the customer, demonstrating a car that is a mirror to what you aspire to be.
However, this is generally auto advertising 101. What got Volkswagen into the top spot was its simple approach when it was first launched The perfect brand launch.(in the US, at least).
That equity has carried over into today as Volkswagen still appears to be modern, stylish and simple. It’s a concise brand that fits well into the European model that does not have the big, wide roads of the US.
But when you go deeper within the European automotive market, and ask yourself why the rest of the car brands haven’t made much of a dent in Volkswagen’s market share, you find similar reasons for the US fluctuation.
They just copy the market leader. Or they just copy each other.
Apparently, everybody in Europe is a cool, romantic urbanite.
The simplest way to demonstrate the similarity of messaging in advertising in Europe is to show you back-to-back ads.
One for the Nissan Qashqai.
And one for the Renault Clio.
What you see here are two models fighting over the same ground with a blending of imagery, music and sexy, urban feel that does very little to differentiate them.
In fact, if that brand face is important to target audiences, the fact that most everyone in the European automobile market claims it means audiences are lost in choosing between them.
That inability to differentiate itself is one reason why the Nissan Qashqai has seen sales drop by 3.2%.
The European economy and the automobile market
Of course, market trends are leading factors in the European automobile market. It is now only emerging from a six-year slump but the Euro is weakening and Greece is on the brink of financial ruin.
In response, many manufacturers are simply buying market share, offering discounts in order to spike sales. In Italy, for example, new car sales increased a whopping 24.7%, spurred by discounts.
Fiat, the automobile market leader in Italy, has been a massive discounter, offering up discounts of 3,000 euros on new cards. That has forced competitors to do the same in what becomes a dangerous cycle for all.
In fact, while sales have increased for Fiat, its automobile market share has not. Reuters reported that its share of the Italian marketplace dropped nearly one percent in one month (March ‘ 15 to April ’15).
Once again, that demonstrates that there is little brand preference. Drivers in Italy are simply looking for the best deal, whether it comes from Fiat or not.
Even Fiat understand this as Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne recently said, “I think we’re scraping the bottom of the barrel. The problem is you never know when you’re done scraping.”
A word about China.
The leaders in China are brands largely unknown to western audiences. A list of top-selling cars in China includes the Wuling Hongguang (a van), the Great Wall Haval 6 (an SUV) and the Bajoun 730 (also a van).
However, the Hongguang and the Bejoun come from a joint venture among a handful of manufacturers, including GM. It’s in China where most manufacturers see growth.
It makes sense, of course. China is the world’s largest automobile market but it is even facing a slowdown in sales. Forecasts say sales will increase by only 7%, half of what it did in 2013.
In China, the economy isn’t the only issue. The country is enacting stricter guidelines on cars to limit pollution as China is the world leader in emitting carbon.
On that same note, China is becoming more urban as populations migrate to the nation’s largest cities. In those cities, the need for an automobile is not as urgent. In fact, to reduce pollution, many Chinese cities have seen an increase in car sharing, which means fewer will see the need to buy a new car, and public transportation is still immensely popular in the cities.
For the manufacturers in that country, the hurdle isn’t just getting consumers to pick your car. It’s convincing them that they need one in the first place.
The Automobile Market and The Big Three: GM, Chrysler and Ford.
Many of the problems facing the Big Three American automakers can be traced right to the beginning of one of them: General Motors.
GM is now the largest US automaker and it was founded in 1908 as a merger of the McLaughlin Car Company and Buick. At that time, automobiles were just for the privileged few. They were expensive and it wasn’t until Henry Ford invented the assembly line five years later that cars became something the mass public could purchase.
In short order, GM became a collection of acquisitions and the name, General Motors, demonstrated it. It had Buick, purchased Oldsmobile later that year and Cadillac followed the next year. There were other acquisitions lost to history, including Elmore and Oakland, but the standard was set. GM would be a house of brands rather than a branded house.
Today, GM sports Cadillac, Chevrolet, Buick and GMC trucks after dropping Saturn, Pontiac and Hummer in 2009. All total, GM currently markets 37 different consumer models in the US, 16 of which come from Chevrolet, with no easy way to navigate through the list.
That’s far too many, especially in the case of Chevrolet. When you think of a Chevy, what comes to mind? You might think of the Corvette or a truck like the Colorado or Silverado. But the image is fuzzy because GM has fractured the brand into so many pieces (including the Spark, the Cruze, the Volt, etc.) that some of those pieces wilt under the glare of auto retail inspection.
For example, the sales of the Chevy Malibu, a mid-sized sedan, dropped a whopping 11.9% in the last year. The Chevrolet brand can’t provide the cover for the Malibu because the brand isn’t what carries the sale today. It’s the model.
There are other issues. What does owning a GMC truck mean, especially when Ford’s F-Series leads the US automobile market and the Dodge Ram isn’t far behind? The top-selling GMC truck is the Sierra with its many versions, but trails far behind many other truck brands.
GM has been hit by sagging sales from Buick and Cadillac, and you have to wonder if the way General Motors was founded – as an organically grown house of brands – holds the automaker into a continuous dance of trying to give meaning to their four brands and many models.
The outcome of that effort is marketing that is, for the most part, spent on features and benefits. There’s no underlying brand meaning that gives preference to them all.
The problem is exasperated when only the logo tells the difference between a Chevy ad and a Ford one. In fact, its Chevy trucks have advertising (with Kid Rock singing “Born Free”) that’s not that far from Denis Leary narrating the Ford F-150 spots or Sam Elliott doing the same for Dodge Ram trucks.
Take out the logos and could you tell the difference? They are nearly carbon copies of each other in look, feel, sound and imagery.
Chrysler, the Detroit Import
The truth is that the big three in the automobile market are really hybrids.
Chrysler is the parent brand but it has its own auto line with its 200 and 300 as well as the Town and Country minivan.
But it also has Jeep and Dodge, which are stand-alone brands. Like GM, Chrysler grew into a house of brands (or at least a hybrid) organically. It was founded in 1925 and its primary early success was with a low-cost brand, the Plymouth.
But it didn’t really take off until it bought Dodge from brothers John and Horace.
Chrysler has tried to be something of parent brand with its “Imported from Detroit” advertising campaign, which has now morphed into “America’s Import.” The problem here is that neither theme is important to target audiences because they are all about Chrysler, not the target audience. In addition, they are too clever. They sound like marketing and, therefore, they are not believable. (Also: Who cares?)
Chrysler does better with Dodge and Jeep. The latter has especially become a powerful brand because it expresses an idea: adventure, with a typical Jeep Wrangler promotion saying, “Adventure can happen anywhere.” That’s who you are when you drive a Jeep. Someone on an adventure.
We are fans of the aforementioned Dodge brothers campaign, but it may take awhile to undo the damage. None of its models – not the Challenger, the Charger, the Dart, the Durango, the Journey, the Viper or the Grand Caravan – are among the top 30 best-selling cars in America.
That is because, until now the most recent campaign, Dodge hasn’t invested in the brand of Dodge but rather in the models. It also hasn’t been helped by the Chrysler parent brand that is just as meaningless.
Ford Tough and the automobile market
The Ford Motor Company is the one American brand that you could pretty safely call a branded house. Sure, it owns Lincoln, but its Ford brand carries the rest of the lineup and accounts for an industry-leading 13.8% market share in the US. (That is, if you count GM, Dodge and Jeep as separate brands.)
Its F-Series trucks are the nation’s best sellers, with the Fusion, Escape and Explorer all in the top 15. It was also the only one of the big three not to take government money, and its success is built on one brand: Ford.
Ford has more equity in its brand than the other two. We associate it with the Ford family, starting with Henry Ford and his invention of the assembly line in 1913 and the Model T. (Note: Contrary to what many believe, Ford did not invent the automobile. Carl Benz invented it in Germany in 1886. It was Ford who invented the process that made cars available to the general public.)
Since then, we chuckle in a friendly manner over the disaster of the Edsel in the late ‘50s (named after Henry’s son) as it’s as much a part of the Ford story as the Model T. But we also respect Ford for its willingness to be single minded. It once owned Jaguar and Land Rover, but sold them both in 2007, sold Volvo in 2010 and discontinued Mercury in 2011.
Because of its history (equity), Ford intrinsically reflects America more than Chrysler’s “America’s Import” but it doesn’t exactly capitalize on it.
For its cars, it’s about “Going further,” an optimistic but mundane take that isn’t much different than the competition. It’s any different than Toyota’s “Moving Forward.”
The automobile market’s dealership model stinks.
There is another issue that global automotive market have to deal with in gaining preference among target audiences. Yes, those pesky dealerships that few, if anybody, like to frequent.
You know the drill. It’s always a hassle, even if you walk right in and point immediately to one car and say, “I’m buying that.” There are all kinds of documentation, the discussion over add-ons and, in most cases, the financing. (Dealerships make a killing on financing.)
In a way, dealerships are the keepers of the brand’s flame, which is why we’ve always wondered why so many car dealership commercials are so amateurish and, often, ridiculous. What are they trying to achieve, other than copying Cal Worthington?
The experience at a dealership becomes more of a hurdle because we have become less patient. We live in a world in which access to the world is right on our phones. We can watch just about anything we want on our big-screen TVs at any time. We are so tuned into technology that we can buy almost everything we want without even leaving the house.
Therefore, the dealership model feels incredibly outdated, and we have less patience for it. (That’s why we’ve wondered if Carmax isn’t on to something in the used car arena.) In fact, there is sure to be a growing demand for manufacturers to cut dealerships out of the deal all together, just setting up distribution centers where you pick up your car after purchasing (and financing) online.
At this moment in time, the dealerships are fighting back as many state laws prevent manufacturers from building those kinds of centers if they have a dealership in that state. That pretty much eliminates everybody from adopting that model today.
However, it’s hard to stop progress. Right now, Tesla is battling with states for the right to adopt that distribution center model. States (and dealership lobbies) are fighting back with state courts saying that allowing Tesla to build those centers goes against the spirit of those state laws.
Basically, the lobbyists for the dealership organizations are winning, but it still feels like only a matter of time until the focus becomes on the customer and not what’s best for dealerships.
And do dealerships affect the manufacturer’s brand? Quantitative research would answer that question, but our thought is that dealers do affect the manufacturers’ brands with the negativity spread among all manufacturers. Consumers think that the whole world of dealerships is flawed.
However, all it takes is for one manufacturer to get states to overturn those laws and put dealerships out of business (at least for new cars) with its own distribution centers/online-shopping model. The first to take that plunge will create preference and reflect the brand in a positive manner.
It will only take one.
How do automobile market shoppers decide?
The decision tree car shoppers go through is an interesting one. There are many factors that go into where shoppers decide to go and from whom they are going to buy.
Let’s work through some of the possibilities. It is extremely doubtful that most have a preference of dealerships, unless there’s a personal relationship involved.
Location would be a contributing factor, but many dealerships are located in clusters. Across the street from the other.
On the other hand, is the choice based on brand or the type of car?
That question gets at the crux of the whole matter. If it’s based on brand, then the hurdle of the dealership doesn’t matter. If it’s a type of car (say, you’re looking for a gas-saving sedan), then the dealership poses a larger problem.
No matter where brand plays in the decision tree, it does play a role because it can be the reason manufacturers are in the considered set or, more importantly, excluded from it.
The cause for concern for all automakers is that preference is most likely in the type of car. How do we know? If you look at the best-selling cars in America from February 2015, there is no overriding brand doing well.
Chevrolet’s Silverado saw a 17.6% year-to-year increase in the US, while it’s other truck, the Colorado, has fallen off the map. Ford’s Escape and Explorer are nearly identical except in size and price. Yet, the Explorer (the larger and more expensive of the two) has seen sales rise 27.4% while the Escape has dropped 5.7%. Where’s the brand preference in that?
We could go down the list, but you get the point. No brand is winning in the automobile market across the board, which means shoppers are looking for a specific model or type of car.
And why is that? For one, who knows the real difference between any of the brands. The advertising and messaging are so alike and meaningless it’s no wonder car shoppers find little to choose from. For example, here are the main messages for each of the Buick models:
Verano: “The only thing expected are the double takes.”
The conundrum that for many, especially the US automakers, their house of brands grew organically and they did nothing to address them. In addition, the emotional aspect that the manufacturers had in the 20s has become trite, expected and all about the car.
A quick aside to demonstrate the point. Companies in many industries seem to trade ad agencies like Topps baseball cards, with one firing one agency and another manufacturer picking up that agency to do its work. What develops is a kind of incestuous environment in which the players in the industry have all worked with the same agency at various times, believing that industry experience will steal them share.
Automakers value industry expertise above all else, but that just means the same tired messages are used without thinking deeper about what target audiences value emotionally.
What kind of valued expertise does it take to film a car riding along a coastal highway and sporting the car’s features? “Just make it look good” is often the mantra of the automakers.
This creates a kind of inertia so that even the umbrella brands, as discussed earlier, provide no cover for the models beneath it. That’s why the sales of a Ford Focus drop while the Ford Fusion does not. The automakers have taught us to look at the individual models, not the brand. They’ve done that by simply promoting product features.
What automakers should do.
As an essay on the global automobile market (authored by four experts) recently stated, “Consumers appear to be re-thinking their long love affair with individual automobile brands and viewing cars more as transportation machines.”
There are a handful of strategies and tactics automakers should employ to steal market share. One of them is a tactic so simple it’s a miracle that none of them have done it before: Speak to target audiences at life moments when they are deciding to buy a car.
Here’s what we mean. What if there were specific TV spots aimed at college seniors as they are about to graduate? The spots would only run in the late spring, and could also be targeted to parents of graduating students.
Pinpoint a point in life when a car is something to be considered. After an accident. Having children (where you need a bigger car). A new job. Those tactical spots would speak directly to a customer who then believes the right car for them in the right life situation is at hand.
A more targeted spend (beyond advertising sports cars and trucks during sporting events) would be far more efficient than rolling out general spots at all times of the year.
There is, of course, a larger strategy that few automakers actually take in the automobile market: Developing a parent brand that is an emotional reflection of the target audience.
For example, Volvo is for those who believe in safety. BMW is for those who believe in the driving experience (“The ultimate driving machine”).
What is the Ford driver about? What is the Honda driver or the Kia driver for that matter?
Instead, automobile marketing is all about product features and the cars themselves. Little about the driver.
Other than in price, there’s little reason to choose one brand over another. That means shoppers find their cars by looking at price, dealerships and types of cars (like, sedan vs. truck). With the exception of a few (most fitting into the luxury category), no one is building a true brand preference.
1) What does your current brand mean? Is it different than the competition? What do you do to support your claims?
2) How are customers able to navigate your offerings? Do they make sense?
3) How do target audiences decide what is important? What drives them? How do they fit brands/models into their considered sets?
4) What do they believe about your brand? What do they believe about other brands? Who is most vulnerable?
5) What are the emotional drivers that influence audiences? What do they believe about themselves and the world that drives their behavior? What do they fear? What do they cherish?
6) Why are those currently not interested in your brand rejecting it? What are the barriers? How are those barriers overcome?
To gain preference in the automobile market, automakers have to get out of their own way and ask themselves the difficult questions. Too much of the marketing and branding in the automotive industry is thinking inside out, which usually only results in promoting product features and using clichéd themes.
Until the automobile market begins to find the emotional cues of the target audience and become honest with themselves about where they stand, the automotive brands will continue to watch cars sit idly in lots. According to data provided by Kelly Blue Book, a typical vehicle sold in the US last year spent more than 70 days on average on the lot, while many stay for more than four months. That means more models will be discontinued and makers will try to find new ones to take their place, continuing a losing cycle.
Automakers must be smarter.
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