The Automobile Industry Market Study
By Tom Dougherty
The automobile market may possibly be the most competitive consumer market in the world. Ironically, it is also mostly barren of brand meaning. In this automobile industry market study we look at the broad market.
There are categories of brands — Luxury cars, performance automobiles, etc. but few brands have the sort of consumer meaning of say… Corona Beer. When consumers are asked what Corona represents, they say emphatically “kicking back” and “summer fun” because Corona means something to them.
Who Has Equity?
Only VOLVO and BMW can claim that sort of brand meaning. Mini is trying to create brand identity, but the jury is still out. The brand problem began when the brands tried to represent everything to everyone (and therefore nothing to anyone) by concentrating on car models rather than the brand. Consumers are able to place more brand meaning on the Ford Taurus than they are on Ford in general. What is left is a missed brand opportunity.
Television advertising has simply made a bad branding situation worse for the customer. Commercial after commercial of high production quality ads depict shiny new cars speeding down winding highways — each brand blurs one into another, and the automotive market remains the same. The category is a prime example of brands trying to differentiate brand messages with table stakes.
This chart (not meant to represent real positions) demonstrates that there is little space between brands. The only gaps are the small spaces between created by models.
The Category Problem
The category has been selling fashion for years and yet they fail to make the full leap. Brand messages are therefore a swill of glamour shots interspersed with engineering details.
From a brand perspective, it is amazing that a market position like “SAFE” (read VOLVO) was available, considering the fact that no one would purchase a car that they deem unsafe. “Cool” does not cut it any longer because consumers see that position claimed by just about anyone in any market space. Reliability is a brand messages claimed by each and every brand as well.
What is left?
Ideally, each manufacturer would carry the same brand equity that SONY accomplishes in electronics. The brand name should add value and meaning to the individual models.
By dividing table-stake values by customer precepts some opportunity may appear, but as currently structured, no brand has positioned itself to be a player here. Established brands need to find the self-expression of a defined target market if they wish to create brand loyalty and preference.