By Tom Dougherty
Industry experts are just one part of the problem
What is wrong with the auto industry branding? Simple. It is peopled with too many inward-looking car people. The new ideas come from car people who look inside out, not outside-in. The filters used to eliminate new ideas about automotive experience are about car people, and the design of new products is all about car people. Here is a novel thought, “Physician heal thyself.”
You have to go back many years to find the time when the automobile club sought help from other venues. I am thinking specifically of the time when Ford hired as its president Robert McNamara, the first president of the company without the last name of Ford.
What resulted was a fresh look at automobile safety, the broad use of seat belts and a flourish of innovative ideas designed around consumers and their needs. Since then there has been little more than a series of auto brand mistakes.
Fear of Change
Today is a different matter. Fear of change has paralyzed the auto industry and caused them to look backward instead of forward. A recent auto industry blog triumphed how GM is developing twin-turbo V6 to rival Ford’s EcoBoost.
This blog, a self-proclaimed “auto industry news source on everything going on in the automotive market”, included a hi-definition glossy photos of the new turbo engine. I guess such glamour shots of steel, paint, plastic and aluminum are supposed to make the automobile shopper wet their pants in anticipation. To our thinking, it is more of the same old lowest common denominator thinking that has pushed the industry to the brink of bankruptcy.
The problem is that the industry insiders think we are all automobile crazies. That we read all the spec sheets, go to every NASCAR (thoughts on NASCAR here) race and buy only the brand of car that wins. It does not work that way anymore.
The market today no longer defines itself in terms of the car it drives because they all basically look the same. A car, once the bastion of “having arrived,” now represents a means to an end more than a right of passage. Car brand, model, and type are blurrier now more than ever. Especially since every compact car looks like a Honda, every SUV looks like a Ford and every pick up truck looks like a Chevy.
What Guides Today’s Car Consumer?
Today, the winning automotive manufacturer will begin to do the customer anthropology that we have been preaching for the last 20 years. The winner will find out what the prospect values in their lives and the precepts that guide them. This is an outside-in view of the market that realizes that the old model of “build it, paint it brightly, and show a sexy gal driving it along the Pacific highway” is only half way home.
That doesn’t cut it anymore. Today, you must be smarter and realize that a car to many is a necessary evil. A payment for life just does not deliver the same satisfaction it did in 1964 when owning a Mustang was a great thrill, even if you did not have the means to drive it anywhere. Today, owning a car competes with 500 channels of TV, 3-D movies, an Internet with everything from blogs to porn and a vacation abroad.
The car is just not what it once was. Auto industry branding has yet to figure that out.
So What is the Problem With The Auto Industry?
It is a very long list. But to the industry insiders, little has changed. The commercials all look the same and they expect that we will jump out of our boots because a new model has been introduced.
It gets worse. Instead of leading the charge, like they did with the Mustang 40 years ago, the auto industry drags it heels and tries to follow rather than lead. A major auto industry brand mistake. They are at the casino playing with the rent money and, as a result, every bet they place is fraught with fear.
So, they will slow down on hybrid production because of Toyota’s brand problems or a fall in the gas prices. They will copy anything a competitor does – just like the TV networks where most things are a reality show or a show centered on “little people.” Or better yet a bit of both.
The answers to this embattled sector are to be found in leadership and smarts. Hopefully, they will understand that, as an industry, they don’t have a corner on either market. (You will find a deeper look into the auto industry in our market study here)