It’s a historic tipping point for the automotive industry. A time of innovative revolution and mobility enlightenment. Experts reckon that in the next ten years, we’ll see greater advances than in the past hundred. Developments in connectivity, autonomy and efficiency are pulling the car’s future towards us at a startling rate. This change, and the technology driving it, is designed to make the lives of drivers and passengers more comfortable and convenient. But for auto manufacturers lacking brand power, it will have the opposite effect. The next ten years could see them nose-dive, while their stronger rivals survive and thrive.
Strong brands are beacons
The middle market is already being squeezed from both the top and bottom ends, while Tesla is redefining the sector, well in advance of recently announced environmental legislation. According to the recent BrandZ report that ranks the top 100 most valuable global brands, scores of luxury players like Porsche and Land Rover continue to grow, with brand value up by almost one fifth this year already, even in uncertain financial times. However, one thing is for certain across all these market segments – the strongest car brands, those who know what they stand for and what their customers want, will be the ones that survive and thrive. That’s because these auto manufacturers understand that people buy into brands just as much, if not more so, than individual car models. And they also realise that customers use brands as a decision-making short-cut – sifting through them with just a glance to leave only those they want to consider. Put simply, strong brands are a clear beacon in a cluttered market.
Five vital signs of brand health
So, what ingredients make up a ‘healthy auto brand’? Is it possible to quantify something that has so many contributing factors, including intangible, emotional elements? We think it is.Here are the five vital signs all strong and healthy automotive brands typically display.
Why an auto brand exists is just as important as the cars it designs, builds and sells. If it can demonstrate how it improves the lives of its customers, it will be well on the way to success. This purpose can be one of many different things: denoting personal achievement, protection for your family, life-style accessory, environmental responsibility, individuality or even kindness. But no matter how the purpose strives to make people’s lives better, it needs to be clearly defined and resonate deeply.
There’s no question that innovation drives growth. In our BrandZ study, auto brands that scored highly for this vital sign outgrew their less ingenious rivals. In fact, Tesla’s score grew by almost a third in 2017, compared to zero growth or decline for six of the other top ten auto brands in the ranking. We also discovered that innovation needn’t always be a technological development like battery power, or a marketing initiative like personalisation. Innovation includes other, less obvious advances such as flexible finance packages, or car substitution. Financial arrangements such as “Personal Contract Payment” deals are now making premium or even luxury segment brands more affordable, while the flexibility of substituting a week-day car for a different model at the weekend shows how innovative thinking and customer understanding work together to create new lifestyle solutions.
This vital sign covers everything from television advertising to social media presence; PR-driven scoops to the actual number of cars on the road. Auto brands that integrate and sustain consistent, differentiating messaging and imagery are the brands that will ultimately win. And those that can integrate the highest number of consumer touchpoints at key moments along the journey to purchase, are the brands that will win big.
A customer’s brand experience begins way before the two actually meet. Word-of-mouth anecdotes, news coverage and online searches shape perceptions before potential purchasers step through the dealership door. That’s why it’s vital for the sales team and service staff to maintain the reputation if it’s good, or help to allay negative preconceptions. And while all of this is happening, new players like Tesla and Amazon are disrupting traditional sales journeys, while taking the customer experience to new levels. The former, with its ground-breaking shopping mall retail presence, the latter with its new Amazon Vehicle mail-order service, where in Italy you can pop a Fiat 500 in your shopping basket and have it delivered to your door. But of course, the brand experience extends long after dropping the new keys into the owner’s hand. Post-purchase experience is equally vital and connectivity is just one way it can be delivered. By monitoring engine health and driving style, routes taken and shops visited, the car becomes a helpful guide, money-saving friend and lifestyle enhancer. And this helps drive the brand experience in the eyes of the driver.
The four other vital signs work towards creating this perfect end-game. It’s an intangible, precious objective, one that transcends logic and straightforward decision making. Just think of the quirky devotion shown by Mini owners or the unrequited adoration Alfa Romeo stirs in the hearts of so many.
Brand power is vital to survive and thrive
Right now, the speed of change in the auto sector is breath-taking. Over the next ten years it will accelerate to unimaginable velocity. Innovative brands that have a clear purpose, a consistent voice and delighted customers will thrive. In the industry’s most dynamic decade ever, they are perfectly placed to take advantage of every opportunity change will bring. But for auto brands scoring badly in just one of the attributes, there’s a real risk of brand damage and as a result, underperformance in the market. And for those brands scoring badly across all five criteria the future looks bleak. If they continue as they’re doing now they won’t be with us for very much longer, let alone ten years’ time.