Many car brands have evolved their offerings beyond their original market roles to follow both volume and value. Once budget brands are now firmly part of the bloated mid-market firmament resulting in a hugely crowded landscape where model choice is baffling.
As the automotive industry has matured, we’ve seen constant mergers take-overs and collaborations all pursuing economies of scale and the opportunity to split new model R&D costs over the largest number of unit sales. The result is often a muting of brand differentiation and character.
The 60s and 70s were the era of the three-box sedan, then along came the hatchback followed swiftly by the one box people carrier of the 90s and 00s championed by the visionary French designer Partick Le Quement. Now the SUV rules the roost and every manufacturer from Lamborghini to Skoda has at least one model to serve up to a blinkered public.
In the late 90s the NCAP star scramble saw manufacturers up their game on the safety front. The knock-on effect of this pursuit of safety was a set of standards that homogenised many aspects of car design.
How to build deeper, emotional connections
If car brands want to reap the rewards of deeper emotional connection and raise the fight above the margin eroding functional spiral, then what’s to be done?
A recognition that brand nurturing is a long-term game and consumers need time to warm to and identify with a set of values. This flies in the face of the short termism that pervades modern marketing departments.
Then, brands must agree a consistent set of core values built from the marque’s historical truths. This will involve a search for fresh insight with an eye on future market development and bold decision making.
The next stage is the most critical – the will to live this ethos through consistent and demonstrable behaviour. Brands must convince consumers to care through actions, not just words, in every touchpoint from new model creation to social commentary.
Finally, brands need to be courageous and single minded. Standing for something invariably means making choices and being prepared to do what others won’t. Being distinctive and meaningful takes nerve.
A ray of hope
The eventual move away from traditional car ownership will usher in the arrival of autonomous, on-demand transportation pods and occasion-based subscription mobility solutions, which further reduces the scope for brands differentiate.
If every vehicle occupant is demoted from driver to passenger (in a world where speeds and routes are pre-regulated), then the power of brand is elevated once more.
Thankfully, there are some rays of hope.
Citroen is starting to return to its brand roots by issuing a rallying call to ‘battle against boring’ and looking for owners who ‘want to stand out’. New EV brands such as Polestar and Genesis have invested heavily in brand meaning knowing that an electric proposition alone isn’t enough to sustain a marque when in 15 years most of the market will be EV anyway.
Here’s hoping that the rest of the market will heed the wake-up call.