I was riding behind a new Buick today and thought about the car and the brand. Big difference. I'm not sure what model it was, but from the back the lines of the car looked quite nice. It came across like a sleek, European sport sedan - definitely a nice look. What crashed it back to Earth for me, though, was the rather large Buick logo/crest on the back. it was definitely a downer - reeking of old, stale, tired, out of date cars that my grandfather might have driven in his youth! :-)
So, I wondered, what I might do to build the business with the rather obvious liability of the brand. Starbucks came to mind. As you know, Starbucks recently has started experimenting with downplaying their brand in some new stores. Even though I disagree with that approach for them, that seems to be precisely what Buick needs to do. It needs to shrink that logo WAY
down - maybe even remove it from the back all together. In the short term, I'd lower the volume considerably on the branding and hope that my partners on the engineering side could pack as much value and excitement into the vehicles as possible. Clearly, consumers are probably as much "driven" by value in this economy as ever. Many want and need a bargain; a purchase that lets them feel like they're getting a good value, but that doesn't extract too great of a brand/esteem penalty.
My first brand at Coke was Mello Yello. It was a regional (Southeast) player that competed against Mountain Dew. Basically, Mello Yello gave Coke bottlers something to compete against Pepsi's Dew in battling for shelf space at retail. There was very little money allotted to the brand for advertising. The big thing was the number 42 car with Kyle Petty as the major marketing property for the brand. Essentially, Mello Yello was a 'price brand' - in all the definitions of that phrase. The NASCAR sponsorship and the popularity of Kyle Petty in the early 1990's, though, gave the brand a respectability that allowed consumers to feel OK about their purchase. They knew they were not buying the 'real thing' - Mountain Dew. But the NASCAR and Petty associations made consumers feel OK about that sacrifice.
That's the challenge for Buick. For most consumers under 60, the brand most likely detracts value from the vehicles. If this is true, Buick marketers can either be romantic about their brand - and not sell cars, or they can minimize the brand - pump the cars full of value - and sell them.
Couldn't a logical brand recovery strategy be to execute the plan that de-emphasizes the brand - sell lots of value packed cars - and then over time as consumer sentiment changes and the brand regains value - to leverage that value with more overt branding on the vehicles?
It's tough for brand folks to recommend de-emphasizing the brand. In fact, its down right antithetical to our training. But, that may be the best business path for a company who's brand has fallen so far out of favor (IMHO) to get back in the game. We'll see what they do . . .