When Times Change, Technologies Change, But Brands Don’t

In my previous post on the Indian automobile industry, I had said that perhaps the time has come for the small, entry-level car in India to be reinvented. Runaway inflation in fuel prices as well as prices of vehicles have put these sub-compact and compact cars beyond the reach of ordinary, first-time car buyers in India, many of whom are extremely price-sensitive. I am not sure whether this is purely an Indian phenomenon, or if it’s also being borne out in other markets around the world. Strikes me that it might be true of many low-middle income countries, and emerging economies.

At the premium and luxury end of the car market, sedans and SUVs are doing much better. And while it’s not yet the case in India, the premium and luxury car segment is shifting to cleaner fuels and to electric vehicles in most other large car markets such as China, the US and Europe. And while there is an urgent need for the compact car segment to innovate, it is not as if the premium and luxury cars don’t need to innovate; just that the type of innovation is different.

However, in overseas markets as well, premium and luxury cars have been slower to innovate; most of the early shift to hybrid and electric came from smaller cars and mid-size sedans. Think of Toyota’s Prius, the world’s first hybrid technology car, which later also introduced plug-in hybrid vehicles. Think, also of Nissan’s all-electric compact car, the Nissan Leaf.

Tesla, which launched as an EV has had a huge head-start in luxury EVs, making the brand almost synonymous with electric. And even as the company launches giga-factories around the world, and has massively ramped up deliveries in recent months, I think the company is pursuing an unsustainable strategy in vertically integrating all of the car’s manufacture, as this article from The Economist reports. It seems to be an extreme overreaction to the ongoing supply chain issues to do with semiconductors.

However, as I have said before, Tesla will soon have to find a differentiated benefit for its brand. When the entire segment or, indeed, the entire car market is composed of EVs, electric will no longer be a differentiator. It is a technology that powers the car, but Tesla will have to position its brand on a different set of parameters.

BMW, one of the first luxury car brands to go electric, launched an i-series of cars, the ‘i’ standing for intelligent, derived from electric and digital. And Mercedes-Benz, which was late to the EV party, has introduced a range of EQ-branded vehicles, the ‘E’ standing for electric, I suppose.

Jaguar and Land Rover have not branded their electric vehicles in any particular way, preferring to stay with the main brand and all that it stands for. Except for Jaguar’s IPace and EPace electric SUV models that were pitched against Tesla. I am not sure I understand the reason for the IPace branding, as a neutral brand-focused approach seems more sensible to me. Electric is merely a new technology and one that all carmakers will move to, very soon. Jaguar’s main competitor, Porsche, too has not branded its electric range of cars in any particular way.

However, there is a danger that I see with Porsche which, to many in India might seem quite normal since we consider car models to be brands. In Porsche’s case, each of their car models is so unique and thoughtfully designed to offer a differentiated driving experience, that it runs the danger of being seen as a brand in its own right. This, despite Porsche being careful to badge their vehicles in the rear/boot with a prominent Porsche beneath which we will find a 911, Panamera, Cayenne, etc. Of course, we know that Porsche is the brand and not the model, but over time, each Porsche vehicle has acquired its own distinct personality.

In brand communication terms, the Company has made no overt attempt to build these models as separate brands, either. In fact, I would say that they have hardly invested in brand-building communication and there is clearly a need to make amends now. In recent years, I have seen single-page adverts in The Economist for Porsche, with a visual of a car, the name of the model as headline (sometimes not even that), and a dealer address for copy. It suggests to me a careless attitude towards readers and prospective customers, and even existing customers, that the brand doesn’t think it necessary to engage with them, let alone persuade them.

This never used to be true of Porsche in years past; I remember seeing some good newspaper adverts for the brand in books on advertising. Never seen any Porsche TV advert, though, which is surprising for a luxury sports car. Until now, that is, when I recently saw The Heist advert on YouTube. I don’t think the advert is in the least bit Porsche, and I wonder what prompted them to adopt this approach in communication. In fact, it does serious harm to the Porsche brand.

Having recently worked on brand strategies and brand campaigns for JLR corporate, Jaguar and Land Rover on my blog, I thought it might be a good idea for me to give Porsche some thought. As promised in my last blog post, I have put down my thoughts on how Porsche ought to be positioned for the next decade at least and also written a brand campaign for them for TV and the print media along with thoughts on direct marketing and PR, which you can read by clicking the link below.

To my mind, the sportiness of Porsche is key and so is the fact that it is German (all the positive connotations of German engineering). The Porsche website doesn’t say anything about the company’s plans in clean, connected and shared mobility at a city/country level – unlike Jaguar’s – which tells me that they would prefer Porsche cars to stay privately-owned-and-driven luxury sports cars. That is a perfectly legitimate and sound strategy to adopt as well.

I am not a designer, but I have also designed the print advert layouts which you can view and read by clicking on the link below. The visuals used are not all of Porsche cars and are meant to be indicative for layout purposes only.

The 90-year-old brand has come a long way in establishing itself as an iconic German luxury sports car marque. Now it is time to go 90-100 with a strategy that is true to their core, and also gives them a clear direction in which to go in future.

The stock images used in the Porsche brand print campaign layouts are from Pixabay and Unsplash and the Porsche logo is from Wikimedia Commons and are for indicative purposes only. I am thankful to all of them.

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