driving a brand

Driving a Brand

Of course, in our line of work, that’s what we do all the time. But so do you, in a somewhat different, and perhaps unexpected, way.

Cars carry the most emotive of brands. They make a statement that is very visible as well as conferring pride of ownership and sometimes self-worth to drivers.

Most people use cars as a shorthand signal for the type of person that drives them. Mostly, this is highly inaccurate; ask an 18 year old what kind of person drives a Volvo and you will get a highly detailed verbal picture describing every aspect of the owner, down to what kind of clothes he or she is likely to wear, what their attitudes and politics are, and why they wouldn’t be seen driving one in a million years.

Actually, that opinion is likely to change not in a million years but maybe in ten – when they have a young family, the responsibilities of a job and maybe the car is owned by a company anyway. Then it describes a different set of attributes – safe, dependable, even a little individualistic compared to the BMW they would have chosen a decade before.

But hold on a minute: is it just the brand that holds the power to connect so emotionally with drivers, or the performance and abilities of the vehicles themselves? Research shows that the majority of new car buyers don’t go out with a performance or specification list in their hands and then test every car that falls within those parameters.

Instead, they go armed with a list of brands and pick from a range that suits their needs and budget from within that brand repertoire.

Here’s where it get tricky. A new car buyer wants a VW Golf. Sporty, German, solid, a little aspirational – it fulfils the needs of a picture that they have of themselves inside their heads. So how about a trip to the Seat showroom, just down the road, for an alternative test drive? Out of the question for most VW fans. A little dull perhaps. Spanish. A brand that may say little to them about how it fits into their mental wish-list.

And this is where we go back to the heading. Driving a brand is literally what people do. The Seat that might be spurned in favour of a Golf is pretty much the same car under the skin. The same with a lot of other brands. Maybe different trim, a slightly different specification, but nothing that would deter you about the car itself – except the badge on the back.

Your yearned-for Citroen C1 is a Toyota Aygo. Oh, and by the way, it’s also a Peugeot 107. Your Fiat may be a Suzuki – or is it the other way around?

Why is this happening? Compared with cars made just 30 years ago, modern vehicles are highly sophisticated, often described as ‘computers on wheels’. They cost a lot to develop, often in conjunction with the companies that make the Original Equipment that they are fitted with – and yet consumer expectation is that prices will remain relatively stable for each new model whilst marque competition drives fierce price comparison. It also means that ranges of new vehicles can be brought to market far faster than in the past, where each new car would have to have its own custom components, and maybe even its own production line.

The market is now also global. Whilst we’re used to car ownership as almost a right in Europe, China, for example, is putting 2 million cars a month onto the roads.

Whilst the Chinese are sorting out their own domestic brands (some of which you’ll start to see here soon, in all probability) they rely on locally built or imported versions of European vehicles.

This kind of exponential market growth explains another reason why common platforms (which is technically what ‘the same under the skin’ cars are called) means that the parts that are used have to be available on a global scale. What is designed and fitted in a car plant in Germany must be the same as the one supplied in China, or Brazil. Very often, the task and cost of developing the parts and systems falls to the component makers to a brief provided by the car manufacturer. Self-park, for example, is a main feature of Ford marketing and although they would have specified it, the electronics and components that enable it will have been made by a global components manufacturer at one of any number of factories world-wide to satisfy local assembly.

In the aftermarket, which is the sector of the parts business, which sources repair parts for vehicles once they are out of warranty the same principles apply. Aftermarket parts makers have to have replacements for components that break or wear out – and they need to be able to supply those wherever the cars are, which, as we’ve just discovered, could be anywhere, no matter what the badge on the back says.

Our Client TRW Automotive Aftermarket, for which we are global lead agency, is one such company. It manufactures around the world to supply local markets with original equipment quality parts that need replacing. As it is also the world leader in Original Equipment Components for safety applications, it can be predictive in knowing what cars are being developed now – as they will be involved in the original design – and hence what parts you will need 4 or more years down the line, when you could well have sold the car you so hankered after to someone else.

This is just another example of the rise of globalisation for brands. The need to understand markets outside your own, the ability of communications to cross boundaries and cultures, as well as different consumer aspirations and trends is vital. And, of course, the relentless pressure that the digital world exerts that enables consumers to be better informed in the choices that they make, through peer review and the ability to research whilst not walking up a high street, but sitting in an armchair, brings every consumer, everywhere, closer to the aligning globalisation of consumer markets. This is true of replacement car parts, too, where you (or your mechanic) can buy the exhaust pipe you need from Amazon as well as the usual distribution channels. Digital disruption is the global business.

That’s why while you’re driving your brand, we can help drive it too, whatever and wherever it needs to be doing great business.

For help with building your automotive brand please contact    brett.sammels@lawcreative.co.uk.