Emotive Brands Need Rational Benefits

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Emotive Brands Need Rational Benefits

The most desired brands – the brands that regularly feature towards the top of car buyers’ shopping lists of preferred brands, tend to be the brands where the purchase decision is based more on emotive factors and less on rational factors. These ‘emotive brands’ are more likely to include the premium brands such as Audi, BMW, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz. Many people end up not buying these brands because of budget – either they cannot afford the purchase price or cannot afford the running costs.

The main factor that contributes to a car brand’s emotional status is its style and design which differentiates the brand from the rest. But the main weaknesses of most of the ‘emotive’ premium brands are their affordability, economy and practicality. To increase sales across a broader base of customers, especially for those premium brands that are developing smaller models with stronger retail appeal, the premium brands need to offer more rational purchase benefits in the form of lower running costs coupled with smaller and more practical models.

Primary benefits sought by premium brand car buyers compared with buyers of all brands, June 2011

Base: 6,162 car buyers

Source: Trend Tracker

Alfa Romeo Brand Example

Making a brand appeal on a more emotive basis with a strong or unique style and design does not automatically translate into stronger sales, as has occurred, for instance, with the Mini brand. A case in point is Alfa Romeo, a brand widely regarded as featuring some of the most attractive cars currently available but whose sales remain low albeit growing.

Alfa Romeo Brera (autospecifications.org)

Top 12 style and design car brands, June 2011

Base: 6,162 car buyers

Source: Trend Tracker

Although Alfa Romeo has specific brand strengths including style, design, brand image, driving experience, performance and speed, as a brand it also has distinct perceived weaknesses. These include poor economy, affordability and comfort.
Main strengths and weaknesses of Alfa Romeo compared with all brands, June 2011

Base: 6,162 car buyers

Source: Trend Tracker

To improve its sales performance, Alfa Romeo needs to improve brand perceptions among potential buyers by maintaining its distinctive brand strengths (style, design and driving experience), but improving its perceived weaknesses (economy and comfort).

Alfa Romeo has made significant improvements in recent years in terms of quality and reliability to the point where it is today regarded by many in the industry as being comparable with the premium German brands. This is steadily being recognised by many more potential buyers and this positions the brand as a stronger competitor in the premium sector, but Alfa Romeo still remains a niche brand with low but rising sales volumes.

Audi Brand Example

Audi has experienced strongly rising sales in the UK and across Europe over the last decade, to the point where it is a major competitor to BMW and Mercedes-Benz. The Audi brand’s success is due to its perceived strengths of style, design, comfort, brand image and reputation, performance and speed. The brand is also regarded as being relatively competitive with other brands in terms of being economic to run, and in terms of quality and reliability.

Main strengths and weaknesses of Audi compared with all brands, June 2011

Base: 6,162 car buyers

Source: Trend Tracker

Audi has been particularly successful as a growing brand in the fleet and business market. To potential retail buyers the brand’s main weaknesses are regarded as being affordability, value for money, practicality and size. The latter is particularly significant in the retail market as Audi is primarily a manufacturer of cars in the medium and large segments with its A4, A6 and A8 models.
Although Audi has a long established smaller A3 hatchback model, Audi has only just launched its small A1 model which is more likely to appeal to retail buyers as well as fleet and business customers. The brand is also regarded as being high priced for retail customers as a new car purchase and consequently the brand has become more popular among retail car buyers as a used car purchase.

The Audi A1 (4wheelsnews.com)

Audi though is becoming a victim of its own success as rising sales has made the brand a much more common sight which reduces its appeal to some car buyers as a distinctive brand as it achieves wider mass appeal. Such a situation can become an advantage for another brand such as Alfa Romeo which, while having a strong brand image, is still a relatively a niche product and brand.
Rational Benefits

While many car buyers are seeking more emotive benefits and emotive satisfaction from purchasing particular car brands, in today’s challenging economic environment, affordability and economy are factors that are becoming more important, including for buyers of premium brand cars. Many of the premium brands have already begun to address this by introducing more fuel-efficient petrol and diesel engines and also by introducing smaller models that broadens a brand’s appeal across a wider market base.

This will inevitably mean that some of the smaller models with lower running costs than their larger model siblings which are being launched by the premium brands, will appeal to car buyers who had previously only considered a volume brand. Volume brands are primarily bought for their rational-brand benefits including affordability, economy, size and practicality. Consequently as the premium brands launch smaller more economic and affordable models and the Asian ‘value’ brands compete with the major volume brands on affordability, better part exchange values and longer warranties, the major volume brands are sitting in the increasingly squeezed middle. The major volume brands are therefore between a rock and a hard place.
More Emotive Volume Brands

To reduce the effects of increasing competition from smaller premium brand models at the top end of their market and from the ‘value’ Asian brands towards the middle and bottom end, volume brands need to mitigate their principal weakness – bland styling and design which results in low emotional engagement. Volume brands have often relied on ‘halo’ variants – often a sports version of an existing model to add emotional value. Prime examples include the Ford Focus RS, Renault Clio Sport and the ubiquitous Subaru Impreza WRX.

Ford Focus RS (carsuk.net) Renault Clio Sport (Renault.co.uk)

However, while these halo variants provide some emotional value and benefits to the brand which the manufacturer hopes will be conferred upon the stock models, these halo variants have limited appeal because they often have high running costs. Consequently halo variants have limited appeal to those who buy into a volume brand for its rational brand benefits (economy and affordability) and the halo model is unlikely to attract car buyers seeking higher performance together with style and design from the premium brands. Effectively this means that a model such as the Ford Focus RS is competing with premium brand models such as the Audi RS3, BMW 1-Series M Sport and the arguably semi-premium Golf GTi.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the mainstream volume brands is the encroaching market share of the primarily Asian ‘value’ brands which are appealing to ‘rational’ car buyers in terms of greater affordability and better value. The main weakness though of the value Asian brands is weak styling, design and brand image. To avoid outright price and value competition with the value brands, the mainstream volume brands need to differentiate themselves by embracing stronger emotionally engaging design. While emotionally engaging design may require higher investment for the car manufacturer, for the car buyer there is no additional cost, only greater brand satisfaction and brand loyalty. Not only can this result in higher sales but it can also result in improved margins for the volume brands.

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