Behind the driving force

Car manufacturers are waking up to the opportunities offered by effective branding, which in turn is providing groups and in-house teams with rich pickings.

Jaguar’s decision to invite consultancies to pitch for a major brand review (DW 12 July) mirrors recent moves by other car manufacturers, including Nissan, Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars and Land Rover, to establish or consolidate brand values.

Product design is still god, but there is a growing realisation that effective branding makes a real difference in a market where, performance-wise, most products are all too similar.

“There has been a fundamental change in the design philosophy of car manufacturers. People are spending time on brand management. The brand is governing design,” says Basten Greenhill Andrews managing director Tim Greenhill.

BGA has worked on numerous car brands, including Porsche and BMW, and is conducting a brand review of Rolls Royce and Bentley Motor Cars in preparation for the luxury car manufacturer’s split into two in 2003.

“If you accept that the corporate brand is the thing that informs everything an organisation does, then brand management will influence all the communications associated with the brand,” he says.

Manufacturers that haven’t created a brand are trying to catch up, while those that have a brand are trying to consolidate it, Greenhill adds.

There is no common reason why so many car companies are reviewing their brands, but as single brands are increasingly targeted at multiple markets, manufacturers recognise the need to review brands to achieve global relevance.

Nissan is reviewing its brand on a European level. Fitch was hotly tipped to win the work (DW 5 April), but Nissan says that it has yet to appoint a consultancy. It has also been addressing the performance of the brand globally, looking at how the brand is perceived.

“We are addressing the perception that Nissan is dull,” says a spokesman. “The whole corporate look will be revised as we try to bring the whole of Nissan under one brand identity.”

The company will launch its new look at the Frankfurt Motor Show in September, along with a new model Primera car, which is understood to be a radical departure from the previous model.

Jaguar wants to extend its appeal to drivers of all ages and both sexes. It is also keen to gain a stronger foothold in the luxury car market and create legitimate competition for BMW. The US is Jaguar’s biggest market and it wants US drivers to know that it is more accessible and less stuffy and expensive than they perceive it to be. It has organised a pitch for the branding project for the first week of August.

Land Rover, like Jaguar, has a strong heritage and has appointed Landor Associates to undertake a global brand review and development programme (DW 5 July).

“This project is about tapping into the potential of the Land Rover brand and getting consistency across all markets. The US is Land Rover’s biggest potential market,” says Landor director of brand consulting Ian Wood.

Opel lost £305m last year – the worst result in its 100-year history. It’s been squeezed between luxury and budget vehicle brands and its image, perceived as dull, has suffered, according to industry commentators.

Opel is embarking on a restructuring programme that includes the “revitalisation of the brand”, according to a spokeswoman. Research findings of the programme, dubbed Project Olympia, will be presented in September. It is not known whether a consultancy has been appointed.

Volkswagen-owned Audi has already put in place a strategy to build the Audi brand worldwide. “Dramatic changes have to be considered over a long period of time,” says an Audi spokeswoman. But despite shifting more units than ever, group chairman Ferdinand Piech warned last month that the brand was stagnating.

“We are improving our image. Our old image was conservative, but now we are competing with BMW,” a spokesman maintains.

However, it is not just within brand development that the car sector is providing rich pickings for consultancies.

“There is a lot of design work up for grabs in terms of product design, retail design, graphic design, through all manifestations of a brand. Design is a fundamental part of a car manufacturer’s marketing communications,” Greenhill points out.

Equally, there are opportunities for in-house designers. Ford is recruiting extra design personnel for its new high-technology engineering and manufacturing facility in Dagenham. Completion of the project, which will see expansion of diesel engineering and manufacturing at the Dagenham site and create 500 jobs, is expected in September next year. The company is moving 400 design and production engineers to the Dagenham site from its facility in Dunton.

The company is also opening its new design facility in London this summer.

The changing face of car retailing is also likely to provide many opportunities for design consultancies. A spate of new players are set to flood the market, from on-line car dealerships to supermarkets, according to Datamonitor’s interactive consumer survey Impact 2001.

A car is an emotional purchase as well as representing a significant financial investment. Consumers are faced with huge choice and it is design that will help them make it as it continues to drive the car sector.

Latest articles