Our students here at the Beverly Hills Lingual Institute are some of the most interesting and accomplished people you could hope to meet.
One reminded us of Saab the other day. A former marketing consultant for the Swedish car brand, learning language with us, recently shared with our front desk why he thought Saab had become defunct.
German Mercedes, BMW, and Audi, he argued, are well defined. Mercedes is "an investment." BMW is "sporty." Audi stands for "design."
Japanese Lexus stands for "superior customer service/ ownership experience."
Saab's Swedish counterpart, Volvo, stands for "safety."
And Saab? What did Saab stand for?
His point was made. Could one expect, he asked rhetorically, people to choose a durable good for the fact that it is different?
Mind you, at least Saab acknowledged that it was not for everyone. With the fragmentation of today's markets, that's an advantage that premium brands can have over generalist brands.
However, brands need to be authentic, too; and distinct and, above all, relevant. Saab clearly had problems in all three respects, at various times during its life.
Any brand, and particularly those with premium aspirations, must have clearly defined core competencies. It is in these competencies that it seeks to surpass its customers' expectations.
These core competencies might stem from three basic questions. What can this brand credibly be best in the world at doing? What is it deeply passionate about? What indicators does it wish to excel at?
When planning a new brand, ask yourself these questions. The core competencies chosen are the brand's for the long haul. Consistency is particularly important for a new brand, which needs time to plant its flag.
As a new brand decides on its core competencies, it is important to not blindly emulate the competition. In some respects, new brands have an easier time. They are not burdened with heritage, and can avail themselves of an entirely fresh marketing approach (but one that resonates with the market). Take advantage of that. When launching a brand, go where they are not. That's the only way to demonstrate that you have satisfying solutions to fulfill unmet needs.
A famous example is BMW's attempt to challenge Mercedes in the 1960s. The Bavarian upstart did not ask Mercedes prices for the comfort and elegance made famous by the Stuttgart stalwart. Rather, while it positioned itself as premium, it went for the sporting end of the market. The BMW idea was to parallel Mercedes' premium pricing but to offer a different set of premium qualities.
If a new brand's core competencies are both desirable and distinct from what else is on offer, that should make for interesting and effective advertising. It's been a long time since it was sufficient to mechanically list core competencies in an ad. However, to establish the brand, every aspect of marketing should in some new and different way illustrate one or more of these values.
In Saab's case, the brand's final "Born from Jets" campaign was an unfortunate piece of fluff, a message which neither illustrated a desirable core competence, nor credibly reflected attributes of the products it sought to promote.
As a side note, each new piece of marketing should, additionally, be considered an opportunity to reaffirm a brand's values across the organization. Everyone, from management to sales, should understand that the new brand exists for the purpose of providing a unique choice and, in turn, the precise, unique attributes of the brand.
Communications and PR people, if considered not only an interface to the media but also a go-between with those who create the product on one side and those who market it on the other, can play a major role in this regard.
Perhaps Saab will be back someday. It certainly garnered its fair share of diehards. To be fair, too, Saab drivers tended to be interesting people; the sort that, as one journalist once wrote, you'd want to sit next to at a dinner party.
It's too bad there weren't enough of them.