“The bigger the ship, the harder the turn” is an apt idiom for automobile brands that have persisted in the market for decades. Often, initial image perceptions have remained static even as overall market needs, and desires have changed. And the more iconic the brand, the more difficult it may be to overcome the history and culture that have become woven into the fabric of public perception of that brand’s image.
How does an auto brand move forward and reposition itself to meet relevant perceptions among target customers?
Changing image perceptions aligned with a brand takes creating a solid road map of action based on the following information:
- WHO are the customers that matter most?
- WHAT are their vehicle needs and aspirations (both tangible and emotional)?
- HOW is the brand currently meeting/not meeting those needs and aspirations?
- WHICH feature and benefit attributes should the brand take to market that support and appeal to desired customers?
All of the above may be answered with market research that is rigorous, validated and provides confident market level information.
When a brand seeks to redirect a long-standing image, research to understand the underlying market needs is important and helps to create relevancy. When a brand seeks growth among an expanded audience, it is critical to align on the needs to be addressed and the features and benefits that meet those needs. Creating memorable messaging may capture attention, but meeting underlying needs cements the relationship with the customer.”
The challenge: Inspire leaders to embrace the new.
After identifying attributes that will align an automotive brand with market needs, the hard process begins at the corporate level. Senior management must be willing to embrace the information to solidify the vision for image realignment with concrete action plans. It takes fearlessness and tenacity. It required investments in people, time, and dollars. Change begins from within the management team before it is taken to market.
In 2014, Cadillac formalized a strategic marketing plan built around the message, “Not Your Father’s Cadillac.” The impetus of the campaign began with the realization that their market – affluent men over the age of 65 – were declining as a target group. Large advertising spend was used to support the new messaging, in the hopes of luring in younger customers who were encouraged to re-imagine the iconic Cadillac brand as something hip and edgy. Cadillac’s goal was to create connection with this untapped market.
When a brand seeks to redirect a long-standing image, research to understand the underlying market needs is important and helps to create relevancy. When a brand seeks growth among an expanded audience, it is critical to align on the needs to be addressed and the features and benefits that meet those needs. Creating memorable messaging may capture attention, but meeting underlying needs cements the relationship with the customer.
Innovating to meet the needs of the next generation.
Fast forward to late-2022 and Lexus is achieving what Cadillac attempted: To make an iconic brand have the relevant coolness factor that will attract Gen Z. A new campaign targeting this younger generation focuses on their unique identifiers, including innovation, connection, and diversity.1
Lexus marketing states: “At the outset, we conducted extensive primary and secondary research to understand Gen Z. What we learned wasn’t surprising, but rather reinforced what we believed to be true. Gen Z was ethnically inclusive, diverse, and hyper-connected to its various communities through technology and social platforms.”
This research led to cross-functional teams and workshops to embrace and activate the research. The research fed directly into messaging and then advertising to reset Lexus’ brand image to the segment they coined, “multi-cultural affluents.” Lexus moved beyond simply designing a new, clever tagline to incorporating ways to make the brand relevant to customers. Creative was designed to speak to the audience on their terms. The new campaign, “Emotional Sparks,” seeks to differentiate Lexus from other premium car brands based on the needs and aspirations of these target customers. The campaign incorporates relevant elements of art, passion, and product to project a new Lexus image an identity.
And it seems to be working: A recent Harris / AdAge poll2 measured the top 20 brands that resonated with Gen Z. Number one: Lexus.
Contact us to talk more about insights on the auto market landscape.
1. “The new G3: How Lexus shifted perceptions around it’s ‘boomer’ brand to become a favorite for a younger generation”, Paul Silverman, WARC, July 2022).
2. “20 Brands Getting Gen Z’s Attention (And Dollars)”, Jade Yan, AdAge, March, 2022.