Thursday, April 2, 2009

A lesson in why brand image matters.

Next time somebody tells you that brand image doesn’t matter, that the internet has transformed consumers into rational and well-informed shoppers, just respond with one word: “Malibu.”

In 2007, GM revamped the Chevy Malibu from top to bottom to compete, once and for all, with segment leaders Toyota Camry and Honda Accord, two cars that have ruled the midsize sedan market for years. The result is a $20k car that looks, drives and feels like a luxury sedan.

Consumer Reports recommends the new Malibu. Kelly Blue Book concludes that it looks like a $40k car. JD Power ranks the Kansas City factory that builds it as one of the top three quality plants in the country. It was voted Car of the Year.

Nevertheless, more than twice as many people bought a Camry last year.

It is unreasonable to expect to rewind years of inconsistent quality and value in one year. Having worked with both Ford and Toyota at Y&R and Saatchi, I have seen first hand the hurdle that domestic brands face.

As consumers, perhaps it's time to rethink our aversion to domestic cars, do some homework to update our facts, and, minimally, take a test drive. Then buy the best car.

As marketers, never assume we can milk a brand (or starve it) for years and expect consumers to stay loyal.

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