Guest blog – brand engineering

911 owner John Carey on brands:

I prefer things to people. A terrible admission but it’s true. I also enjoyed torturing small animals, lighting fires and wetting the bed in my formative years but that’s another story. Now if you are of a similar mindset you will probably be obsessed with brands and brand management.

At a very basic level a brand is just a name associated with a product or service-nothing more and nothing less. But a successful brand is so much more. For a company creation of a successful brand is a licence to print money, but it is something easier said than done.

The ultimate test of a successful brand is this. Will somebody buy an inferior product to its relative competition and keep buying it again and again just because of the logo?  Reading that sentence all logical-thinking people will cry “I would never do that”. But believe me you have, you will or you are doing that right now. This is because no-one is a logical person. You buy with your heart and your head. Still disagree? Well explain the amount of poverty spec (de-badged , naturally) “premium” cars driving up and down our roads?

So how do you create a successful brand? With a mixture of consistency, reassurance and aspiration. The ultimate brand is something that defines or “owns” the market so that even other products used for the same task get saddled with the originators title. Sticky tape is Sellotape. Correction fluid is Tippex. Date-rape drugs are Rohypnol. Even better if that brand can transcend the product and describe the task. Can you Sky+ that for me after you finish the Hoovering? Who hasn’t said that to their wife?

A successful brand will also become the default purchase route to those who are in un-familiar territory when making certain purchases. I want an mp3 player, buy iPod. I want a posh watch, get Rolex. I want to take up menstruating, use Tampax.

Now you have created your brand, you have to manage it. This can sometimes be tricky precisely because of us, the consumer. Successful brands by being aspirational in nature are always at the risk of being associated with the wrong customer. Think about it, these days the only people you see buying Burberry in the UK are Japanese tourists in outlet villages. This is all because ratboys decided they wanted a bit of that check to go on their fake polo tops and baseball caps. Or more recently the heart attack the  Marmite management had when Nick Griffin decided to use the brand in his web-cast. Marmite- the taste of bigotry and racism. Probably not the best tagline but an accurate one. Marmite, like racism, is horrible (my opinion).

Now each great brand will always have a relating product that encompasses the very essence of the parent company values. For BMW it’s the 3 series. Mercedes it’s the E-class and, your guessed it, for Porsche it’s the 911.

I would love to read the brand guidance book that sits somewhere in Stuttgart that will gives  the fine detail on how the Porsche and 911 brands must be controlled. This book will detail everything from the font size and type that must be used in printed material all the way to demanding that each subsequent 911 must have the engine at the rear.

Now the evolution of the 911 brand is an interesting one. Back in the 60’s the car wasn’t a brand. It was just a sports car. But it set a template for being a usable, rear-engined sports car with a unique feel and look. I would put money on Porsche realising what an important brand it had created when it actually tried to kill the 911 with the 928 and encountered a massive fail. This would have woke Porsche up to what values a 911 must always have i.e. look, placing of engine, usability and feel.

This awakening would have coincided with how branding and product management became much more focused from the 70s onwards. I would wager that the engineers, over the years, that have sat within Porsche would have put many arguments forward about putting the engine in the middle at some point with the 911. If this did ever happen the resulting car would not feel like a 911 or look like a 911. Sales would drop and we would cry. This is why the change from air-cooled to water-cooled was not such a leap of faith. Think about it, how an engine is cooled does not really affect the look or feel of a car but where it is placed most certainly does.

This is a similar story with the Mini and Alec Issigonis . He changed the engineering of compact cars forever. By doing so he created a small, cute, classless and great-handling car. These subjective elements were a by-product of the engineering. Now people always say Alec would be spinning in his grave about the new MINI, and do you know what he probably would. His goals would always have been around packaging, efficiencies and affordability. But what Alec and the po-faced motoring journalists don’t realise is that people buy the new MINI for exactly the same reason as people bought them in the 60s, because it’s classless, cute and handles well.

So who are the mysterious people who understand so acutely how important it is to get the subjective elements of a purchase right? Well it is the people who sit in the marketing departments of each and every company country across the world. Most people at a dinner party would rather sit next to Hitler than a product manager, but not me. I for one love the product managers. It is because of their work that the 911 will always “own” the usable supercar tag and will be with us in looks and feel for many years to come.

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