Business Eye: Where the brand is king

Alex Pratt
Alex Pratt

In the mid-1980’s Chrysler and Mitsubishi formed a joint venture to build a new sports car, which Chrysler called Plymouth Laser and the Japanese dubbed Mitsubishi Eclipse.

Everything about the cars was identical save the name badge, yet the Mitsubishi outsold the Plymouth by over 50% and by 1994 were able to ask 25% more for the same car.

What’s more, complaints about the Plymouth were six times higher than for the Mitsubishi.

The Plymouth was withdrawn from sale and the Eclipse went on to have a much longer profitable life.

This phenomenon is not restricted to cars, it applies to everything we buy.

Our purchasing choices are deeply rooted in strong convictions about products which are far from rational, so must be emotional in essence.

It might not be obvious that we buy everything from chocolate to computers on the basis of how an association with the brand makes us feel, rather than the product specification that we use to defend these choices, but we do.

Of course, in the not so old days, reaching customers was mainly about getting the location, location, location right.

It mattered where you were on the High Street, which hall your stand was in at the trade show, and which road your petrol station was situated on.

Indeed, if your business relies on catching this traffic, location is still very important and Waitrose will have gone to huge lengths to make sure it will get the business it needs before opening in Aylesbury.

On the other hand, with the rise of the internet and high speed broadband access, so much of what we now buy is non-location specific and the businesses that supply us like Amazon, choose their locations on logistics grounds.

This all means that in today’s uber-noisy marketing world where we each receive upwards of eighteen thousand marketing messages a day; the most powerful business mantra is now brand, brand, brand.

Far from killing off the brand as predicted in the 90’s, the web has turned it into the killer App as consumers struggle to find products which don’t just do what they say on the tin but also make them feel better about themselves.

Some companies get it so right their customers even tattoo their name on their bodies; think Harley Davidson.

As Goethe opined, “What the heart feels today the head will understand tomorrow”.

It is this thinking that underpins purchasing behaviours as much when buying aircraft

engines as a newspaper. Welcome to the brand new world.