I was driving down Interstate 35 yesterday about 2 miles south of downtown Minneapolis. As I looked ahead, something caught my eye. It was in the lane to my right and about 3, maybe 4 cars up.
It was a good looking car.
I hope that doesn’t sound too strange. Remember though, I’m a car nut. I like cool cars. And fast cars. I think it runs in the family. My dad has an enviable legacy of very fast and very cool cars, starting when he was a teenager. I think the pinnacle was his 1969 Mustang Mach 1 which he had customized to race at a local drag strip. It had close to 500 horsepower and topped out at over 140 mph.
Plus, it was great for hauling kids to baseball games and other fatherly activities.
But I digress. Forgive me.
This car that caught my attention had a great look to it. Unique. From the side-rear angle, it reminded of an Aston Martin. So, like I said, it caught my attention.
Naturally I drove up to get a closer look. When I got right next to it I looked over to see what brand it was. What I saw next shocked me.
It was a Buick! (A Buick Lucerne, to be exact.)
I turned away and drove on. My interest in the car left me completely.
I don’t mean to offend the good people at Buick or anyone who drives a Buick. And certainly Buick has built some wonderful cars over the years.
But, my impression of the Buick BRAND is not that of a sexy, sporty or cool car. When I think of Buick I also think of Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Chevrolet. And the cars I picture when I think of these brands are boring, boxy four-door sedans.
I don’t think of cars that remind of an Aston Martin!
This made me think of how powerful brands really are.
The people at Buick would probably scoff at me for being so uninformed, so out of touch with respect to their brand. How could I be so oblivious? Buick has built plenty of cars that are not boxy, boring sedans! Duh!
But that’s not the issue here.
The issue here is that MY IMAGE of Buick is what matters, not theirs.
(When I say "my image" I mean the aggregate market of people who would be potential customers for Buick.)
So, if I were a brand manager or ad exec at Buick, I would take note of a reaction like this. Because if one fairly normal, middle-aged guy in Minneapolis has this reaction, then it’s likely other people would too.
So, why would my image of the Buick brand be so different than what Buick might want it to be? Why would I be so shocked to see a cool looking car with a Buick nameplate?
I call "Brand Karma".
It’s my accumulated exposures to the products and images Buick has produced over the course of my life. Because over many, many years, Buick has produced cars and advertising that have been dominated by boring, boxy family-type cars, that’s what their brand karma is for me.
So, while I don’t doubt they can (and do) build a fun or fast or sexy car, I don’t necessarily EXPECT it. Their brand tells me to expect something else. When I don’t get what I expect, I am surprised.
The big problem here is the inconsistency. Buick has created one type of image over many decades. And now they throw a sexy, sporty, Euro-styled car at me. It’s not consistent with the majority of what they have produced over the years. It does not fit their image.
The bottom line is they need to re-tool their brand so it allows for a wider range of cars.
I doubt Buick will ever abandon their sturdy, practical (and boring) cars. Why should they? But if they also want to be known for cars with flair, then their brand needs to reflect that. It needs to let people know that Buick can do both well.
This shows how powerful brands really are. They’re shockingly powerful. Once something is embedded in our memories, it can be awfully hard to change it.
So, we should keep this in mind as we build and manage our own brands.
If we build a positive brand that people feel good about, it can pay dividends for years. But, if we allow our brand to develop a negative karma, then it could damage our business for years.
Take a look at your brand. Do you have a good idea what people think of your company? Do you know what image they have in their brains when your company or product is mentioned?
If not, then you should find out. Talk to people who do business with you or your competitors. Find ways to get inside their heads to learn what they honestly think of your business.
Then you can take steps to either affirm your current image (if it’s what you want) or change it. Decide for yourself what image you want your company to have and then take steps to make it a reality in the eyes of your market.