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Failure to deliver on the Brand Promise; Not us, but just what is NC State’s Brand Promise? (see comments at the bottom)


Interesting piece by Matthew May and Brad Kinney over at Industry Week, deconstructing what is possibly the most interesting — as well as the most impactful — aftershocks of the recent Toyota recalls. That is to say, the emotional reactions of  customers who bought into a Brand Promise made by Toyota that it seems the automaker has failed to deliver.

Mays first lays the groundwork for his argument by referencing a famous marketing innovation story, in this case from another automaker during tough economic times.  I’ve added my own reference to a famous motorcycle manufacturer as well:

  • The idea of perceptual, emotional or otherwise intangible value in business can be traced back to the Great Depression, when Cadillac effectively stopped selling automotive transportation. In the 1930s, Nicholas Dreystadt took over as the company was about to fail and announced that Cadillac did not compete with other automakers, but that “Cadillac competes with diamonds and mink coats. The Cadillac customer does not buy transportation, but status.” That simple perceptual innovation translated to a price premium and saved the company. Within two years Cadillac had become a major growth business despite the dismal economy.
  • Harley-Davidson did something similar in the early-1980s when the company was facing bankruptcy.  CEO Vaughn Beals began to position the company and its motorcycles as a lifestyle rather than a product.  Harley started charging riders $35 a year to join a club that helped them do what they were already doing, riding their Harleys to local dealerships and trading experiences with their buddies.  They created the Harley Owners Group, or HOG as most of us know it.  That move has helped Harley sustain its business through the tough economic times and today more than a million members pay the Motor Company about $75 a year to do what they already do, ride their motorcycles.

According to May, that same perceptual innovation has been used by Toyota over the past decades. What they’ve been selling is not an automobile, but the perception of quality.  Just think back to the introduction of Toyota’s Lexus brand from 1989 to 1999: “The relentless pursuit of perfection!”  So much for perfection.

What is happening to Toyota right now is that the emotional bonds of trust, built over decades, is being eroded by the dramatic scope and scale of their product quality issues. Many people, loyal customers, are feeling betrayed.

Toyota is fighting back with everything possible, but will it be enough?  Time will tell.  The play did work for Harley, but then the company was focusing on lifestyle precisely because of quality problems.   And if Harley-Davidson fails to deliver on the dreams of some of its owners, another dreamer is standing buy to pick up on that dream and make it his or her own.

The bigger question in my mind right now is not about Toyota, Cadillac or Harley.  My question is about the Brand Promise we are making at NC State University.  Do we even have a brand promise?  Do we need a brand promise?  Have we failed to deliver on that promise of late and, if so, how do we win back that trust?

I’ve talked about this before, but I’m still struggling for answers.  Should our Brand Promise be built around the big issues of our time:

  • Producing leaders for the state, nation, and world
  • Energy and the environment
  • Health and well-being
  • Educational innovation across all grade levels
  • Economic development and social equity

Or is this our brand promise built around an emotional connection with our audience(s)?

Well, what is it?  So much to do, so little time.

Passion Rules!

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1 comment

1 Mark Tulbert { 03.08.10 at 8:44 pm }

Nice. I like that.

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