Compromising the brand – two examples

Recently I’ve observed a couple of companies who should be more careful in maintaining their brand and the attributes that differentiate them from competition. One, Kia, is now marketing a “premium” automobile. The other, Whole Foods, wants to dispel their high-price image.

Aspiring up or down can be difficultBoth will experience big problems in their respective efforts.

It’s so hard to change a brand perception, even with large budgets and aggressive activity. One of the great benefits of a strong brand is that it’s difficult to dislodge it from the minds of people exposed to its communications and promotions.

So Kia has been the low-priced darling of many a satisfied customer. The brand wedged into the market as economy transportation and will remain in that position in the minds of affluent car buyers who have multiple choices, most which have built solid premium reputations over time. And several – Toyota, Nisson and Honda – created new brands to encroach upon the German-led luxury monopoly. So will Kia penetrate the high-end market on the basis of a quality product and a little lower price? I think not. I think the mind set of those able to afford expensive cars will stick with the models offering traditional prestige. Sorry, Kia.

As for Whole Foods, their reputation for quality, natural and exotic foods overrides any other image in the minds of customers and prospects. And those differentiators equate to higher prices. What’s more, there’s a hard core band of customers who are more than willing to pay higher prices – and brag about it.  If Whole Foods strays away from its base it’s likely to alienate a percentage of their customer base. Even though Whole Foods claims they will not sacrifice their approach to merchandise, an emphasis on competing with the corner super market will take some of the mystique from shopping at Whole Foods.

So you have two companies, one aspiring to a more affluent market, the other to a more mass market. Both are motivated by pressures to grow and believing that the way to do so is to tap markets at one or the other end of their existing customer base.

Both are heading into that abyss typified by the Chevrolet in attempting to be everything for everybody and ending up being an undifferentiated, so-so transportation commodity. Tom Peters said it best: “nobody aspires to a Chevrolet”.

Martin Jelsema

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