Posts tagged ‘brand equity’


How will Chevrolet go down in Korea?

25.01.2011

Last week, GM announced it would drop the Daewoo marque, as it has done through Europe, in its native Korea, in favour of Chevrolet.
   The company will also be renamed GM Korea, a name it once had nearly four decades ago.
   While most will think this makes sense, so GM can concentrate on unifying its Chevrolet brand globally, I have to play devil’s advocate.
   We know that GM opted to use Buick as its first brand in China in the Communist era because it had generated a lot of goodwill prewar. And it worked: Chinese people, somehow, knew that Buick was a quality brand, even though there were very few cars in China in the 1930s. In the 1990s, 60 years on, Buick sold pretty much everything it made through its joint ventures in China.
   This might be due to Chinese people valuing history and a sense of brand loyalty in an era where foreign brands were still fairly new in the People’s Republic.
   What about Korea? Of course, South Korea is no stranger to brands and consumerism, but where does Chevrolet fit? Is it as well placed as Daewoo, which has seen years of financial disgrace as a car company?
   If we took the Chinese experience, then we might look at the last car GM sold as a Chevy in the Korean market:

Image:Chevrolet_1700_Wagon.jpgChevrolet 1700. 1972–8 (prod. 8,105). 4-door sedan, 5-door wagon. F/R, 1698 cm³ (4 cyl. CIH). Holden Torana (LJ), made by Saehan of Korea. Essentially a facsimile of the Australian original, but for an unusual station wagon model that looked more like an Opel at the back. Robust, but a failure on the Korean market, thanks to a perception that it was thirsty (the oil crisis did not help; Korean engines were generally smaller at this point). In theory replaced by facelifted Camina in 1976, though it ran alongside it.

   Not exactly a success. The supposed successor, the Camina, sold even fewer, despite having a smaller engine.
   If Koreans had the same conditions as the Chinese, then this one model sold as a Chevrolet in Korea will instil negative brand associations in the Korean market.
   Daewoo hasn’t exactly had the history of Buick. It emerged as a car marque only in the 1980s, taking over from Saehan, so it may well be disposable. It’s also not like Datsun of Japan, which had plenty of years established worldwide. Nor is it like other storied GM brands such as Vauxhall and Holden, which are restricted to one country or one region.
   Koreans have also seen major brands such as Goldstar, or Lucky–Goldstar, become the much simpler LG. Walk around Seoul and you see plenty of KFCs and Pizza Huts.
   But there’s still a part of me that says a nation that has very few expatriates might just prefer their locally made cars to have local brands.
   Koreans have a perception that foreign brands invite the tax authorities to investigate you, which is why so few people buy non-Korean cars there. So how will Korean-made and Korean-developed, but foreign-badged, cars go down there?
   It hasn’t been done with rival brands Hyundai, Kia, Ssangyong or Samsung, the latter two having foreign owners.
   GM will have to be careful how Chevrolet is marketed, to ensure that it’s perceived, at least in Korea, as a Korean brand that just happens to have an American home and a French pronunciation. Because if there’s one thing branding can do, it’s to make people overlook the actual country of origin in favour of the perceived one. This is why Japanese giants such as Suntory sell fruit juices in New Zealand as Just Juice, Fresh-Up or Bay Harvest—brands with histories in New Zealand—and we do not see Bill Murray on our airwaves getting lost in translation in a commercial.
   Sure, Daewoo has been owned by GM for years, so every car buff in Korea knows that the name change means nothing. Some of the range—the Alpheon and the Veritas, for instance—hail from China and Australia. But the everyday person in the street might be a bit more comfortable buying a Daewoo Alpheon than a Chevrolet Alpheon—because no one really wants the revenuers sending a letter saying they’re going to be audited.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, marketing, New Zealand, USA | 3 Comments »


Users upset over YouTube–Google linking, and is Google showing greater bias in results?

12.01.2011

I found out a day after many netizens: Google is now forcing all YouTube account holders to merge their accounts with their Google ones.
   As part of my de-Googling, I won’t be following suit. Instead, I plan to stay logged out of YouTube: it makes very little difference to me.
   So I won’t be able to comment or like a video—not the end of the world. In fact, I imagine I could very easily comment on videos on a blog and get any possible frustration I have out of my system that way. YouTube is still letting non-account holders embed. And I’m not really a YouTube video uploader: I can always go on Vimeo if I were that keen, or use SmugMug, which was in the digital photo-storage game long before Flickr, and which now hosts videos, too.
   I felt very sympathetic when I found that there were people far more pissed off about this development than I am. The only news outlet to have reported on the compulsory linking that I could find, Brandchannel, has scores of unhappy users who are commenting that the move has even locked them out of YouTube. Others are concerned about their privacy, with good reason.
   Looks like Google still hasn’t learned about user choices after the débâcles last year over Buzz and the other services it offers. If anything, it seems to be getting worse.

Remember, too, how Google has stated on numerous occasions that it would not bias search results? Consider this: I wanted to search for an old post of mine so I could link it from the above text. The term: Google Buzz “de-Googling”.
   On Duck Duck Go, I found the post immediately:

Duck Duck Go search

   Out of interest, on Google, it cannot be seen: only positive things are mentioned and Google Buzz itself is the first result.

Google search

   I know I have done more obscure tests to show that Google’s results are getting less precise. But the above is interesting.
   It backs up an earlier article I read online about how Google treats search results, and that there is actually some bias in the system now.
   I don’t begrudge Google for doing this, but it needs to stop saying that it doesn’t. We all know that it was quite happy to engage in censorship when it had Google China, already making its brand less idealistic than it once was.
   Having set this precedent and created this brand association, it’s easy to believe that it now does this quite selectively for a lot more countries.
   You might say that my one search is not a sign of bias, merely one where Google has a less than comprehensive search index and it could not find three old blog entries that have been around for a while. And which it used to be able to find.
   It’s quite a coincidence that three negative posts about Google are no longer easily found with the relevant search terms.
   That’s not great news for Google, either.
   Duck Duck Go is looking better by the day as the Google search engine, the one service to which its brand is tied, gets less precise.

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Posted in branding, business, China, internet, media, technology, USA | 1 Comment »


Johnny Foreigner might be better at running a car company in Shanghai

12.12.2010

As I made links for the last post, I noticed there were a lot of comments on AROnline about the replacement for the Roewe 750, the Chinese car that is based on the old Rover 75.
   The replacement will be on the Opel Insignia platform, owned by GM. It’s been followed by a lot of cries that are all too familiar to me.
   Most of them are saying that MG is dead, and has been for a long time, underpinned with the sentiment of ‘How dare the Chinese put this car on an American platform?’
   They ignore that some of the design is still done by a British firm and while the physical British input into the next generation of Roewe and MG cars’ production is much more limited than what we see at Jaguar and Land Rover—or, for that matter, Nissan, Toyota, Honda et al—unlike the Japanese brands, the MGs will, at least, continue to bear a brand steeped in British tradition.
   Many brands are not owned by a company incorporated in the country of their founders, and while I often make my choices based on the parent company, the majority of people do not care.
   The comments also seem rather unfair and steeped in some cry of Yellow Peril.
   I wrote on the site, in response to some of them:

   Brands have, for nearly as long as the motoring industry has been around, been acquired by different groups. Are current Vauxhalls “true” British Vauxhalls, because they really haven’t been since GM bought the place in 1925? From the 1930s, Bedfords went on to Chevrolet platforms, yet history does not seem to judge them as harshly as some of us are doing above. They are not the ‘American Bedfords’ or the ‘faux Bedfords’.
   As the world changes, it is only natural that some of these brands will be acquired by countries that do not share the same heritage as Great Britain. As far as I can see, Tata seems to escape the same level of hostility because India was once part of the mighty Empah. As India becomes more confident, and in, say, 2025 when all Jaguar platforms are exclusively engineered there with the help of a non-British car maker (platform-sharing is just as inevitable in the luxury sector), will they be met with the same criticism?
   This is the real world: globalized, with car manufacturers turning to low-cost options where possible. We are connected with internet and intranets. And SAIC is simply leading when it comes to taking an American-owned platform engineered in Germany and putting the ‘Made in China’ stamp on it. Occidental manufacturers have been doing it for years: as Climbsyke points out, Rover did it with Honda platforms …
   Yet we continue to be drawn to these models not because of their Japanese roots, but because they have some connection to the brand, which stirs our emotions. Some of them had the lion’s share of work done in Japan, not Britain, yet that, too, is conveniently overlooked. No one ever mentions the war (which I will now, and China was one of the Allies).
   While some Red Chinese manufacturers are turning out junk that would not get past injunctions waged around intellectual property issues, at least SAIC has some awareness of the history of MG and is willing to acknowledge it. With Roewe, never mind the pastiche-British marketing that it indulges in for the domestic market where these cars are mainly sold; I’m confident that the Shangaiese are more savvy than many of us are giving them credit. An MG is an MG, regardless of the ethnicity of the parent, and regardless of the shouts of the Yellow Peril, as long as its brand values are somehow incorporated.

   What may well happen is that SAIC, MG’s parent, will build up some cash by selling mass-market models, which are, incidentally, doing very well inside Red China.
   Then as the Chinese demand for them takes off (as it is beginning to), it will release a sports car.
   It should rightly concentrate on its domestic market first, and in recessionary times, working on a specialist sports car while the demand is not there just seems foolish.
   When such a sports car arrives, I wonder if the same critics will be there to shout how un-British it is—even if SAIC has to stick it on a Volkswagen platform.
   In my mind, these cars are no more and no less British than the Honda-based models that kept the MG and Rover brands going through the 1980s and 1990s, and it’s inevitable that more unlikely platform- and engine-sharing will happen. Now that the wave of consolidation has ended—Ford and Mazda have announced they are going their separate ways now—you may see very unlikely alliances indeed as the industry deals with supply and margin issues.
   There have already been rumblings about Mercedes-Benz cooperation with Aston Martin; Volvo must look somewhere for a large-car platform if Geely wants to turn it into an even more upscale brand within China; and all sorts of rumours about the platform for the forthcoming Saab 9-2 have been bandied about.
   Given Britain’s own failure in managing its car industry, cries that stick it to Johnny Foreigner have a sour grapes’ tinge to them, but, then, one sees it from the Foreign Office in fact or in fiction:

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Posted in branding, business, cars, China, culture, design, interests, marketing, Sweden, TV, UK, USA | No Comments »


Putting a full site feed on a Facebook fan page is not a good idea

29.11.2010

Even though more young women are spending time on Facebook at the exclusion of other sites, last night I decided to stop connecting the Lucire RSS feed in to its Facebook fan page.
   We began the fan page very late, having relied on using a Facebook group. And even then, these were promoted half-heartedly.
   Despite the small numbers on the fan page, the links on Facebook were getting several hundred views each. Non-members were popping by to have a gander as well as those following us.
   That meant we were doing our supporters out of potential hits. And guess who gains? Facebook advertisers.
   Of course, this is only sensible business practice as far as Facebook is concerned. But we decided that we would rather put up links manually and invite readers to come over to our site instead.
   This is not just about making sure our advertisers got a bit more exposure from a few hundred folks.
   For Facebook page members, it means getting the news early. Facebook sometimes took up to two days to import a news item from our feed.
   It also allows viewers to see a post as intended—Facebook’s imported items stripped out the videos.
   In fact, many years ago, we pasted everything in manually and it didn’t do any harm to the growth of Lucire‘s presence on Facebook.
   I don’t know how this will work. Will we get a few more hits as a result, or will Facebook users prefer not to exit the environment of Mr Zuckerberg’s site?
   I believe users will click through, because the Lucire brand can be trusted. They wouldn’t be our fans if they didn’t have some trust in us.
   Feedback is, of course, welcome.

Of course we can see the lack of logic behind putting up posts inside Facebook. It’s a tactic we’ve recommended to clients, because they did not have a strong web presence and Facebook provides the best way in which they can engage with their audiences. But for a publication’s website, it can be a lousy idea.
   New features can hit you one by one, and you go along with their introduction, sometimes out of enthusiasm. Really, we should have kept our brains switched on, and remember the adage I often repeat: technology is here to serve us, not the other way round. Putting our feed into Facebook was an example of serving the technology: the feature was available and we opted to use it, without any strategic purpose.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, marketing, media, publishing, technology | No Comments »


An ideal surfing camera, and why we love the Saab 9-4X more

20.11.2010

My friend Gareth Rowson is now review editor for WideWorldMag.com (alongside his design practice). Here is his test of the waterproof Oregon Scientific ATC9K Action Camera, filmed while surfing at Vazon in Guernsey. I thought this was very nicely shot.

   Less well shot, but significant, is the official video from Saab USA about its new 9-4X crossover SUV, from the LA Auto Show. I spotted this on YouTube when I went to get Gareth’s video. So nice to see Saab confident and launching new models again—showing that it doesn’t always pay to be part of a larger corporation such as GM. Now part of the Netherlands’ Spyker, Saab seems to rediscovered some of its mojo—and despite the 9-4X not being built in Europe, the public seems to accept it more readily than the Subaru Impreza-based 9-2X and the GMT350-based 9-7X.
   Part of that is down to the 9-4X looking like a Saab and not a facelifted Subaru or Oldsmobile, but there’s probably more than that.

   The 9-4X is still based around a GM architecture—as is the large 9-5—so to call these signs of an Saab free from GM is not terribly fair. It’s even built at a GM plant in México—as the 9-7X was built at a GM plant in the US. You might even say that Saab’s products were beginning to come right under GM, even if it took them long enough—and “getting it right” was probably spurred on by crises, too.
   Our more ready acceptance of the 9-4X probably stems from three things: (a) the loyalty shown by Saab owners around the world when the brand was on its last legs under GM—demonstrating that there was far more life in the brand than the general public was prepared to admit; (b) a company with its back to the wall that was more ready to embrace decent marketing operations; and (c) its readiness to speak to its audiences through web videos and other media, something that it did not do well when it was part of GM. Being free of the negativity of GM doesn’t do the brand any harm, either.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, internet, marketing, Sweden, USA | No Comments »


Toyota’s troubles stem from forgetting its principles

06.02.2010

I was surprised to learn that Toyota still has not issued a worldwide recall of its troublesome Prius NHW30 model, even though one had gone out in New Zealand.
   In layman’s terms, the brakes allegedly don’t work when you want them to. In more complex terms, the software has trouble distinguishing between different types of braking, and drivers may experience a delay in ‘pedal feel’.
   I was always a bit sceptical about the recalls over the unintended acceleration, given that the last time I heard those words, they were in relation to a falsified report from CBS’s 60 Minutes, a show known to me for making up stories (Killian memoranda, anyone?). Hearing them again, I thought it was just another excuse for the clumsy driving of a few individuals who couldn’t figure out where the accelerator was (which was what happened with Audi in the US). But it seems this matter has been around for a long time, and recalls were being done even last year.
   But the Prius matter, something that has not come under a global recall, appears more serious than carpets getting in the way, which is the problem behind the unintended acceleration complaints. AFP reports:

The Transport Ministry has received some 80 complaints in February about malfunctions in the brake system of the latest model of the flagship Prius, the Tokyo Shimbun reported without quoting sources.
   Five of them were actual crashes in which the drivers claimed the brakes did not work properly, the daily said, adding that the ministry would urge the company to launch an investigation.
   It was not possible to immediately confirm the report.

   Already Toyota has been berated by top management for going too far from its core principles by its honorary chairman, Shoichiro Toyoda. The company had been trying to sell big cars in China during the financial crisis, and spent a good part of the 2000s developing large pick-up trucks for the US market. Bloomberg reported last June that a meeting was called:

Shoichiro scolded the president [Katsuaki Watanabe] for being so anxious to boost sales and profits that he’d let Toyota emulate now bankrupt General Motors Corp. and Chrysler LLC. Toyota had become addicted to big, expensive cars and trucks and had forgotten the customers’ need to save money, Shoichiro said, according to the person’s account.

   In other words, Toyota’s culture has been suffering, and we all know what happens when sales’ volume and profit are pursued at the expense of quality or engineering. (Ask Mercedes-Benz.)
   Toyota may be an example where too many niches were created, simply to get consumers in the showrooms—and now that’s coming to bite it on the rear end. Having too many niches has one immediate drawback: consumers no longer understand the structure of the range. Is the small car the iQ, Ist, Vitz, Porte, Belta or Passo? Do I move from that to a Corolla, Auris, Blade, Corolla Rumion, Probox, Raum, RAV4 or wotsis?
   The mistakes are understandable in some ways. Toyota had to create more new models as attention spans shortened. While a car might be able to be presented as “new” for two years in the Japanese market 10 years ago, consumers expect something else within half a year. To fund this appetite, the company looked for ways to maximize profits in every market—with the US one fuelled by bigger and bigger vehicles. It had to take costs out of cars, especially with electronics (by combining as many functions on to one system as possible) and architecture—and it may be these areas where the Prius suffered.
   But no company can really afford to pursue too many niches—Mazda overextended itself in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as did Nissan in the early 1990s—when times are tough. Toyota should have forecast a downturn, as many business experts did. The question that the company needs to ask itself is: what made it so blind in the 2000s?
   Even ignoring the idea of unintended acceleration for now, Toyota ends the lunar year on a low. It will always have its diehard followers—there are many models not affected by these issues—but the company must refocus its brand for the New Year toward its traditional principles. There is every sign the company knows that, with Akio Toyoda, the founder’s grandson, now at the helm, and doing spot checks down on the production floor. (I’d rather Toyota have someone like that than a “celebrity CEO” who gives good press. The era of the celebrity boss is over for now.) It is simply a pity that the company did not get on to its mounting problems—there are claims that unintended acceleration reports began surfacing with Toyota’s Lexus ES model as early as 2004—sooner.
   Few buy a Toyota because the cars make one’s heart beat faster. They are a default choice for many people who want the simplest conveyance from A to B. Akio’s job has been reminding his own team of that, and reinstituting the ‘Toyota Way’ and kaizen, terms that many of us who went to business school during a certain era recall.

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Posted in branding, business, cars, culture, leadership, marketing, media, New Zealand, technology, USA | 4 Comments »


As the 2010s dawn, there’s a vacuum on the internet

06.01.2010

Photo by Elliot TuckerRick Klau’s action today in restoring Vincent’s Social Media Consortium blog got me putting things into perspective.
   We know sites like Blogger and Vox are free, but what happens when they fail?
   Vox, the Six Apart blogging service, had been where I had put my personal posts—as well as a bunch of private ones inaccessible to the general public—for three years. I built up good friendships there, before social networking became everyday.
   Yet when that service failed, I went from Vox evangelist to someone who became acutely aware of the site’s failings. Those who dissed Vox months before I did, and whose complaints I thought little of, suddenly seemed to be visionaries.
   I don’t think things were handled brilliantly. While I was still there and keeping up my rate of complaints about their service being dodgy, I got replies. The minute I left, that was it.
   ‘Phew, we don’t have to talk to that nut again.’
   All the claims about wanting to get to the bottom of the problem suddenly seemed insincere. And it’s worth noting that the bug I experienced—where a compose screen would take between 15 minutes and 48 hours to load—is still present.
   They had lost quite a few users, as I had noted, and it’s obviously something deep within their code.
   The damage had been done.
   Meanwhile, Google hasn’t exactly helped, either. While Vox had me pursuing its problems for six weeks, Google was damaging its brand for six months.
   When Vincent’s blog was first blocked in July, the company promised two-day reviews. These promises were all broken. I’m sure Vincent and I, and many other bloggers who contributed to the Social Media Consortium, would have loved to have known why. As it turned out, the blog’s reviewers agreed with the computer’s decision to render the blog inaccessible, and then to delete it altogether.
   By the time I got to the Google support forums to argue the case in November, there were more broken promises—as well as downright obstruction by someone who probably gets his kicks from it.
   It got me wondering: people who do things in Google’s name aren’t very intelligent, if they can’t grasp some of the basics of their role.
   They were also not particularly courteous or understanding.
   As the frustration grew, things in my world got un-Googled. My Firefox default search engines became Cuil or Bing. I shifted my blogs away, including this one, or simply stopped blogging at Blogger. (The Medinge Group’s press room went to WordPress late last year.) While once upon a time I would recommend Vox, Blogger and WordPress to people depending on their blogging needs, I would only now say, ‘Wordpress’.
   I never was sold on Gmail—and I notice friends are beginning to have problems with that service, including being locked out. People using Gmail to commit fraud and use Lucire’s name were allowed to continue to do so, even after we reported them. Even before this incident, but within the same calendar year, I discovered that Adsense was a load of rubbish.
   All this began making me think: Google has jumped the shark.
   If someone like Google’s Rick Klau—who, if you read his blog, is an incredibly intelligent guy, not to mention an incredibly courteous one—had known of our case earlier, I’m sure we wouldn’t have allowed the Google brand to become so tarnished in our minds.
   Rick fixed things in 24 hours and saved the day as far as the Social Media Consortium was concerned. He’s also given himself a lot of good karma—I’ve seen other blogs he’s gone and restored in the last few days. But it’s a couple of days of Google goodness versus six months of its own brand-wrecking, through either bad service done in its name, bad products, or not having much of a human touch.
   Given that I was one of the first people to use Google in the late 1990s, and abandon AltaVista, Infoseek and the others in its favour, it’s a disappointing end to the 2000s.
   The trust I once might have had for Google has evaporated into the ether. It would be stupid to say that I would never use the company’s services again—you can hardly avoid it—but I’ll be thinking twice about anything new that it introduces.
   The internet leadership vacuum is becoming a reality, because I don’t see Facebook or Twitter dominating (especially not the former, with its questionable practices). And that means a new company can fill the void in the 2010s. It could even be a New Zealand one—or, better still, a Wellington one.
   There’s enough world-class thinking here which can be used as a base. And, if elected this year as Wellington’s mayor, I’d like to build on that and see if we can create an online world-beater.
   I know of a couple of Kiwi ventures already that have world-beating capabilities, currently seeking capital. The “next Google” might be among them, if we can make sure that they can grow the way they should.

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Posted in branding, business, internet, leadership, New Zealand, politics, technology, USA, Wellington | 9 Comments »