Just when Jaguar thought things could not get any worse for the brand, the results of the annual JD Power & Associates 2009 Vehicle Dependability Study were revealed.
It is based on the reliability of three-year-old US vehicles, but is widely accepted as the world's most influential study on automotive dependability and build quality.
Much to many people's surprise, Jaguar finished top. For its marketers, the news could not be any more challenging.
It has been something of a tradition for Lexus to claim the number-one berth in the study. So imagine the shock this year when Toyota's luxury brand fell to third place while Jaguar rose from 10th in 2008 to top spot.
While this is a significant achievement for the engineers at Jaguar, it lays down a notoriously difficult gauntlet for the company's marketers.
Its cars may now officially be the most reliable in the world, but this is not the way it is often viewed. Feel free to test out this contention by turning to a colleague and asking them to name the world's most reliable car. I would guess that they are not going to say Jaguar in 1000 years. Now, observe the look on their face when you inform them that the correct answer is, in fact, Jaguar. That look is the difference between product reality and brand perception.
If this were a blog post for Engineering Week – and let us pause to thank the great god of marketing that it is not – I would suggest that Jaguar's proven product reliability will quickly over-come its reputation and usher in a new era of magnificent sales success. Alas, the consumer-oriented world that marketers inhabit is so much more complex than that. Unlike the neat objective rankings of the JD Power survey, everything in the consumer's world is viewed through the thick and translucent lens of subjectivity.
Strong brand equity can help twist perception in your favour. But decades of negative stories and consumer testimonials about Jaguar's unreliability mean that no matter how many times it runs ads proclaiming its newly proven dependability, many consumers will still dismiss the brand from their consideration set for its perceived under-performance in this area.
Some brands never manage to overcome their perceptual baggage, despite hard product evidence to the contrary. Take Guinness, for example – you may be surprised to learn that despite its heavy, filling reputation, a pint of the black stuff actually has fewer calories than Heineken, Stella Artois or even a pint of skimmed milk. Not surprisingly, Guinness owners Diageo have made several attempts to communicate this to consumers but with no success whatsoever. Turn back to your colleague (who is still looking bemused about Jaguar) and ask them which has more calories, skimmed milk or Guinness. You'll get that look again.
Jaguar's real work is still to be done. Getting a wonky car to perform reliably is no small feat, but removing the associations of wonkiness from the brand equity is in a different league.
In many cases, consumers possess inherited brand perceptions that are actually older than they are. Some consumers, for example, have had Jaguar's reputation for unreliability passed down to them by their parents. That is why brands are so much more complex and enduring than the products that contribute to their equity. It is also the reason why a good marketer is worth considerably more than a good engineer… but don't tell Engineering Week I said that.
Courtesy of Marketing Magazine
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