Strong brands are a reward from satisfied customers

by Nigel Hollis | December 06, 2017

On Monday I posted about how Subaru managed to grow  while making industry-leading margins. In pulling together the case study I could not help but reflect that while my attention focused in large part on the advertising there were many factors that led to Subaru’s success, not just an emotionally engaging ad campaign. 

Maybe that is why this interview with Professor John Deighton struck a chord when I read it. The second of his ‘Five Things I Know About Marketing’ states,

“Strong brands are a reward, not a goal. They are what you get for doing everything right other than trying to have a strong brand.”

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Deighton suggests that if growing a strong brand is your objective then you might as well quit now because in all likelihood you are not focused on what really produces satisfied customers, such as product design that keeps ahead of competition, responsive customer service, healthy distributor relationships, and warranties that match claims.

Applying this thinking to the Subaru case study it becomes obvious that advertising was just one reason for the brand’s success. When it launched the Outback was a pretty radical offering, touted as “The World’s First Sport Utility Wagon”. For those interested in all-wheel drive, reliability and versatility it lived up to its promises. 'Consumer Reports Annual Owner Satisfaction Survey' released in 2016 ranked Tesla number one, but followed by Porsche, Audi and Subaru, that’s pretty good company to be in.

Then there was the fact that the company adjusted its product pricing down the year before the Great Recession. And the fact that they focused on improving the dealer experience. Today Subaru is the process of improving service capabilities but this time to meet expanded demand. Tom Doll, Subaru of America’s CEO, explains the Fixed Operations Expansion as follows,

"We have sold so many cars we do not have the service structure at our retailers to handle all the vehicles coming back."

Last but not least is the question of whether Subaru helped create the demand for crossovers or whether it was simply well-positioned to take advantage of a shift in demand.

Yes, there is definitely more to Subaru’s brand success than just advertising. So what role did the advertising play? It helped amplify what the brand stood for and build affinity for the brand, but without getting the fundamentals right the advertising would have achieved little. So do you agree with Professor Deighton? Please share your thoughts.

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