Monday, June 16, 2008

What if your brand changed, and you couldn't do anything about it?

Smokestacks offer a simple lesson in brand building that the auto giant Hummer is now painfully aware of.

Back in the day, smokestacks stood for progress, job creation and a vibrant economy. They were coveted and wooed by economic developers everywhere. Seeing one go up in your town was a reason to celebrate.

Today, the same exact "product" offers a completely different message. Now the reaction is pollution, global warming, an old fashioned economy.

But the smokestack didn't change. (If anything, it got a little cleaner.) But our perception of it changed 180 degrees.

That's what's happening to the folks at Hummer right now. A few years ago, I drove a corporate Hummer, an H1, for about six months. Bright red. The military style beast, just like this picture. It was considered cool. Arnold Schwarzenegger had one. The fact that it got 9 mpg only bothered a few people. Most people laughed. Hummer sales were robust. It was a profit machine for GM.

Now, GM reports that Hummer sales in May dropped 60% (ouch) from a year ago. The number of people considering Hummer is at an all time low. GM is even openly talking about selling the brand entirely. What a difference a year makes.

Remember, your brand is not what you say it is. It's what the public says it is. And in this case, when it would cost you $128 to fill the Hummer's 32-gallon tank, the public says the brand isn't working for them.