By Dan Sherman
31,330,000,000. That’s the dollar value on Toyota’s brand equity. The funny-looking “T” ranks #8 on brand valuation authority Interbrand’s 2009 scoreboard. Brand is a powerful entity, and automotive companies are all over the Interbrand list.
Millenials, in particular, worship brand. Take our music, for instance. Echo Boomers turned hip-hop’s vocal political roots into expressions of consumerist aspiration. Generation X may have brought about Public Enemy, but my peers popularize a guy who calls himself “Gucci Mane.”
Today’s automotive market is saturated by an oligopoly of several powerful brands jockeying for position, one step at a time. But let’s step outside the box for a moment. What if a powerful non-automotive brand entered the limelight? Cross-branding could be the key to the hearts and minds of millions of upcoming car buyers.
Generation Y loves technology; this is fact. Few things are more amusing than witnessing a sorority girl literally bump into a friend on campus while staring at her iPhone. If we hold such favorable opinions of top tech brands like Apple and Google, maybe they should get involved in our cars? Microsoft is already attempting this at a small scale by overtly putting its name on SYNC, an innovative infotainment system in Ford-Lincoln-Mercury vehicles which can wirelessly operate mobile phones by voice command.
Now consider a giant leap forward: Apple or Google branded cars. I conducted an informal survey of my 20-something year old colleagues to gauge reception to the idea. In this hypothetical situation Apple or Google would probably need the help of an established automaker for engineering and manufacturing, but let’s face it—few Echo Boomers know that the Scion brand is actually produced by Toyota. I intentionally left the question of “who really makes it?” absent from my poll.
Over 50% of my interviewees consider Apple or Google auto branding a “positive” compared to traditional car brands. They cite two key reasons: trust and innovation. Even a close car geek friend expressed that “Apple and Google would do things RIGHT. Things would actually work.” An Apple or Google emblem automatically implies innovation; Echo Boomers would expect “cool new ideas for the car” and that these cars be more “technologically focused” than others. Execution, though, is vital. Lack reliability, creativity or innovation in an Apple-branded car would negatively impact brand image of iPods.
About 25% of my interviewees deem Apple or Google branding to have a “neutral” influence on their automobile buying preferences, and 20% regard it a “negative.” Echo Boomers in the former crowd don’t believe that technology quality would necessarily translate into the automotive sector. The latter bunch either dislikes the example companies I mentioned or thinks that “they should stick to CPUs.”
Cross-branding between automobiles and prominent technology companies has major potential with the Millenial demographic. Despite inherent risks, beloved brands like Apple and Google would be wise to get involved in the autos. Hyundai announced it will sell its flagship Equus with a preloaded iPad in lieu of a conventional owner’s manual, certainly a small step in the right direction for Apple. Wake up and smell the opportunity, tech brands! You have the power to seriously shake up the natural order of the automotive industry.
Don’t you want to walk into a dealership and test drive the new Google?