Let me preface this discussion by saying, “I am not a car person.” Four wheels, safe and able to get me where I need to go is really all I ask from any automobile.
That being said, I was recently staying at a lovely hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia. The hotel offered a complementary car and driver as a guest amenity. While nothing during our trip warranted using the car, it seemed like something we should do just to say we did. So on our last day, we requested to be driven the six blocks to our final destination. We stood in front of the hotel awaiting our car and driver. Up pulls…a Bentley.
We got in. We drove six blocks. And as we drove, it occurred to me, the Bentley was just a car. I suppose it was a nice car, but it had four wheels, seemed safe and got me where I needed to go.
Clearly, I’m not the target Bentley customer. But for those that are Bentley traditionalists, the large, luxurious sedans epitomize the ultimate in prestige, quality, design, and excellence. Bentley is a super-luxury brand with a clear point of view and a singular product.
Enter the Bentley SUV, which is scheduled to hit the market in 2015. Like its harbinger, the Porsche Cayenne, the Bentley SUV will mark a drastic departure from the automaker’s traditional offering. And yet Bentley management notes the idea was driven by customer demand, VIP sales representatives fielding requests from current owners for an SUV model.
When the Porsche Cayenne was first introduced ten years ago, there was wide criticism that the luxury manufacturer was abandoning what made it Porsche: sleek, sporty, speedy. To this day, every time I pass a Cayenne on the road I wonder what would compel somebody to purchase one. If you want a Porsche, buy a Porsche. A Porsche is not an SUV.
But I am in the minority. Ten years later, the Cayenne is Porsche’s best selling vehicle. “Cayenne has nearly doubled the Porsche’s sales worldwide (the company sells roughly 60,000 of them each year), and sales may surge an additional 40% by 2017, according to the research firm IHS Automotive.” (Forbes)
Which leads me to wonder how Porsche and (assumingly) Bentley have been able to successfully stretch their brands when other brands have not. Have you ever purchased a McDonald’s lobster roll? A Levi’s suit? Bic underwear?
So what makes Porsche and Bentley different? Why do they have permission to stretch their brands?
- The obvious answer seems to be prestige. Both Porsche and Bentley are aspirational, luxury brands. They highly leverage self-expressive benefits, what does driving the automobile say about the driver. Whether seeing a Cayenne or a Boxster drive down the street, we make similar assumptions about the person driving the car.
- Both brands introduced products with a unifying theme. Bentley went from sedan to SUV, a stretch, but consumers still understand that both products are automobiles. Bentley is an automobile manufacturer. The sedan and the SUV both contain the same Bentley quality under the hood.
- The SUV is in high demand. It is the type of automobile today’s consumers want – Bentley’s customers told it so. And Porsche’s sales figures provide irrefutable supporting data. Both Porsche and Bentley (and Lamborghini and Maserati) recognized this demand and leveraged it to their advantage. There is a clear market for new SUVs - and limited competition for super-luxury SUVs.
- These SUVs follow the consumer’s life cycle. Pardon the generalization, but men are the primary drivers of both a Bentley and a Porsche. Neither brand’s original vehicle was suited for an expanding family. So what does the super-luxury consumer bachelor drive when he becomes a father of four? What does want his wife to drive so he knows his family is safe, traveling in the utmost quality and still reflecting a certain lifestyle? Both Porsche and Bentley grew with their customer base.
Porsche and Bentley have proven their ability to stretch…within reason. How far do you think your brand has permission to go?blog comments powered by Disqus