Maruti or Suzuki or Nexa or S Cross: killing two birds with one arrow is bad strategy

First came the teaser campaign on television which left audience to wonder what Nexa is. The ad campaign used ambiguity route to creating curiosity to capture attention in otherwise highly cluttered communication scene. These were sleek and finely executed and managed indeed to build expectations that something premium is being launched. The clues that made up the ad- words like ‘feeling’, ‘joyous’, ‘amazing’, ‘pure’, ‘indulgence’, and ‘exclusive’ coupled with visuals of fast moving light, finely cut suit, smart men, expensive watch, trimmed beard, close up of eyes, and expensive box (probably containing keys)- did manage to create an impression of upscale and out of the ordinary. But it was not a campaign for car, as one thought initially. Rather it was campaign of a new car showroom.
The company, Maruti Suzuki launched new branded showrooms with proposition – ‘new hospitality experience’. The purpose is to sell high end vehicles though these Nexa showrooms. The company claims to have hired staff with experience in hospitality and aviation with the focus that these sectors equip their people to deal with wealth customers with high soft and communication skills.
The bread-and-butter Altos and Swifts won’t be retailed at these outlets. The NEXA-branded showrooms will try attracting customers looking to buy vehicles priced Rs 8 lakh and above.
The showroom ads were followed by the launch of X Cross, cross sports utility vehicle. The car is designed to have looks and style distinctively different from its current range. And its print communication reminds of ads of Mercedes Benz (may be due to similarity in font) and ad format.
This twin salvo is aimed to help the company shed its dilute its image of mass car producer to move up the price point. The company has already experienced failures in its earlier attempts to move up the car hierarchy with variants like SX4, Balneno and Kizashi. To undo what it did in past the company the company is seeking to produce high end cars with greater engineering, performance and appearance coupled with new branded channel of distribution (superior in store experience).
In supposedly an innovative way, the company is seeking to reach out the premium customers with premium branded showroom experience. The question arises, is this actually a right move to cater to a segment which earlier refused to patronize Maruti Suzuki’s premium vehicles? And was this rejection based on lack of availability of ‘branded showrooms’ and ‘hospitality experience’?


The ads of S Cross which zoom in on a swanky finely crafted car to reveal its identity through ‘S’ letter on the grill comes as an anti-climax. The hype build by Next and cleaver maneuvering of camera in introducing the vehicle does what it is not suppose to achieve- it is an “S” or ‘M’ car. It should have been a ‘N’ car distantly related to Maruti-Suzuki. But ‘S’ on the grill makes is closer to ‘M’ which is what led to rejection of company’s premium entries. The customers did not reject Maruti’s premium cars on the grounds of their performance. The rejection was due to imagery and perception.


Nexa, different exclusive branded showrooms is a good attempt to physical separation of customers and brands-mass and premium. But car branding reverses it. The premium segment play is certainly about performance, but it only operates at hygiene level. The motivation operates at the psychological level. The most important reason to buy a premium product/brand is to achieve distance from the mass- at psychological level. But ‘S’ and ‘M’ on the premium offerings of Maruti-Suzuki would continue to hound it like an invisible ghost. The lure to leverage brand equity directly sometimes proves fatal, the Company should have learnt it long time back.

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Modi, Kejriwal, Delhi Elections and Brand Positioning

Most common understanding about positioning is distilled in the phrase, ‘it is about creating an image’. But critical to positioning is also an equally powerful consideration that involves deciding who do we want our brand to compete against.  Positioning is about defining your competition. Inherent in this process is the concept of categories or categorization.

Consider a situation. Suppose a severe earthquake has rattled a house.  As result the contents of its refrigerator have fallen on the floor, littered all over and mixed up.  The challenge you face is to place them back. Are you going to place them one by one next to each other depending upon which you are able to grab first? So first comes a tomato followed by egg, fish, honey, eye drops, cauliflower, water bottle, chicken, sauce, milk and so on. Or your placement would follow a classification or categorization scheme? Things are likely to be placed in categories and you will put them in different places or compartments like bottles, vegetables, meats, and drugs. The concept of category is based on perceived similarity. Similar items are placed within a category. Hence they belong to a space.

Like items stored in a refrigerator, the mind also stores a pattern in storing available brands. A brand is likely to be placed in a category if it is perceived similar (POP) to important or prototypical category dimensions (like different vegetables are similar in their character). Depending upon where a brand gets placed determines its competition. So cauliflower competes with cabbage, beans, potato, turnip and lady finger.

In the political space, the mind has its own categorization scheme of politicians. These categories include honest and dishonest, BJP and Congress, Lok Sabha and Rajya  Sabha, UP and  Bihar, men and women. Another important way  of  classification is Member of Parliament, state legislature, municipal level. Each category has its inhabitants and thus competition. Modi has been a state CM but his ability to cross over to national level into the category of PM lay in a careful strategy of relating and comparing himself with  PM (Manmohan Singh instead of with other CMs. Recall his direct attack on Congress’s possible PM candidates like Rahul, Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh. He even directly addressed the nation on August 15. What did this result in? It amounted to a category jump from CM to PM.

Kejriwal’s rise to a higher position/category as a competing brand with Modi is partly caused by BJP’s strategy to running a campaign with Modi and his development agenda as a ‘core proposition’ and down playing its leaders at the state level. Further, a negative campaign on which BJP spent a lot of money and time in pulling down Kejriwal on issues such as bhagoda, bungalow and collaborator with Congress contributed indirectly to his publicity. When PM  Modi makes a direct attack on Kejriwal  they automatically get paired in a competitive situation. It is something like a big brand like Apple attacking a small newcomer phone brand like Intex. This is likely to benefit the attacked brand. Remember how Micromax and ‘ i can’ campaign  resulted in linking it with iPhone. In Delhi, BJP is responsible for pitching Modi against Kejriwal. Last time it was between Harsh Vardhan and Kejriwal. The catapulting of Kejriwal to a direct head on engagement with  PM Modi  is an exact replay  of what Modi did prior to the national elections.

Notwithstanding how many claims are made by the BJP that it is not a fight between Modi and Kejriwal, the bracketing of the two in the same category sends signals to the contrary. Positioning is a game of perceptions not reality and perceptions tend to be stubbornly averse to change.

Brand, Emotions and Affective Blindness

Marketers wish that their customers were blind and deaf to appeals made by competition. None of the tools in marketer’s arsenal can physically ‘switch off’ two of the most important gateways of perception. The problem is further compounded by ‘pro competition’ polices which seek to neutralize attempts of firms to monopolize the market. The challenge is not to find solution through structural alteration but work it out through consumer mind space.  This is precisely great brands seek to create. Branding in this sense is about developing ‘competition proof’ and ‘competition immune’ brands.

Consider some of the brand in identity building space like Rolex, Mont Blanc, Louis Vuitton and Burberry. The fierce fanatic like desire or pull that they create simply cannot be explained by the application of rationality. Then the essential question is what lies at their heart and what defines their soul. The emotional outburst and consequent surge of the urge suspends reason in animation making people behave in trance like manner. Otherwise how could a time keeping device or a trunk command such mind boggling prices?

The cognitive school explains consumer behavior through a hierarchy comprising of cognition leads to affect which mediate behavior. This was challenged affect based choice model which proposed that emotion affect behavior directly and is a different processing system.  Emotions can mediate preference without involving cognition (separate pathway). While the most decisions are based on cognitive processing some may be mediated by emotions unconsciously.

The affect based choice model seeks to explain the role of emotions in choice for self expressive or symbolic products. It is defined by self focus, holistic, non-verbal:

  1. Emotional choices are more about self rather than what is evaluated. The user (trier) is at the center not what is used (tried). Consider trying a Chanel shade. The choice is base on the imagination of how the person appears. Emotional judgments are self involving the focus in on the person.
  2. Emotional choices are marked by an ‘overall’ impression rather than analysis of individual attributes. The overall preference for a Rolex cannot be traced back to its attributes. Feelings cannot be adequately expressed and communicated. You cannot explain what you like a Rolex.
  3. How are emotions communicated? Verbal language cannot capture the essence of emotions therefore non-verbal communication is used. Images are soaked in meaning and their interpretation tends be subconscious and private. Imagine emotions evoked by J&J baby.

The beauty of emotion based choice is that once it is formed it repels reason based evaluations. Emotions can overwhelm reason. One of the critical decisions in branding strategy is to decide brand’s intended perception. By emotionalizing the brand it may be possible to take a jump over cognition and achieve its insulation from the challenges that stems from consumer ‘thinking mind’.