Plug Into A Solid EV Brand Strategy

The demand for electric vehicle innovations might be the biggest game-changer to hit the automotive industry since its earliest innovations.  In early automotive history, ironically, the advances in internal combustion technology, with the electric starter and growing petroleum infrastructure, replaced electricity as the preferred method of automobile propulsion.  In early 2020, CNET  boasted on the remarkable US lineup of 16 fully electric vehicle brands for the environmentally-conscious consumer.  In 2021, the US lineup promises as many as 75 different fully electric (EV) or plug-in hybrid (PHEV) models.

With so many new brands hitting the marketplace, what brand name strategies will the automobile industry deploy to help their new electric vehicle stand out in a highly-competitive environment? Here are three brand strategies and naming architectures to consider in the fast-evolving EV segment.

DEPLOY A NEW MASTER BRAND STRATEGY FOR MARKETPLACE DISRUPTERS.

Adopters of this bold strategy aim to create brand recognition and traction in an already mature market segment by coming to market with a disruptive product or technology and a whole new brand to build their reputation around.  First to market is one way to establish your vehicle as a disruptor, but originality, revolutionary features, and unique details can also do the trick. Fans of disrupter EV brands are looking to separate from the traditional and identify with innovation, recognition, or “green” brands. They may show their loyalty by waiting months for an innovative brand yet to be released.

Prominent adopters of this strategy are new manufacturers that must establish themselves as a disrupter to stand up to the existing competition. Did you say Tessla or Rivian?  But how could a current automotive company with a well-defined brand reputation benefit from this same disrupter brand strategy?  By creating a whole new master brand that is entirely different and separate from their current brand.

Take, for example, the launch of Lexus, the luxury vehicles manufactured by Toyota Motors. To be disruptive in a stagnant luxury market, Toyota decided to put all their efforts into developing a new master brand and distribution channels utterly separate from and not overtly associated with the Toyota brand. Lexus now fully competes with the older established luxury master brands of Mercedes, BMW, and the like. Could they have had this same success level if they had marketed these vehicles with the Toyota brand from a Toyota dealership?

As Thomas Jefferson taught us, “with great risk comes great reward.” So what are the risks and rewards? Funding new marketing and distribution channels are costly.  If an existing manufacturer owns the new master brand, there are essential tactics to consider when defining separation lines, as the existing brand may have much positive equity. Pride and internal management challenges may come into play.  As for the reward, successful deployment of this brand strategy offers these industry disrupters a tremendous opportunity for owning a significant market share.

LEVERAGE A POPULAR BRAND WITH A BRAND EXTENSION.   

The benefits of this strategy are obvious. Benefit from existing capital of an already popular sub-brand.  Consider, for example, the Ford Mustang, which carries a considerable brand awareness and loyal customer following.  Launching the Mustang Mach-E as a sub-brand to the Mustang is a way for Ford to expand their product offering to an already loyal customer following and hold on to those fans that may feel the pull to consider innovation.

But heed William Shakespeare’s warning, “can one desire too much of a good thing?” Adopters of this brand strategy should be cautious of diluting brand equity, creating brand confusion. In trying to appeal to a market too broad, a car company may confuse and lose its current successful association and alienate loyal customers.

What are some potential obstacles for Ford’s Mach-E extension of the Mustang brand? Since its introduction in 1964, the Mustang brand holds its status in consumers’ minds as a quintessential American muscle car. Mustang has introduced numerous iconic brand extensions, including Mustang BOSS, Mustang Bullitt, Mustang Mach I and Mach II, Mustang Cobra, and recently exalted on the silver screen – the Shelby Mustang. That’s much significant leverage from one brand and not very risky strategies, as all of these extensions easily fit with the muscle car association. The Mach-E is an altogether different and riskier strategy, moving the iconic Mustang brand name into an EV marketplace with a new set of attributes that don’t quite match up with the association the Mustang has maintained since 1964. So, what does this mean for Ford?  Only time will tell. Maybe Ford can successfully convince Steve McQueen to give up his Mustang Bullitt for a Mustang Mach-E.

IF YOU RULED OUT THE FIRST TWO STRATEGIES, CREATE A NEW SUB-BRAND IN A MASTER BRAND OF VEHICLES.

The new sub-brand strategy appears to be the popular trend in the industry.  When done correctly, this strategy can appear to be the best of both worlds, creating a standout new brand associated with an established and successful master brand.  An example of this is Porsche’s Taycan brand.  The name feels like the popular Cayenne and Macan, associating with established awareness of class and performance while at the same time establishing itself as a wholly new brand.

The challenge of this strategy is in picking the “right” name.  A new sub-brand must have familiarity with the master brand.  It must also be memorable, distinguishable and convey the characteristics of the product.  And of course, there are essential linguistics considerations if you’re going to market the vehicle globally. Be sure to utilize a well-thought-out brand naming methodology to develop a sub-brand name that appeals to the market, matches the EV industry, and blends with the existing master brand.