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Using Analogies to Carry Out a Case Study

Like antelope on the Savannah, if your organization falls behind, it’ll get eaten. In the wild, the only advantage to being the fastest or most agile in the herd is that you’re faster than what’s chasing you. In business there are myriads benefits to being the quickest and most nimble in your industry. But can your organization still thrive even if you’re running behind first place? At what point does the market catch up to its prey like a straggling wildebeest? Let’s dive into the branding case study.

The Cheetah: Tesla Roadster

Electric cars have been around for a while; we even drove one around the moon in 1972. How does a company come along 124 years after the first electric car and jump to the head of the pack? First, they did it by being sexy. Before the Tesla Roadster came along, electric cars were ugly stereotypes.

Tesla shot out of the gate with a sleek sports car. The design commanded attention, but also proved a highway-capable electric car was viable in the U.S. market. Tesla set out to tackle some of the biggest problems with electric cars up to that point. They invested heavily in their supercharger network so that as of 2014 it was possible to drive coast-to-coast in a Model S. They focused on one of the biggest costs of electric cars: the battery. Tesla developed batteries that are cheaper and lighter than other automakers.

Tesla took an existing concept that no one took seriously and reinvented it. The new spin on electric cars caught on with the public. And they didn’t stop there. They are redefining the car-selling model by selling directly to consumers. Their innovation, design and exclusivity made the electric car cool. Their next move is to increase the range of their vehicles and introduce lower cost models. This will to extend their reach into the market segment that the antelope currently leads.

The Antelope: Nissan Leaf

Nissan launched the Leaf two years after the Tesla Roadster started rolling off the assembly lines. Tesla made its electric car sexy and cutting edge. Nissan saw an opportunity to cash in on the Tesla hype through offering a lower price point. Tesla made a lot of people want to get into electric cars, but not all of them have $90,000 to spend. Nissan followed Tesla into the market with a vehicle price at a third of the Model S price.

At a third of the cost, the Leaf literally delivered a third of the features you could get with Tesla’s Model S. Still, even though it was not as flashy, the Leaf appealed to the masses. It’s the best selling all electric vehicle ever in the U.S. Rather than highlighting cutting edge innovation, Nissan convinced customers the Leaf is just another car.

An important note on being second: Nissan can’t get comfortable now. They need to continue innovating and should expect Tesla to launch a model in the Leaf price range. Although Nissan sells way more electric vehicles than Tesla today, they’re not challenging the industry. Bigger picture reinvention is what creates tomorrow’s markets. Failure to chart a new path means falling behind. Falling behind means the hungry market will swallow you up. Let’s finish by looking at a brand that drove itself to extinction (pun!).

The Water Buffalo: GM Hummer

This beast charged into the civilian market in 1992. GM rode on patriotic fervor after Desert Storm and images of Arnold Schwarzenegger driving one. It was a great moment. The original Hummer became an icon for America and GM. After a while it became an impressive status symbol and GM decided to diversify the Hummer line after 1999. The H2 and H3 models drove increasing sales through 2006.

However, the Hummer succeeded purely on marketing. As a product, the H2 was terrible. The model didn’t offer you anything you couldn’t get from any other SUV. It was twice the price and gave you half the mileage. GM continued to promote the Hummer brand even as gas prices rose in the early 2000s. It’s interesting to ponder what might have happened if this vehicle had gone electric.

In 2006 they introduced the H3, the smallest Hummer yet, but it was under-powered and achieved only 15 mpg. This was a time when Toyota and Honda already had hybrids on the market for several years and Ford introduced a hybrid SUV in 2005. The Great Recession sealed the fate of the Hummer. Sales plummeted 95% between 2006 and 2010. GM announced it would discontinue the Hummer brand after several failed attempts to sell it off.

Moral of the Story

While it’s great to be an industry-maker, don’t get down on yourself if you’re not. If you left the gate slowly, it doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. Through innovation and clever positioning, you can gain ground on market leaders and become one yourself. Just remember no organization, company or brand is immune to getting devoured. Do you want a brand partner to work alongside you and keep you in step with or ahead of the pack? Contact us today.


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