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Think Big. Move Fast.

The WSJ today has an article about how hard it is for US auto makers to get “import intenders” to add domestic cars to the consideration set:

Just about every month, CNW Market Research meets with a group of would-be car buyers and plays a trick on them.

Sometimes the company, which specializes in auto sales trends, takes a Toyota Camry, removes any identifying logos, and tells them it’s a new model from one of the U.S.-based auto makers. Or it takes a domestic car and tells them it’s a Toyota or another import make.

Either way, the result is the same. “If they think it’s an American car, the perception of the vehicle falls dramatically,” said Art Spinella, vice president of the Bandon, Ore.-based firm. “Detroit really gets a bum rap in the U.S.”

When I was at AOL we did a similar experiment for search. We took search results from multiple search engines, stripped branding and UI, and asked users what they thought. The marks were pretty even across the board, but when branding was put back, Google was thought to have the best results ever time. PC World found similar results in April.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, there are three phases of adoption for a new consumer technology. In the first phase distribution is paramount, in the second product is paramount, and in the third branding is paramount. Competing on the wrong dimension at the wrong time may not move the needle, as Detroit is discovering.