Differentiation. Relevance. Esteem. Knowledge.
Those are what BrandEconomics L.L.C., a New York-based brand management consulting firm, calls ``the pillars of brand health,'' and those are the four consumer dimensions every brand-name product must have in higher degree than its competitors in order to succeed.
Those brand-name products, of course, include tires. Unfortunately, marketers of tires have a harder time achieving the brand positioning they seek than most other product purveyors, according to BrandEconomics Chairman Al Ehrbar.
``One really big problem with tires is that they come with a car,'' Mr. Ehrbar said. ``Most people only buy tires out of necessity, when they wear out, apart from auto enthusiasts. They're not really a discretionary purchase, and they're hard to differentiate.''
So how do tire manufacturers achieve the brand positioning they want?
The answer: any way they can. That can include advertising, promotional materials, consumer education programs, racing, direct mail, the Internet, the occasional guest shot on MTV and even-in the case of Bridgestone/Firestone-creating a new brand, as was the case last year when the tire maker unveiled its Fuzion tire line. ``We use all the media mix available to us,'' said Sheryl Henderson, director, Michelin brand for Michelin Americas Small Tires (MAST). ``The key thing is to get your message integrated across all marketing media.''
Brands-most valuable assets
According to BrandEconomics, brands are among a company's most valuable assets. ``For most companies today, the value of intangible assets far exceeds invested capital, and in some industries the most important tangible clearly is brand,'' a recent BrandEconomics report stated.
``A brand has value because it's extendable to other categories,'' Mr. Ehrbar said. Harley-Davidson is a prime example, he added; the motorcycle manufacturer extended its well-known brand to clothing and even an erstwhile theme restaurant in New York.
``Some automobile brands, such as Porsche, have done that too,'' he said. ``The particular difficulty for doing that with tire brands is that they're highly undifferentiated.''
BrandEconomics has developed its own database-the Brand Asset Valuator, or BAV-to produce what it calls ``the first wholly objective estimates of brand values across important product and service sectors.'' Used in tandem with the Economic Value Added (EVA) methodology developed by parent company Stern Stewart & Co. for analyzing financial performance, BAV supports the development of sound brand strategies and decisions, the company said.
The four consumer dimensions measured by BAV, according to BrandEconomics, are:
* Differentiation-the perceived distinctiveness of the brand;
* Relevance-the perceived usefulness of the brand to consumers and its ability to meet consumers' needs;
* Esteem-the respect a brand has among consumers; and
* Knowledge-the depth of consumer understanding about the brand.
Every product has a grade somewhere on a 100-percentile spectrum in each of these dimensions, Mr. Ehrbar said, and these grades -the higher the number the better-fluctuate with time and events in the marketplace. The Firestone brand, for example, had a BAV esteem rating in the 76th percentile in 1999, but that tumbled to the 33rd percentile after the Ford Explorer/tread separation debacle and the recall of 6.5 million Firestone ATX and Wilderness tires the following year. Through careful advertising, however, the brand jumped back to the 63rd percentile in the most recent evaluation.
But esteem only measures regard among those who know tire brands, or have any particular brand loyalty, Mr. Ehrbar said. ``In differentiation, Firestone's down with the rest of the pack,'' he said. ``It went from the 17th to the 7th to the 11th to the 17th percentile in the same four years'' that it went from the 76th to the 33rd to the 63rd percentile in esteem.
In general, tire brands lag badly in differentiation behind cars and other products that have a higher profile in the public's mind, according to Mr. Ehrbar. ``Tire brands have differentiation in the bottom 10th percentile of all brands in the U.S.,'' he said, adding that Firestone actually is one of the top tire brands in this category.
The really big winners in differentiation among tire brands, however, are Michelin-in the 47th percentile-and Pirelli, in the 37th percentile.
``Michelin and Pirelli have a long association with high-end import cars, a carryover from the '50s and '60s,'' Mr. Ehrbar said. Virtually every major tire brand-not only Michelin, Pirelli and Firestone but also Goodyear, BFGoodrich, Bridgestone and others-has a high esteem level among consumers, he added. ``But it's a daunting task to make a strong brand out of a tire.''
Because BrandEconomics specializes in evaluating the financial and investment value of product brands, it doesn't comment on possible strategies to raise a brand's profile, Mr. Ehrbar said. But Jack Trout, president of the marketing firm Trout & Partners Ltd. in Old Greenwich, Conn., specializes in just such strategies.
Mr. Trout was a pioneer of the concept of brand positioning. Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind, the 1980 book he co-wrote with Jack Ries, is still the standard text on the subject.
One of his earlier jobs was as a divisional advertising manager at the old Uniroyal Inc., in charge of tires. As such, he created the ad campaigns in the 1960s for both the Uniroyal Rain Tire and Tiger Paw; the latter, which was original equipment on the Pontiac GTO, was one of the earliest examples of high-performance positioning in tire advertising.
The goal in tire brand positioning, according to Mr. Trout, ``is to find a way to make consumers buy tires for cause. You push safety, technology, performance. You need to position a tire to appeal to those segments of the market that care about safety and performance. Otherwise, buying a tire is a price-based decision.''
Among tire makers, Michelin is the champion in brand positioning, Mr. Trout said. ``Michelin pioneered the radial tire, which is obviously a better and safer tire than what came before,'' he said. ``With the babies (advertisement) and the tagline, `So much is riding on your tires,' they pre-empted the idea of a safer tire.''
That's not to say, however, that other brands haven't exploited safety, technology and performance in their advertising. Goodyear ``jumped on the bandwagon'' created by the Uniroyal Rain Tire in advertising its Aquatred line of radials, Mr. Trout said, and its support of racing over the years has also given the company a strong reputation for performance and durability.
Coming up next:
* The factors that go into positioning a tire brand in the marketplace;
* The tie-in between tires and motorsports is as old as racing itself-but it works; and
* In a highly competitive environment, how tire dealers position the brands they sell in order to get the best bang for their buck.