Bridgestone/Firestone North American Tire, responding in part to concerns from its dealers, plans to go all out this year to reinforce the separate brand images of its Bridgestone and Firestone truck and bus tire lines.
The effort, unveiled at the company's recent Bizcon10 commercial dealers meeting in Washington, includes separate ad campaigns in trucking and tire industry trade magazines and new Web sites for each brand.
In short, BFS is targeting the Bridgestone brand at national fleet accounts and the Firestone brand at independent truckers and regional fleets.
The decision to make more distinction between the brands came after management realized the ``lines of buyer perception between the Bridgestone brand and the Firestone brand have begun to blur'' in an environment of increasing brand names, according to Kurt Danielson, executive director, commercial tire marketing.
``It's the responsibility of marketing to ensure that our brands, with your brand, sustain leadership by creating the dominant selling idea and the most attractive relationship that supports our selling idea in ways that matter most in the minds of the customers,'' Mr. Danielson told dealers.
The Bridgestone campaign-``What's inside a Bridgestone tire?''-focuses on the technology of the Bridgestone brand, while the Firestone campaign-``Born to Truck''-plays to the independent trucker under the wing of an ``authentic American original.''
BFS executives presented the company's message under the meeting's tagline of ``Declaration of Brand Independence.''
Considering the ``tidal wave'' of off-shore commercial tires rolling into North America, ``it's never been more important than right now to...demonstrate the differences of our two major brands,'' said Art Campagnoni, executive director, North American commercial sales.
``...A name becomes a brand only when the buyer associates it with a set of tangible or intangible benefits they obtain from buying it,'' Mr. Campagnoni said. ``As this association grows, the buyer's loyalty and willingness to pay a more premium price for the brand increases.''
Using the example of Timex vs. Rolex-``one stands for a low-cost, practical, even disposable purchase, the other for self-esteem and social acceptance''-Mr. Campagnoni introduced the concept of ``brand connectivity.'' He defined that as ``connecting a brand difference to customer segments that are ready, willing and anxiously able to buy what (you're) selling.''
Noting that in today's complex information society it's impossible to be all things to all people, Mr. Danielson said, ``Your brand must stand for one thing, one feeling, one promise.''
Driving home the point of Firestone's American heritage, Mr. Danielson said BFS hopes the customer will equate it to other American iconic imagery, such as burgers and fries, denim, diesel and Bob Seger.
Emphasizing the difference between the brands, Mr. Danielson said, ``Where Firestone technology is `now,' Bridgestone technology is `future.'''
Fleet buyers of Bridgestone tires are looking for state-of-the-art technology, innovative tire management, patented designs, best life-cycle performance and a premium dealer and truckstop network. To these buyers, Bridgestone is about precision and detail, Mr. Danielson added.
Many of the 530 dealers attending the April 20-22 event were largely in favor of the firm's branding plan.
``It makes sense (to split the brands),'' said Lawson Hembree, president of Trans American Holdings L.L.C. in Fort Smith, Ark. ``It made sense then (when Bridgestone bought Firestone), too, to match them up,...to enhance the Firestone brand.''
``We're excited about the branding decision,'' said Dennis Erickson, president of Indy Tire Centers in Indianapolis, part of the Best One Tire group. ``It's the best thing they could have done.''
BFS is arguably the largest truck tire company in North America. Tire Business estimates the two brands together have a new tire market share of more than 21 percent.
The truck tire business exceeded its sales and earnings goals last year, according to Singh Ahluwalia, president of commercial tire products, who said the company shifted resources during the year to provide more tires to the replacement market at the expense of original equipment deliveries.
The new Web sites-www. bridgestonetrucktires.com and www.firestonetrucktires.com-feature product specs, load/inflation tables, links to emergency road services and some interactive features among other resources.