What happens to a brand when product decisions are based on corporate contracts rather than consumer demand or brand strategy? We’ll soon find out when MINI releases the “Countryman”—a crossover vehicle created to satisfy a production contract, not customer’s needs.
The MINI community’s mixed response about the introduction of this vehicle highlights an interesting brand paradox. The debut of the R50 in 2002—MINI’s first “New MINI” made by BMW—promised a hip and eco-conscious alternative to Hummers, SUVs and other fuel hogs clogging the roads. “Let’s sip, not guzzle” was—and IS—the brand promise (at least one Brand Pillar anyway). Now that brand is releasing a product that is the very thing the brand stood in opposition to.
The brand is changing in a slightly less tangible way that is just as disconcerting to MINI owners: their car is now being targeted toward the masses like never before. The allure (and DESIGN) of the brand is fueled by the sense of unique ownership, or the feeling of being in an exclusive club. Small, sporty, fuel efficient cars with great design DNA. What happens to the brand image when you’ve got ever expanding demographics flocking to the MINI dealership? Soccer moms, hockey dads, outdoor adventurists—all are likely targets. Sure, MINI’s clubman that came out last year was a bit of a departure—but the classic Mini brand was there to help justify such a product line-up decision and keep the brand intact.
I’m sure we’ll see the brand update it’s image in interesting and humorous ways to get people to turn a blind eye. I mean, the brand MUST update it’s message now that they’re rolling out the SUV. They may try to make us believe that it’s 17MPG is better than any SUV in it’s class, or they may say it’s “hybrid” or whatever. But they will masterfully weave it in. Even die hard MINI owners who scoffed at the idea are starting to warm up to an SUV in the line-up. All because of the power of the brand. But will it really work? MINI drivers are not SUV drivers, at least that’s what they used to tell us. I can just hear the marketing and brand creative meetings: now you CAN drive an SUV again (as long as it’s a MINI SUV).