With any brand, its image defines its success; perception translates into millions gained or millions lost. Consumer Reports says that the best perceived brands for 2011 are safe, economic brands Toyota, Ford, Honda, Chevy, and BMW. But Bayerische Motoren Werke (Bavarian Motor Works) was the wolf among the figurative sheep and the best perceived of all the elusive luxury brands.Although to be fair, Mercedes came in sixth. Brands in and outside of the auto industry look to BMW for a little magic in branding success, results mixed.
What is it about BMW’s aura that makes it desirable?
The brand succeeds by harnessing the best in technology (see: performance), displaying accessibility that is tangible yet limited, with deft advertising. Ultimate Driving Machine, maybe, maybe not, but there’s no denying the power of perception.
Former BMW chairman Helmut Panke stated that the brand’s biggest hurdle was the possibility of complacency; that the goal was always to outperform others. This credo remains at the core of BMW, where quality, not necessarily quantity takes precedence every time.
Consider US sales in 2010: BMW totaled 266,580 autos sold compared to Honda’s 1.2 million, level with Beamer’s worldwide sales. This still led all luxuries, edging out Mercedes at 1.17 million and Audi at 1.09 million. All luxury sales increased from ’09, a good sign of America’s (BMW’s 2nd largest market behind Germany) willingness to spend again and China’s love for substance and style. Yet the comparatively small numbers of sales give the brand a frat-like bond among owners which may add to the perceived exclusivity of the Beamer club.
Statistics say the median salary for a BMW owning household is around $160,000 annually. The difference between 3 series owners ($140,000) and full size luxury 7 series ($260,000) is significant, yet tends to be indicative of luxury brands, with Mercedes owners pulling in $170,000 and Audi lovers at $183,000. It seems luxury is limited to the 100k plus club, yet the 328i couple starts at $37,650, relatively tame in actuality.
Another marketing plus for BMW lifers is the appeal to the clean crowd. Many owners are of or near the baby-boomer generation (average age is 41); perhaps their newfound earth conscious souls will appreciate the 335d, the ‘advanced diesel’ ch-ch-champion. Those willing to spend $43,950 receive cleaner power at 36 MPG highway and 23 city averages that won’t touch Prius, but its 265 horses and 425 lbs. of torque will beat them off the line every time.
Given all this Beamer love, I guess it’s fair to state that Kelly Blue Books Brand Image Awards shut out BMW after giving them accolades in 3 categories in ’09: Best Performance, Exterior Design, and funnily enough, Coolest Brand (all 3 were swept by Porsche last year). So goes the battle for the quintessential luxury sports car.
BMW doesn’t transform owners into otherworldly figures from some Fight Club type dream world. BMW’s brand is solid because of their product; not quite bulletproof, but great fun to drive nonetheless.