Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has announced changes in market position strategies for several of its brands, including Chrysler.
According to WardsAuto, Chrysler-brand executives will be pushing for more volume, returning the marque to its 1920s roots. But I don’t think we have to look back that far.
Recall the days when you would visit “your local Chrysler-Plymouth dealer” and the models that twin-brand franchise offered under one rooftop. You’ll very quickly start to see similarities with tomorrow’s Chrysler.
For example, Chrysler will add the 100 entry sedan that will compete with the Ford Focus, Chevrolet Cruze and Honda Civic. That sounds a lot like the position once held by the Plymouth Neon (sold into 2001).
Then there’s the idea of adding a fullsize CUV. That sounds like approximately the slot once filled by the Chrysler Pacifica, which was sold alongside the Chrysler Town & Country, just as the new crossover will be.
And lest memory fail anyone, the Pacifica offered all-wheel drive. It was dropped from the lineup only six model years ago and sold nearly 80,000 units in 2006, about 13% of all Chrysler volume that year.
This next one is a bit of a reach, but if the Chrysler PT Cruiser had offered AWD, it loosely would be like the upcoming midsize CUV the new Chrysler will create.
What will be different is that the new Chrysler will have a more balanced portfolio. In 2001, for example, Chrysler offered three different versions of LH-based sedans: the 300M, Concorde and LHS. Now and in the future, there will be just one. And today’s 200 replaces two models (the Plymouth Breeze and Chrysler Sebring/Cirrus sedan).
So if Chrysler is to recapture some previous market positioning, what are some branding and marketing dynamics the new Chrysler will need to leverage or create?
One of those is market-driven. Several automotive brands have expanded up- and down-market, which creates more “permission” in consumers’ eyes for one brand to cover more product territory.
Examples include Mercedes with the CLA starting at $29,900 and Hyundai with the Equus starting at $61,250. “Permission” refers in this case to the extent to which a brand can be stretched price-wise and product-wise and still be seen as credible.
A lot of the heavy brand lifting will have to come from Chrysler’s marketing team and agencies. For Chrysler to be successful in the core of the mainstream market it will need to create a meaningfully different brand persona.
And that persona has to be salient (top-of-mind), in part mandating that the new positioning be properly amplified (the right message to the right consumer at the right time).
Yet while “meaningfully different,” simultaneously Chrysler will need to be similar enough to rivals already in the sweet spot of the market – in part to facilitate cross-shopping. That requires advertising that makes people aware of the new Chrysler and more importantly motivates them to act (research, shop, go to dealer and buy).
Of course, they’ll need great product; that’s a given. Hence advertising also will have to accurately set consumer expectations on what those new products deliver and how they will make buyers feel about the brand and about themselves in the brand’s products.
So it’s a very heady assignment, with many moving parts. Possible? Yes. Easy? No.
Marketing execs will need a solid blend of confidence, swagger, research, insight and rapid decision-making to make the leap, because there’s only about four years to make this happen.
Lincoln Merrihew is senior vice president-Transportation at intelligence firm Millward Brown Digital and is a recognized expert in market research and analysis, specializing in automotive, travel and digital.