Opel´s purpose claim highlights risks and rewards of brand realignment

The earth beneath the global automotive industry is shaking. Manufacturers everywhere are experiencing a paradigm shift from traditional vehicles to multifunctional mobility, from mechanical to digital-led transportation, from gasoline to e-cars, from hardware to software, with self-driving cars, new sharing concepts, robot taxis – and maybe flying cars in the not too distant future.

In-midst of this massive industrial upheaval Opel has conceived a new claim in order to underscore its strategic realignment and to better explain its brand purpose: “THE FUTURE IS EVERYONE´S”. Opel CMO Tina Müller, who announced that she will become CEO of perfume and cosmetics retailer Douglas on November 1, wants this new claim to be perceived as a promise: New technologies should be democratized and made available to all citizens. For Opel´s executive team implementing and communicating this new purpose means a significant marketing shift: away from a product-related claim towards conveying an attitude, a way of life.

Source: Opel

With this decision Opel opted for a strategy that can be described as the key finding in globeone´s upcoming Purpose Study. It will reveal that German brands are too self-centered. They are neglecting the fact that focusing on a true purpose is a decisive factor in successful brand communication. German manufacturers mostly talk about their products, rather than stressing the purpose of their business. By doing this, they are turning their back on the deeper emotional aspects of their values.

Execution will be decisive

Opel managers are referring to their own product history in order to argue that the new claim is already embedded in its own corporate DNA. Examples are the 2015 launch of the personal online and service assistant “Opel OnStar” and the electric car “Ampera-e” with an impressive 520 km range. But consumers don´t want to be convinced by past performance. They want to be sure the new strategy will lead to better products and services in the future.

So far the company demonstrates that it is willing to bid farewell to the old auto world and to focus on a new concept of mobility. The Insignia, the flagship of the new era at Opel, is promoted to a young group of customers with videos featuring soccer coach Jürgen Klopp. But some car experts are criticizing that Opel so far has missed out on supporting its new claim with substantial proof points. At least the company credibly managed to visualize with its new logo that it wants to enter the era of e-mobility. But this is only the beginning. One brand communication expert nailed it: It needs to be more than bright new headlights. Opel needs to deliver on bigger things, for example a car sharing model or some ambition for the self-driving car of the future.

The risks of the new approach

The risks of Opel´s new approach cannot be ignored, if the implementation is to be a success. While gaining ground on a younger clientele, the brand might risk to alienate existing customers. And the promise to democratize technology to a broad customer base might be compromised by Opel´s new French owner PSA, which clearly wants a swift turnaround. The French vehicle maker´s CEO, Carlos Tavares, has portended that the status quo of a loss-making company cannot be accepted. This raises a vital question: Where does the new aspiration collide with the pursuit of lower costs? So far, nobody knows. Moreover, for some experts the new claim sounds somewhat detached from the Opel brand. It could as well grace the claim of an IT company or a bank. This is one more big reason to fill the new claim with life. After all, this is Opel´s ninth slogan since 1999.

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