If Lexus wants to gain a foothold in the premium market, they need to appeal to style conscious buyers.
A true premium brand is difficult to build. After all, what defines a brand being premium? It was once all about build quality and significant technological advancement and technical performance – but nowadays everyone offers advancement and ability. So then what about fit and finish? Quality of materials? That too is a thing of the past, as many brands now offer products of a higher quality than so-called premium brands.
What Defines a Premium Brand? And so we're left with a few elite brands that are the established premium segment – primarily the 3 German marques of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Mention any one of those three in conversation and even the most blatantly ignorant non-car person will flash a smile of recognition and usher a few oohs and ahs. Perhaps that's what it means to be truly premium – to be known by both automotive nuts and non-car people alike; instantly recognizable. That's true brand cachet. So what then of the premium brands that fall by the wayside?
I'm not even talking about the likes of Jaguar and, now, Alfa Romeo – these are brands that historically have as much to offer as any of the German trio. There are alternative premium brands that are fairly new in the grand scheme of things – brands who although now well known, struggle to command the same respect as the notorious few do. I'm talking about brands like Infiniti and Lexus – startups that were spinoffs from parent companies (Nissan and Toyota respectively) designed to appeal to a more premium audience, and in the case of both, launched to appeal to the American audience. Yet they struggle, relative to the established premium segment.
Those in the know already are aware of just how premium these brands are – we as gearheads know that a Lexus will offer several hundred interior materials that somehow all work together, and that the Infiniti Q50 is underpinned by the same running gear as a Mercedes-Benz C-Class. But we aren't the layman on the street – and to most of them, when the time (and finances) comes to buy a premium brand, they'll look straight to the brands that they know of – BMW, Audi, and Mercedes.
Changing the Perception towards 'Premium' – The Lifestyle Appeal So how does one change the perception around a brand? How do you establish a brand as premium to a group of people who couldn't care less about cars if they tried? I have a theory…Let's take Lexus as an example – they've emerged strongly amongst a knowledgeable community and are building great cars that are truly worthy of the 'premium' tag; yet they'll be overlooked by non-car people time and time again. So how do we change that? Well Lexus needs to evolve as a lifestyle brand simultaneously – where the Lexus logo stands for a lifestyle of which the car is merely a small part of it.
In order to do this, Lexus would need to reach out to the public in an area where you'd seldom expect to see car manufacturers. It's not enough to have a website and a showroom, but Lexus would need to establish genuine retail spaces in upmarket, trendy areas in major urban centers. Bear with me here…
A Lifestyle Retail Experience These retail spaces wouldn't be dealerships – quite the contrary. They'd be hallmark points to expose the brand to the buying public on a stylistic level; introducing the brand as part of an aspirational lifestyle. There would be cars involved – how can there not be – but each retail space would feature just one or two select vehicles as centerpieces to suit the market in which the store is based. Picture this setting, a multi-level store equipped with a minimalistic design – almost Scandinavian in influence.
Warm lighting and soft surfaces – the complete opposite of what almost every dealership showroom is – with soft furnishings filling spaces creating an inviting aura about the place. Then there'd be the product – not cars – but lifestyle product. We're talking all the branded gear Lexus can sell – leather jackets, knitted sweaters, designer label type stuff; not crammed into shelves and racks, but displayed proudly on feature racks as if this were some A-list celebrity's wardrobe, not a retail store. Think of it as high end fashion – but for car branded merchandise – and with all the barista-prepared cappuccinos you could desire, the smell of coffee hanging thick in the air and drawing you in.
But at the center of it all, there's be just a single car – likely one of those dealer-demo LFAs, or better yet, the LC500 – placed on a rotating platform and lit carefully and purposefully to highlight its style – not its dynamism or performance, or anything else a car person might be interested in. You see it's all about style – and while the Beverly Hills housewife is shopping for a new jacket for her husband's birthday – she'll be immersed in the style and lifestyle of the Lexus brand. Suddenly, the brand is no longer one of machines and transport, but it's high end fashion – the Apple iStore of motoring. She may be consciously aware of the car parked in store – or she may not be – but the brand influence will start to take hold.
Then, when the times comes for their next premium purchase, there'll be a voice in the back of the mind that whispers to her, reminding her of that gorgeous car in that gorgeous store.
A Place For The Enthusiast Too These sorts of spaces would cater to those who feel a greater inclination towards style than they do anything else; but they wouldn't just be for fashionistas alone. There would be trained staff on hand to guide the enthusiasts through what's in store – show them around the vehicle, and explain the intricacies in great depth. This wouldn't be a showroom experience where the awkward salesman follows you around hoping to sell you a car.
But rather one where you can share and grow a passion with someone who feels the same way – where you can sit and enjoy a cup of coffee while learning more about a premium brand that very soon might just be better than the current established brand grouping. This is the 21st century – so why are brands still marketing themselves the same way they did in the 1960s? Times have evolved, and if a brand like Lexus wants to gain a foothold in the premium market, they need to learn to appeal to style conscious buyers who don't know much about cars.