Premiumisation tempered by market realities

An automotive manufacturer had evolved successfully from offering low-cost cars to people seeking cheap transport, to one increasingly known for offering quality, innovative and value for money small cars.

In the US, the brand had successfully extended into the large luxury category and the goal was to emulate this success by launching a premium model into Australia.

However, Australia was a somewhat unique market, in that the brand’s equity was tainted by its low-cost heritage.

The key marketing question was how can we gain adequate consideration for a premium model in Australia given the brand’s ‘baggage’?

Building a potent brand proposition

a&b was asked to assist in developing a brand proposition.

As part of this, we clearly needed to understand the drivers of consideration for the vehicle (and how best to leverage) as well as exploring the barriers of appeal and consideration (and how best to overcome). We were also tasked with defining the characteristics of the target market ‘bulls-eye’, notably in terms of attitude and need.

There were several stages of primary research – initial insighting featured deep-immersive consumer engagements where we explored both rational and emotional considerations using a combination of Metaphor analysis and a&b’s proprietary ideas sort-box techniques.

Our thinking was also informed by expertise gained in a&b’s ethnographically-sourced definition of ‘luxury, prestige and success’ programme.

Insights and implications were shared with stakeholders via productive strategic workshopping. The key issue was ensuring that marketing efforts were focussed around the most likely buyer and not wasted trying to convert the curious but essentially ‘unavailable’ because of entrenched brand affiliations elsewhere.

The ‘Astute Thinker’ – identifying the core available segment


We quickly learned who would NOT be in the market for our brand in this category. We argued to our client that there was little point in positioning the brand to try and appeal to those who had firm preferences and prejudices against it. We recommended focussing on a key ‘open-minded’ consumer segment who demonstrated the ability and willingness to look beyond any historical brand obstacles. We coined this group the “Astute Thinkers” – being characterised by:

  • Being practically minded
  • Financially prudent, comfortable financially (but limited disposable income given high expenditure on education etc.)
  • Very responsible…appear somewhat conservative
  • Reserved rather than gregarious
  • Seek balance in their lives
  • Value quality over brand…not brand snobs
  • Have no need for obvious projected status; no NEED for esteem lifting through brand or suburb or car…and their friends are all like them…but recognise and value luxury
  • Value intelligence in design

We built a detailed picture of this target and developed a proposition designed to focus on their needs allied to the most compelling product attributes.

But we tempered the client’s expectations – a shift in the brand’s ability to credibly stretch to the premium segment would take time, consistency and an appetite for investment; brands don’t change their spots overnight.

Later stages of research looked to explore how best to translate the proposition into effective communications.

Launched to critical acclaim and positive sales response

The vehicle was launched and the motoring press not only gave favourable reviews of the car dynamically, they endorsed the brand in the prestige category. Conservative sales volumes were predicted and the vehicle soon tracked close to these goals.

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