Land Rover, Show That You Care for the Defender: Jaguar Forums Op-ed
2020 Defender needs to be a genuinely rugged, true brand anchor.
Consumers respond to brands with an emotional reference point. If you’re a mainstream full-line auto manufacturer, that reference point does not need to be a high-cost halo. It can be any product that invokes passion, that has an enduring aspiration quality, and something that consumers can connect with the rest of the product range. Brand anchors take time to develop.
Witness BMW’s M3. Born in 1985 and constantly developed over last 35 years, the quintessential “M” has arguably exerted more influence over BMW’s subsequent development than any other model, much less trim. The uber-sporty 3-Series was not the genesis for the company’s famous Ultimate Driving Machine tagline, but without it, the marketing department would almost certainly have moved on and the brand would be different.
Land Rover, you should also consider some potential brand anchors that met the passion and aspirational requirements but failed the long-term development test. Models such as the Buick Grand National, Mazda RX-7, and Suzuki Samurai fit this criteria.
There is no greater example of a successful brand anchor than the Jeep Wrangler. The emotional connection that consumers maintain with Wrangler is legendary. Jeep has also invested heavily in its last two generations. Pivotally, for the long-term value of the Wrangler as a brand anchor and thus the Jeep brand as a whole, a time traveler from the 1970’s could easily identify a 2019 Wrangler. And before you start tweeting all the profound differences between a CJ-5 and a modern Wrangler at me, consider that the same could not be said for the BMW M3, Ford Mustang, Toyota Land Cruiser, or any other anchor vehicle.
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There must have been numerous meetings in Auburn Hills over the last two decades in which the concept of broadening the Wrangler’s appeal by smoothing out its rough edges were pitched. In the modern world of data-driven decision-making, combined with the pressure to generate quarterly earnings, quantifying the value of leaving the Wrangler business case essentially unchanged must have been a Rubicon all its own. Thankfully for FCA shareholders and off-road enthusiasts, the Wrangler continues to soldier on with a removable top, hose-it-out interior, and off-road capabilities unsurpassed at double the price. Today, the best-selling SUV brand in SUV-crazed America is the house that Wrangler built.
The Defender should be to Land Rover as the Wrangler is to Jeep. JLR needs to deliberately develop the next generation Defender as a functional replacement for its traditional customer base. It should be working farms in the UK, on TV in the hands of blue-helmets ducking shell fragments, earning NGO adoption across the Southern Hemisphere, and, of course, competing for off-road enthusiasts in North America.
A Defender that is true to its roots can win back global sales from the Toyota Land Cruiser as well as trucks and SUVs from Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Ford. The Defender needs to be an implement for work. Not only is there a business case to be made for a no-nonsense Defender, but that is the only way its value as a brand anchor can be cultivated. Anything less will plow under one of the most valuable passion-inducing, aspirational vehicles ever created. If there is room in the market for a transitional product between Defender and Discovery, JLR should create it, but do not put a Defender badge on the fender.
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The argument that Defender should be reborn as a genuinely rugged body on frame platform suited to work, war, and play is more than an enthusiast trope. It is the right long-term decision for a company that has signaled its willingness to invest in its products. Look no further than Jeep to observe the rewards that can accrue to a brand willing to sacrifice the broader appeal of one nameplate for the cultivation of an entire brand. It is challenging to measure the sales impact of an anchor vehicle like Defender, but that is a poor excuse for failing to capitalize on a unique opportunity. Dive deeper. Think long-term. Creating a legendary product is a time-intensive, once in a generation opportunity. Crushing a legend is easy. Consumers respond to authenticity.