Monday, June 2, 2008

Sumo tries becoming svelte, or is it?

If the third one is Tata Sumo, what about the first two... Make a guess.

When Tata makes automobiles, especially consumer utility vehicles or passenger cars, it fights a lot of perceptions. Why? Because of the ubiquitous and lumbering Tata Trucks we've been seeing on Indian Highways since time immemorial. To top that, when Tata launches consumer utility vehicles, it plays with brand names, launches variants, shuffles the brand names based on internally discussed logical plans; the brand managers really work hard. Just that they might not care much for perceptions of consumers who buy their brands or products.

Tata Sumo was launched, it did well in the initial years and then got clubbed when Toyota Qualis entered the market. Wasn't surprising that the majority of the buyers of Sumo were the taxi fraternity. But the brand managers wouldn't give in. The initial success of Sumo perhaps wasn't forgotten.

Since taxi fraternity was going in for Sumo and perhaps the marketing/brand managers didn't really like the fact, they launched a cheaper UV - using the Sumo platform and shape - called Tata Spacio. The idea would've been that drivers would adopt Spacio leaving Sumo for extensions upwards. Show a Tata Spacio to anyone right now and ask that person which vehicle is that. 95 out of 100 would say, "Tata Sumo!"

Extend upwards, they did. They launched Sumo Victa - again using the original Sumo platform and shape. The ad hinted at individualism and luxurious life-style; the parting line was Kuch log Sumo Victa chalate hain with a guy in erect-posture looking at you. Imagine! First name a utility vehicle Sumo (a vehicle with an expansive body, naturally to accommodate many passengers) and then show individualistic tendencies. Victa, from my memory, hasn't done great. Show a Victa to anyone right now and ask which vehicle is that, he or she would say, "Tata Sumo!"

Brand managers didn't give in. So again remembering the success of original Sumo, and the subsequent success of a rival product Mahindra Scorpio, the brand managers launched another vehicle (built on the same platform but with a cooler look) called Sumo Grande. This time, for family. I don't see too many Grandes on the road yet. Grande stands out distinctly from the original Sumo, Sumo Victa or Spacio. Then why is it called the Sumo? Killing your own baby, is it?

Brand Sumo has been messed around with, left, right and center. One needs to understand that Sumo, the brand (or any other brand), isn't owned by the company; it is owned by the people who consider it and buy it. Brand is a summation of their perceptions. It's mostly at the point of inception that the brand manager has complete control over pitching the brand as one thing and not the other. Thereafter, consumers have the right to accept it and reject it. And if the brand turns out successful in a particular way, no matter the brand managers desire or do, it might continue to be perceived in the way that made it successful.

If Grande is for family and Victa for individualistic guys, think what is Tata Safari for? You'll say Grande and Victa are UV's and Safari is an SUV. To elaborate more, you'd say Grande is a luxurious UV competing with the likes of Toyota Innova. Then why call it Sumo Grande? If Victa is for individualistic guys, why is it a UV? Isn't SUV more suited for individualistic tendencies? Loads of questions. Confusing. Jumbled. That's right. Courtesy, the branding strategies applied for Tata Sumo. Do you doubt then that the performance of the brand isn't really as desired.

I suspect brand managers could exercise greater control, especially beyond inception, over brands which failed in the first place. Assumption is that the brand failed because people couldn't quite accept it and therefore do not have too many perceptions about it.

Also, it's easy to bring a 'high-end' brand lower but mighty tough to push a 'lower-end' one higher. Tata needs to rethink about Sumo. Or rather simply leave it for the mass transit purposes. Do some chopping (easier said I know what with all the capex already incurred) and launch new brands to target different segments; that would be better. Perhaps better products would also do better!

No comments: