Chrysler Struggles to Establish Brand Awareness

According to its own internal research, Chrysler has an image problem. It’s not a revelation to anyone – least of all the struggling automaker who has watched sales continue their downward spiral for months. Chrysler is hoping that, however cliché it may be, admitting it has a problem may be the first step toward finding a solution.

Internal research conducted by Chrysler found that all three of its remaining brands – Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep – fared poorly against the competition in the areas of brand awareness, familiarity, consideration and a number of others factors, collectively called the “funnel”, that influence consumers’ buying decisions.

Far from unique, the company’s internal research echoes the findings of a number of independent auto industry studies that have been conducted in recent months.

A major shift in the way Chrysler markets itself is the departure from lumping all three brands together in its advertising and marketing efforts. Today, the automaker’s brand bosses have complete profit-and-loss control and accountability. That means each has the freedom to create their unique advertising messages. Media buying control, however, is expected to remain centralized and under Chrysler’s control.

An in-house document circulated to dealers claims that the automaker “must improve funnel measurements for mid/long term success.” The bolded headline reads “We Have to Do Business Different.”

The document, which was presented to dealers on August 18, compares the automakers brands to Ford and Toyota, which scored significantly higher in the buying funnel measurements.

In the area of customer awareness, Dodge had the highest score of the automakers three brands with an 83. Chrysler and Jeep each scored 77. By contrast, both Ford and Toyota received scores of 92.

Chrysler has declined comment when asked about the methodology used in collecting its data and tabulating the scores.

Improving its image will be an uphill battle. Unlike most of its competitors, Chrysler has no new products scheduled for release until mid-2010 at the earliest. Furthermore, inventories on dealer lots are low. During its two months in bankruptcy, the automaker shipped no new vehicles, and 789 of its dealerships were terminated. Although sales were buoyed somewhat by the Cash for Clunkers program, the bump for Chrysler was far less significant that what many of its competitors experienced.

Finally, there’s the general, negative perception of the company among many consumers who opposed the federal government’s bailout and remain skeptical of Chrysler’s viability.

Chrysler is reportedly in discussions with a number of advertising agencies but claims BBDO Worldwide remains the company’s agency of record.

According to Wes Brown of the Los Angeles based research firm Iceology, the automaker’s situation is “pretty distressing.” Brown claims that, “The only way they’re going to pull themselves out is product, and unfortunately, we’re 18 months away.”

He says that the task before Chrysler is daunting and somewhat paradoxical. In addition to reasserting its identity among consumers, it must concurrently prepare them for the changes ahead in the shape of Fiat-derived products bearing the Chrysler, Dodge and Jeep nameplates.

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