Love. It's What Makes a Subaru a Subaru

05/31/2017 12:07 pm ET

By Elizabeth Petra, Advertising Week

People can quickly and easily describe their friends: funny, intellectual, charismatic. But we don’t often think of brands in the same terms of having a personality, of having human-like characteristics that make them distinctive. In Yasuyuki Yoshinaga, President & CEO, Subaru Corporation’s keynote speech, he presented the case for building a brand personality through marketing.

“We are doing quite well,” Yoshinaga declared before giving an analysis of the financials of the company relative to the past and to competitors. In under 10 years, Subaru auto sales have doubled from about 1.4 to 3.3 trillion yen. In 2008, the company struggled a bit, and he joked, “this is not a typo” — referencing the deficits they experienced. However, already in 2017, Subaru has exceeded one million units in sales, which is more than 400 thousand higher than recent years.

After demonstrating the upward-trending trajectory for the brand’s financials, Yoshinaga shared the evolution of the popular auto brand. Interestingly, it began 100 years ago as Nakajima Aircraft Company, a prominent Japanese aircraft manufacturer and aviation engine manufacturer throughout WWII. After years of diversifying, Subaru has refocused and now exclusively deals in aerospace and ground transportation manufacturing.

Due to the high caliber engineering and equipment, Subaru’s costs are high, making it difficult to compete based on price. So, to determine how to be competitive in the market, Yoshinaga asks the questions: “What is our company? What is Subaru?” The answer here lies in the technology capabilities, but this is not a strong enough way to differentiate as other companies can borrow ideas and develop equally good if not better tech with higher funds. With only 1% of the market share, Subaru struggles to compete not only just on price, but also on environmental sustainability, management resources and global production numbers. Further, while Subaru has won awards for highest safety ratings, this on its own is not enough to keep existing and recruit new business.

To remain “competitive with distinctiveness”, Subaru has relied on marketing tactics to develop a personality for the brand that attracts consumers. Specifically, they have launched a campaign around “love” — by offering Subaru buyers a safe, loving lifestyle: “Subaru is here because there is love here,” Yoshinaga elaborated. In April, the company name was officially changed from Fuji Heavy Industries to Subaru Corporation, and they launched a major campaign introducing the brand name along with the revised policy, updating the “company creating things" to the "company creating smiles.” though they considered the slogan “company creating value” - Yoshinaga explains that would mean Subaru was on the same side of manufactures rather than side of the customer, and when customers are satisfied with value, very often, they smile. 

Watch the full panel, "Staying Competitive with Distinctiveness" here.

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