Geneva brand digest #1: MINI – be coolest, not smallest

The Geneva motor show finished yesterday and, quite rightly, the cars were the stars. But in an industry where all manufacturers make high-quality products and brand is the vital differentiator, it’s worth looking behind the cars at the brand issues.

1403_MINI_Clubman_Concept-600x375MINI: Not only was BMW testing the limits of own Ultimate Driving Machine brand ethos by launching the first front-wheel drive car to wear the badge, and a small MPV at that, it also showed the largest MINI yet. Larger, ironically, than the original Mini’s British Leyland stablemate, the Austin Maxi.

New generations of models always grow larger. But at 4220mm the concept version of the Clubman shown in Geneva is a huge 260mm longer than the current car, which it will replace in 2015. To give some context, a Golf is 4199mm and a rather roomy Ford B-Max just 4077mm. And the outgoing Nissan Qashqai was barely longer at 4330mm.

BMW’s MINI has been a huge success. You can’t argue with the sales figures, or the success of the new Clubman from a design point of view for that matter. It’s lovely. But the growth spurt has prompted the company to spout a flawed new public rationale: that what’s important is for MINI models always to be the smallest cars in the segments they compete in.

That’s rather contrived and a dangerously fragile brand claim: segments are changing, new ones are emerging, and MINI will simply nominated whichever suits it best – hence the much-quoted target for the Clubman of the fully-formed, and fully priced, Golf Estate. But MINI is a lifestyle brand defined by emotional values, not parameters and categorisations decided by market research companies, data providers and industry analysts.

In addition, another manufacturer can simply produce a model which mimics the MINI, but is slightly smaller – and yet beat it for interior space because MINI packaging will always be compromised by the need to communicate the brand in an instantly recognisable way through external design language.

Far better than being smallest to say that MINIs must always be coolest – more design-led, more fun and more loved than their competitors. That’s an easy thing to achieve, and an impossible thing to measure. Subjective, emotional, I-want-one values. Ideal for a lifestyle brand.

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