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When Reputation Murders a Brand

Holden once had 50% of the Australian car market. That was a different time. In fact, it was over 70 years ago and a time where Australians were at the height of patriotism. Post WWII, and a time of rebuilding community around a country that was hurting. Rebuilding around the things that made Australia…Australia and no car said Australia better than Holden.

Fast forward to the 90s and the Holden Commodore was dominating. Holden made exceptional sedans and wagon – for the sale price. However, a decade later, having a reputation for sedans and wagons was the very thing that put the brand to the torch. The world had fallen in love with SUVs. Every car manufacturer on the planet was investing in innovation and design for one purpose – to compete for market share in the SUV market, which very quickly represented the majority of the entire market.

I personally met with Holden 3 times in the past 15 years. Every single time I passionately suggested they focus on the company’s brand and reputation strategy, and when I say focus I mean transform. Yet, in each instance, the company found a way to do the very thing that eventually killed it. Nothing. In relative terms, Holden essentially did nothing while the market grew, changed and evolved into something with an appetite they couldn’t, didn’t effectively recognise. By the time the company shifted towards SUVs it was too late. The car crash was already in motion, and now in 2020, after a spate of roll-overs the chassis has come to a halt.

Holden once had a reputation for making great cars, for supporting Australians and embodying this country’s identity. In the last few years, its reputation shifted to that of a company who’s poor strategic capabilities and lazy culture delivered a reputation for abandoning Australians, and when it comes to brands built on patriotism there can be no greater sin. Many are blaming the brand when it’s actually a case of the company reputation murdering the brand. Less about marketing and shaping impressions, more about production strategy, culture and a distinct reluctance to innovate.

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The Brand Institute
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