Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tata Xenon XT : Fits No Label

Brand : Xenon XT
Company : Tata Motors
Agency : O&M

Brand Analysis Count : 384

While the debate is still raging over whether recession is the best time to launch new products, Tata Motors have launched a brand new vehicle Tata Xenon XT. What is interesting is that Xenon is not only a new product but it is trying to create a new segment as well.

Tata Xenon XT is a Lifestyle Pickup Truck. For Indians , the concept of a lifestyle pickup truck is entirely new. Pickup trucks are heavily associated with cargo. According to livemint website, in 2007-08 around 1,25,000 pickup trucks were sold.

The concept of lifestyle pickup trucks is directly imported from the western market. I have seen in Hollywood movies where families driving around in pickup trucks ( remember movie Twister ?) especially when they have a farm or when they love offroading.

It is not the first time that Tata Motors is experimenting with the concept of lifestyle pickup trucks. In 2005, the company had launched the same kind of product Tata TL 4x4. But the product bombed owing to the steep pricing of around 10 lakhs.

The current Xenon was debuted in the Bologna Motorshow in 2006. The brand shares the same platform as the Sumo Grande. Before being launched in India, Tata Motors has been selling this vehicle in Thailand, Saudi,Algeria, Italy etc.

The critical marketing issues with Xenon XT are two ? Need and Positioning.

The first issue is whether there is a need for such a product in the Indian market. The brand is aiming at those customers who love offroading and are in need of a pickup vehicle. The rich farmers of Punjab and those guys who love hunting and adventure are the potential customers for this product. The hardworking, fun loving entrepreneurs who love to sweat and enjoy the wild fits the label for this product.

How ever the question still lingers whether the product is ahead of its time ? Are the Indian consumers ready for a cross-over product like Xenon. The pricing of the product is also steep at Rs 7 - 10 lakhs where it will be competing with its brother Tata Safari and the highly successful Scorpio.

The second issue is the positioning.

Indian consumers has never seen a product like this. Hence the task of establishing the points of parity is crucial. One of the steps in establishing POP for an entirely new product is to establish the category membership . Since the consumers have not seen such a product before, the brand should first establish a reference point for the consumers. It has to tell the consumer that the product belongs to a certain category.

This is where Xenon has a challenge. Tata Motors in their press release itself have mentioned that creating a reference point for Xenon is the major challenge. I would say that the success of Xenon will depend largely on establishing the right category membership.

For a product that tries to create a new category, the marketers try to establish the category membership first and then try to do a break-away positioning from its root category. If the category membership is wrong, then the break away strategy will never work.
A classic case of break away positioning is seen in the Swatch brand. The brand wanted to create a new category watches. So Swatch first established its membership in the fashion accessory category and not in the watch category. Then it created the break away positioning as a " watch accessory".

What the advertising agency has done for Xenon is one of the most risky strategy in establishing a new category. It has not tried to establish the category membership. Instead of establishing membership in a category ( SUV or Pickup truck), the brand has left it to the consumers to decide the category to which Xenon belongs.

In the first print ad for this brand, Xenon has adopted the tagline - "Fits No Label ". That means that neither the agency nor the company is sure about the category membership and it is leaving this responsibility to the consumers.

History has shown us that leaving this task to consumer is dangerous. In branding text books, you can find the classic case of Motorola Envoy which failed because it did not defined its competitive frame of reference. Envoy was the first personal digital assistant (PDA) product that the consumers have seen. Envoy did not have all the functionality of a laptop but had more functions than an organizer,. But the brand never bothered to establish a category membership.
The brand never defined itself and consumers could not understand the exact category that the product belonged to. Consumers was confused and the product failed. While the competitor Palm Pilot which established itself in the Electronic Organizer category acheived considerable success. ( reference : Strategic Brand Management by Keller).

When we leave this task of reference point to the consumer, the consumer is free to put this product in any of the category. By the look of the vehicle, there are chances that consumers will put Xenon as a pickup truck. If they do so, then Xenon will face the issue that Tata TL faced-Consumers unwilling to pay Rs 9 Lakhs for a pickup.

I think that in the current scenario, Xenon should not associate itself with the truck category. It should have the membership in the offroader /SUV category because trucks never are associated with luxury and comfort in India. I would love this vehicle to fill the gap that Maruti Gypsy left. So Xenon should be a Luxury Jeep and not a truck.

Xenon have the biggest USP of being heavily customisable . The consumer have the option of a large number of accessories like bed-liner,canopy, boot lid etc. It is powered by Dicor engine and comes with SUV accessories.

Tata Motors have in a way messed up its positioning for Xenon during the launch itself . All the news about Xenon has already labeled it as a pickup truck. It has to be seen whether Indian consumers will accept the concept of a luxury pickup truck.