Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tata Aria : Luxury That Thrills

Brand : Aria
Company : Tata Motors

Brand Analysis Count : # 500

Game Changer, New Breed, Super Luxury, Most Awaited, Eagerly Awaited, Flagship ... These were the terms that were used during the much publicized launch of Tata Motor's luxury offering - Tata Aria. Aria was launched in 2010 - touted as the most luxurious, sophisticated and most expensive offering from Tata Motors in the passenger vehicle segment. After a year of the launch, Aria is struggling to reach the position where the brand expected it would be. 

Tata Aria was publicized as India's first 4x4 Crossover. Crossovers are those vehicles that combine the attribute of cars and SUVs. Tata motors aimed to create a new segment of luxury crossovers with the launch of Aria. Tata Motors has been trying hard to create new niches in the Indian automobile market the last attempt was through the brand Tata Xenon.

Tata Aria which was expected to create new market and a new image for Tata Motors however is now struggling hard to create volumes. According to news reports, the brand is finding it difficult to convert the interest  and good reviews to sales. 
Tata Aria was launched with an expensive price tag of Rs 12 -15.5 Lakh making it the most expensive model from Tata's brand portfolio ( excluding JLR). To compensate for the high price tag, Aria came with many features, attributes and gadgets which was available only in super luxury segments. Many gadgets was even not present in those expensive sedans. But even with this heavy loading of features and goodies, consumers were reluctant to accept the high price tag.

Blame it on the Positioning.

It is easy to put the blame on the pricing strategy of Tata Aria. There are critics who argue that Aria could have priced at around Rs 10 lakh and  blazed the sales chart. To a certain extent the argument has lot of validity. But I feel that more than the pricing , there is a larger issue of positioning. Not only with regard to Aria, but it points out to the luxury foray of Tata Motors as a corporate brand.
First let us look at the positioning issue. Tata Aria wanted to position itself as a pioneer of a new category - a Crossover between a sedan and an SUV. 
Positioning theory talks about Points of Parity and Points of Difference as the two main focal points of positioning process.Marketers use Points of Parity to establish a membership in a category and also to establish parity with competitors. For brand launches in existing product category, category membership is automatically established because of similarity in product form, pricing, attributes etc. For example a new soap brand need not establish category membership since consumers know that the brand belongs to soap category just by seeing the product. Category Points of Parity is important for "really new products" where consumers are not able to connect any existing category to the new product. In such cases, marketers try to tell the consumers that the new product is related to an existing product category. 

Here Tata Motors failed to understand the perceived points of parity of Tata Aria with brands like Innova and Xylo. It is obvious to any person that Tata Aria looks very very similar to Toyota Innova which is the market leader in the premium Multi-Utility Vehicle segment. So just by looking at Aria, consumers establish its membership in the MUV category of Innova. Whether Tata Motors likes it or not, Aria's category membership is with Innova and not as a crossover. 

What Tata Aria did was to ignore this obvious similarities with an existing category products and tried to establish a new category which it called a Crossover. The brand wanted to use breakaway positioning strategy where by Aria will be positioned as a new category vehicle different from the existing category of MUVs. 
The first launch campaign was expected to identify Tata Aria with the new category - Crossover
Watch the ad here : Tata Aria Crossover 

For a brand that aims to create a new category that too a luxury one, the launch campaign failed miserably to communicate the concept of a new category. A sedan and an SUV colliding ( mating) to form Tata Aria  crossover was too basic , too amateurish communication strategy. The brand initially had the tagline " A New Breed ". The campaign managers failed to understand that just by labeling the product as a crossover does not make it a crossover. The brand should produce sufficient evidence that it belongs to a new breed. In the case of Aria, the campaigns failed to provide a significant reason to be called as a new category pioneer.

For any product aiming for breakaway positioning, the acid test is to differentiate itself from the category from which it is moving away. A classic case of breakaway positioning is that of Swatch brand which successfully positioned itself as a fashion accessory rather than a watch brand. For that the brand created strong identity interms of design, price , distribution etc which convinced consumers to consider Swatch as a fashion accessory rather than a watch.
Here there was no significant WOW factor in Aria which made consumer think that Aria belonged to a different category distinct from MUV brands like  Innova. So when consumers checked out the brand Aria, they began to compare it with Toyota Innova. Innova had established itself  as one of the most reliable and comfortable MUV in India. Innova was priced at around Rs 12 lakh. When consumers began to compare Innova and Aria, Aria was perceived to be expensive despite the presence of many new features and attributes. 
Sensing the mood of the market, Tata Motors launched a lower priced version of Tata Aria in the form of a 4x2 variant. The brand priced the product at par with the competitors and launched it with a different positioning. 
Watch the ad here : Tata Aria Spy ad

Here again Tata Aria was unsure about the positioning. The brand discarded its Crossover positioning and began to focus on features. The tagline was changed from " A New Breed " to " Luxury that Thrills". Within one year of launch , the brand had to make significant positioning changes which again proved to be a disadvantage for establishing a consistent brand image. The plot of the repositioning ad which shows foreign models with an unbelievable storyline and an attempt at humor creates a confused positioning to the audience ( my personal opinion). Along with these campaign in TV, the brand also ran a series of print campaigns highlighting the 36 new features of Aria. Those campaigns helped the brand to create a positive image of a fully loaded premium MUV. But the steep pricing dampened the enthusiasm over the features.

If Tata Aria wanted to be perceived as a new category pioneer it should have looked very distinct from the pack. But since it looked exactly similar to Innova, the brand shouldn't have ventured into creating a new category positioning.
The brand had a better chance of survival had it accepted the similarities and competed with Innova using the features and goodies and a competitive price. Still fighting Toyota's reliability is a uphill task but with better value offering, Aria could have raked up enough volume to keep the enthusiasm up in the market. 
If at all the brand Aria wanted to create a crossover category, it should have created a design which had no similarity with any of the existing product categories in the Indian passenger vehicle market.
Tata  Motors always nurtured an ambition to compete in the luxury segment in the Indian automobile market. It tried with brands like Estate, Safari, Manza etc but couldn't find huge success because Tata Motors was perceived to be a value-for-money brand and consumers were never comfortable with paying a premium for Tata cars. 
A radical move for the company can be to create a separate identity and a division which is not endorsed by Tata Motors. Honda , Toyota and Nissan used this strategy successfully for entering the US luxury car market. Honda used Acura, Toyota used Lexus and Nissan used Infiniti as separate brands ( divisions) and found success in the US market. They used this strategy to tide over the perception that Japanese car brands are utility vehicles rather than luxury vehicles.Likewise Tata Motors can create a luxury division which will not have the Value-For-Money baggage of  the parent brand Tata Motors.
I love the Tata brand and always wished that its products met with success. But these brand launches were disappointments because very obvious , fundamentals are overlooked and valuable time and brand equities are lost. But Tata Motors are know for perseverance and resilience. Hope that Aria will clean up the positioning mess and reach its rightful destination.  It needs to redefine its identity by answering this simple question - What exactly is Tata Aria ??