Welcome to Jester's Trek.
I'm your host, Jester. I've been an EVE Online player for about six years. One of my four mains is Ripard Teg, pictured at left. Sadly, I've succumbed to "bittervet" disease, but I'm wandering the New Eden landscape (and from time to time, the MMO landscape) in search of a cure.
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Monday, February 21, 2011

Quote of the Week: Brand dilution

From TeaDaze's recent blog post, "Why I quit EVE Online":
I'm more disappointed with the current trend at CCP for enforced participation in new features. The loss of the existing character portraits broke any significant investment in my eve chars and the broken promise of Incarna being optional made the decision to leave fairly simple.
In business, a warning you'll hear from marketing and PR guys is "don't dilute your brand."  Diluting your brand means taking a recognizable property, and by over-using or over-extending it, breaking what made the brand unique and desirable in the first place.  As one website succinctly puts it,
A company that owns a strong brand obviously wants to leverage it to sell as much as possible, but the very strategies used to [pursue] this end often also bring the danger of brand dilution.
Net result?  You risk losing your existing customers, and not picking up any new customers, either.

You hear a lot about brand dilution in the automotive industry.  Think of a Jeep.  You probably thought of a rugged, almost combat-ready vehicle ready to be driven pretty much anywhere on the planet.  That's Jeep's brand, and they call such vehicles "trail rated."  Think of this as the traditional Jeep.  That's their brand: "Drive 'em anywhere.  That's what we do."  Jeeps were one of the most rabidly-supported vehicle brands on the planet, with fan-base loyalty that would put EVE's to shame.  Most of us play other games, after all.  Jeep fans?  Not so much.  ;-)

In 2005, Jeep announced plans to introduce a pair of non-trail-rated vehicles, the Jeep Compass and the Jeep Patriot.  Jeep executives were quick to point out that the traditional Jeeps would still be built and would still be available.  But they also said that the company wished to expand into non-traditional markets and open the doors of Jeep vehicles to people who didn't need to drive them anywhere... just driving from here to the mall will do fine, thanks.

The Jeep fan-base was vocally outraged.

On one hand, "They will offend the Jeep purists, and Jeep will lose the loyalty it's had," said one Jeep fan.  Said another, about the Compass: "It's a sad little car."  Jeep marketing, on the other hand, said "Appeal to people who didn't consider Jeep before. We're not watering down the brand. We know what we have and we're protecting it."

How did it go?

Jeep sales told the tale: down 3% overall in 2007 -- saved from a more massive slide only by record-setting sales of the (traditional) Jeep Wrangler late in the year.  Down 30% in 2008, and down 36% more in 2009.  Sales came up 26% in 2010, but that only because of the December release and record-setting sales of the (traditional) Jeep Grand Cherokee.  The non-trail-rated Jeeps are still doing extremely poorly.  In October 2010, the (traditional) Jeep Grand Cherokee sold 12,721 units in the United States.  The (non-traditional) Jeep Compass sold 778 units.

In late 2009, Mike Manley, Jeep President and CEO defiantly stated "Each Wrangler must have all aspects of Jeep DNA, but other (Jeep) products can be true to the brand without certain elements."  "Certain elements" of course meaning the traditional Jeep trail rating.

Did Jeep stick to its guns?  Let's put it this way.  The Patriot has been trail-rated since 2010.  The Compass will be trail-rated for 2011.  Both will be discontinued in 2012.  Jeep seems inclined to stick to its strengths for the immediate future.  ;-)

Porsche and Pontiac are two other car brands that flirted with dilution.  The Porsche Cayenne has not hurt traditional Porsche sales too much.  Pontiac, on the other hand, is gone completely.

This is the dangerous line that CCP has to walk for the next year and change.  Will there be purists like Tea that abandon the game as EVE moves to expand its market with Incarna?  Absolutely.  Will they be outnumbered by people curious to try the "ultimate sci-fi simulator" that CCP promises that Incarna will bring us?  That part remains to be seen.  I personally am hopeful, but brand dilution is a tightrope that a lot of companies have fallen from.

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