Geely and their logo / brand campaign has been an ongoing source for
interesting articles for many years. While Ash has written about Geely’s multi-brand strategy in the past
Auto Shanghai 2009 was the first time we were able to see it in action.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Geely. I personally like the original Geely logo.It features a mountain which is an international symbol for strength. It includes the English letters for Geely so Chinese customers will associate it with an international brand and international customers will recognize and remember the brand if they have never heard of Geely or seen the logo before.
At Auto Shanghai 2009 the world discovered that for some reason Geely should no longer be referred to as Geely: it is now the New Geely! What exactly is new has yet to be seen. Was there something wrong with Geely before? The premier sports car shown at Auto Shanghai 2009 is merely an improvement on the same car featured in Beijing in 2008. And the Geely GE is nothing more than a flagrant copy of the Rolls Royce Phantom, so little appears to have changed. One wonders what will happen a year or two from now when the New Geely is not ‘New’ anymore?
But the big news about Geely is that they now have no less than five brands: Geely, Maple, Englon, Emgrand and Gleagle. What I don’t understand is Why? Geely should be concentrating on doing what they do best: building quality, inexpensive, reliable cars. Instead they seem to be trying to follow in the foot steps of General Motors and create complete brand confusion.
The reason GM has so many brands goes back to the history of General Motors and how all the brands came together to form a single company. General Motors went out and acquired smaller brands one by one and kept the old brand names to attract the existing customers which those brands attracted. With the exception of Saturn, GM did not go out and create any of their present brands. GM is actively retiring names with the recent departure of the Plymouth brand in order to present a more cohesive message to the consumer.
Geely is kind of a fun sounding name with few negative impressions from an English speaking perspective. Shanghai Maple is a fine name as well. Englon sounds like a car brand driven by Klingons in Star Trek. The Emgrand brand might go over well in Las Vegas, but the Gleagle brand sounds just completely … ridiculous. And this is supposed to be Geely’s new ‘Global’ brand?
The new Geely branding schemes were prominently feature with huge drop down signs hanging from the ceiling. The Maple brand was nowhere to be seen at the show. When I asked a Geely representative they assured me that Maple was still a key Geely brand and was not being retired. The original Geely logo was also not prominently featured, although I did find it stamped on all Geely engines featured at the show.
I asked a Geely employee why they needed so many brands and he responded that Toyota had created the Lexus brand and Geely was merely following their lead. Really? Toyota spent over six years preparing to launch the Lexus brand. They hired an international image consulting firm to come up with 219 prospective names before settling on Lexus. Creating Lexus involved an extended development process with 60 designers, 24 engineering teams, 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 220 support workers, around 450 prototypes and an investment of over US$1,000,000,000. Lexus created an entirely new distribution network for their new brand.
Creating a new brand is not something which should be taken lightly. There is so much more involved than just coming up with a couple of new names and logos. Geely’s present brand bonanza will end up diluting the Geely brand and confusing the customer.
Not to be outdone, Chery has follows suit creating three new brands: Karry, Rely and Riich. Chery’s move might be a little easier to understand because of the problems they have with the Chery brand name. Chery is another case of blatant trademark violation which infringes on the GM Chevrolet / Chevy trademarks in dozens of countries. Chery infringes on the GM Chevy brand because it differs by only one letter (except in China of course). So Chery has good reason to create a new English name for their brand if they hope to expand into the Americas in the future.
The Karry brand is for microvans and Riich is for high end models. Rely is for something in between which wasn’t really too obvious. Again – why should the consumer care about all of these different brands? There are too many people in the world who have never heard of Chery in the first place. If Chery really wants to change their corporate image they should just choose a new name, keep their old logo and move on.
I talked to Chery representative about their new brands and he pointed out that many other companies like Geely have multiple brands and explained that Chery needed to try this in order to compete in the China market. But what about BYD and Great Wall? You don’t see these privately owned manufacturers going out and creating made-up brand names for the sake of having multiple brands?
Both Geely and Chery would be better off focusing their advertising dollars on a single brand image both domestically and abroad to get the maximum return on their brand building investment. Both companies should get rid of the people responsible for the present branding fiasco.
Companies competing in the international marketplace must quickly learn that corporate image management is at least as important as engineering and manufacturing (if not more so). The investment required may be many times their Chinese counterparts, but when dealing with brand management it is crucial to avoid being penny wise and pound foolish.