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They Don't Make 'em Like They Used To

By Taylor Gray, Ph.D. on May, 17 2021

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Taylor Gray, Ph.D.

The world is a better place when companies are good corporate citizens. I remain focused on developing meaningful and actionable insights from empirical data in pursuit of a better world.

A few weeks ago, Mercedes-Benz (RS: +5) announced the launch of their all-electric EQS sedan. This vehicle has been much-awaited by EV enthusiasts and it is already being presented as a direct competitor to models from Tesla (RS: 0) and Porsche (RS: -7). Since the announcement, there has been a spike in interest in learning more about the impacts of the car brands behind these electric models, and so we have been preparing a brief video doing just that (coming soon, here).

Preparing this video pushed me to re-analyze the impacts of most of the major car brands on the issues that matter. This was an interesting and surprising endeavor. With young kids and big dogs, our family is more in the pre-owned-minivan-drive-it-until-it-dies space. With no intention of replacing our reliable ride, I realized I had fallen behind in my understanding of modern options in the car market. Doing the research for this video was a fun opportunity to refresh my understanding of which car brands were making which models along with which impacts.

Updating our personal understandings of brands is not something we owe to them, but it is something we owe to ourselves as intentional shoppers.

 
Lessons Learned

Two things really struck me in this process. The first is that car manufacturers are all over the map in their impacts on the issues that matter--some are taking great care and responsibility in managing and minimizing their impacts while others are barely even pretending to care. Most interesting, however, is that so many of the brands’ scores of their impacts on the issues that matter did not align with my expectations! 

Now, I must admit that it has been a few years since I really took the time to think through my perspectives of car brands from a consumer lens--we just haven’t been in the market for a vehicle so it really hasn’t crossed my mind much. My anticipation of how these brands would rank on their impacts on the issues that matter were entirely founded on preconceptions of these brands that I had formed long ago.

If I want brands to take responsibility to address the issues I care about, perhaps I have a responsibility to revise my perceptions of brands if they actually do so.

And this leads to the second issue that really struck me--my personal perceptions built from past observations and interactions may have been accurate at one point in time but they certainly were not any more. How car brands took responsibility for their impacts on the issues that matter changed--and often changed quite dramatically--over the recent years. Without having really looked into them over this time, I had completely missed this evolution. A few that I had assumed to be positive performers were still positive (Toyota, RS: +23) and many that I expected to be poor performers were still relatively poor (VW, RS: -7), but some which once led were now starting to slip (Honda, RS: +14) while others which once trailed were now starting to lead (Ford, RS: +23).

This observation drove home a point for me: As an intentional shopper, I believe that consumer demand is the most powerful force driving companies to be better corporate citizens...and that means I have to be open to revising my perceptions and understandings of brands as some respond to this force positively while others do their best to ignore or subvert it. A brand’s approach to managing their impact on the issues that matters need not be static and so neither should my perceptions of them.

If I want brands to take responsibility to address the issues I care about, perhaps I have a responsibility to revise my perceptions of brands as they actually do so. A brand’s impacts and their efforts to manage these impacts need not be set in stone, so perhaps the narrative I carry of each brand should be equally adaptable.

All brand names evoke a set of feelings and pre-conceptions in each of us--this is exactly what the marketing industry has been designed to accomplish.

Building From The Past...

I hadn’t realized that so much of what I thought about particular car brands was anchored to me having grown into car culture--and ownership--in North America in the 1990s. I had a clear pre-conception of Ford, and it certainly was not as one of the more responsible car brands in the world!

We all carry narratives of all the brands we support. Whole Foods (RS: -4), Nike (RS: +6), General Motors (RS: +8) ... all brand names evoke a set of feelings and pre-conceptions in each of us. And this is exactly what the marketing industry has been designed to accomplish. But these narratives we carry can often be anchored by one particular development, or one catchy story-line, or one experience with no assurance that these narratives are truly reflective of what is actually happening within the brands.

 

...For a Better Future

Our collective consumer demand is powerful. When we push for change, many brands respond--whether out of collaboration in a shared sense of progress or out of necessity to retain market share. This is Democratic Capitalism.

If brands can change, then so too can our perceptions of brands--and we can rely on data to inform these changes. If I were in the market for a vehicle, and I had not consulted our Motive RealScore brand impact data, my old--and apparently outdated--narratives and preconceptions would have pushed me toward purchasing a brand that is not nearly as responsible as I once thought, or missed out on a brand that has evolved to a position of leadership in responsibility. 

Updating our narratives of brands we each hold is not something we owe to brands, but it is something we owe to ourselves as intentional shoppers. To be intentional in the impacts of our shopping, we need to make sure we accurately understand the impacts of our shopping…and this is a perpetually evolving landscape.

 


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