I’ve noticed an interesting similarity between what BMW and Apple are doing with their product lines. In short, they’re unifying their product lines so that from the cheapest to the most expensive you still get the same look and feel.
Over the last few years BMW has been working to do something extraordinary: they’re making all their sedans–from the 1-series to the 7-series–look very much the same.
The 1-series is much smaller than say a 7-series, and it does have fewer features, but to an observer from the outside it’s quite clear that the 1-series is the same kind of car.
And from the 3 to the 5, the changes are far fewer. Again, gradual upgrades in wheelbase and options, but the cars can be easily be mistaken for each other. Take a look at the images of the lights above, taken from the 3, 5, and 7-series’ latest models. They’re extremely similar.
For a long time Apple has been making their laptops look much the same. Again, to a casual observer not an expert on the lines, a lower-end Apple laptop of three years ago looks much the same as the latest Macbook Pro.
You can also see this with the iPod and iPad design. The new iPads have the curved, plastic back that the iPods have, and that we can expect to be synchronized across much of their line.
The benefits of unification
Unification does a few things for you:
- It magnifies brand recognition by having every model provide it rather than just a few
- It allows every user to benefit from the association with the brand–even those who bought at the low-end
Possible downsides of unification
One potential negative result that can arise from unification is a reduction of the luxury pull of the brand. If more people have the brand, the it’s simply not as exclusive–by definition.
This is where the differentiation between products within the brand can be important. A 3-series can look like a 7-series to outsiders, but for those who have a BMW it’s really clear who has the 7, and that does help somewhat with the exclusivity piece.
But ultimately the problem still does remain that when you see the logo for that particular widget, it doesn’t automatically mean you’re part of the elite–which is the message most brands want to convey.
So for companies like Apple and BMW, it’s all about going after the masses without becoming watered down as an exclusive brand.
For Apple they definitely needed to make a move for more people, as Android is absolutely murdering them with the lower-end phone market (since Apple wasn’t in that market). One could argue they still aren’t, but at least they have some color options available.
The question will be whether or not they can keep their “ooh-ahh” Apple magic while simultaneously going after more and more people.
Why shouldn’t all companies do this?
What about Rolex? What sort of analysis goes on to figure out when you should go after the larger markets or not? I imagine it’s hard to quantify the loss of business you’d get by putting out a cheaper line.
There aren’t really any cheap Rolexes. Imagine if they released a new line that was like…$600. How much money would they make from everyone wanting to own a Rolex?
But how much would they lose from the high-end folks then not wanting to buy that brand because all the plebs have them? That’s the calculation I’m sure someone is making.
What’s interesting to me is why one company does it and another doesn’t. Burberry went low-end and got crushed, so they’re reversing course back to exclusivity. Apple and BMW are reaching down, as we’ve talked about, and it remains to be seen how that’ll go.
But what about Aston Martin? Rolls Royce? Etc.
I think we’ll see more of this unification with Apple. I wonder if we won’t see the regular lines become the colored ones–including laptops. So you have your pink and blue and yellow MacBooks–and then you have your Pro version that is metal with the top-end specs.
The metal at that point would just be an exclusive color option–just with better specs as a bonus. Of course, for the pro users it’d be the only option, and that’s fine.
I find the whole thing fairly interesting. It’ll be interesting to see how the unification game plays out with these two brands, and which decide it was a bad move and pull back up into the luxury market.
I think Burberry and Rolex can do that easier than BMW or Apple, though, because cars and computers are tools. There are millions of them, and if you ignore the lower markets you’re going to get stomped.
With clothing and jewelry, however, you’re already in the realm of exclusivity, and sacrificing that to reach down for marketshare is inherently more dangerous.
Anyway, it’ll be interesting to watch.