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Bus brands - More about journeys, and less about the product

Product experiences build brands.

A brand grows its earning power (equity) through products - critically, through products that can create memorable experiences for its consumers.
Consumers have pleasant experiences driving their cars, but don’t think about the fuel, oil and battery their car uses. This is what makes Mercedes Benz a more powerful brand than Exxon, Mobil or Yuasa. Similarly, people remember their iPhone or iPod but do not know the brand of the battery that powers it.

Embrand, unlike other consulting companies, focuses on identifying such “experiential” products in a business’s portfolio, or helps identify new products that can do so, works out their value proposition, and then guides their development until launch.

Product design plays a key role here as it makes the product “talk” to the user by enhancing functionality and aesthetics.

Bus brands – moving from buses to bus journeys

Designing experiences for service sector brands is more complex, because consumers undergo an experience created by combination of product and service factors.
But the complexity of creating such path breaking experiences for a brand is justified when the business opportunity is significant – as in the area of Inter-City bus travel in India.

Embrand latest project will bring together bus manufacturers, coach builders and bus operators in creating memorable journey experiences that can motivate passengers on some Inter-City routes to shift from air travel to bus travel, while reducing their stress and expenses in the bargain.

Working with a team of industrial designers, the key elements of the journeys are:
• Bus designs tuned to three key routes, to begin with, in Deccan and Coastal India. Scale models with detailed seating, luggage and facilities configurations are ready.
• A service design that will match the buying experience of commercial air travel on these routes, and exceed it in other aspects.
The scale models and service design were presented recently to Mercedes Benz’s bus manufacturing division, as well as a leading bus operator in S. India. Their positive response has led to the project moving to stage 2, which entails:
- Creating finished prototypes that will enable the ergonomics and aesthetics to “talk” to prospective travelers.
- Research to assess the fare that prospects will pay journeys using this design.

Volvo Culture – The pillar of a benchmark brand

An insight gained in meetings with bus and truck service operators underlines the efforts needed to create a benchmark bus brand in India today.
When launching in India, Volvo offered superlative comfort and operating ease that drivers in India had never experienced. In addition to this, Volvo insisted on training drivers itself

before handing over a vehicle to the owner. Volvo’s value proposition - A safer, less tired driver will take a truck/bus longer distances in a shorter time – thus enhancing the service operator’s reputation for timely deliveries, and thereby its equity and revenues.

In creating equally memorable journeys for bus passengers in India, Volvo is not just a bus manufacturing brand in India today, but also a de-facto service brand. This is because Indians happily pay a premium for a “Volvo –Class” journey – often in a bus that’s not a Volvo, or driven by a Volvo-trained driver!
In any Indian language today, “ Volvo Bus” often means a bus journey that is, in terms of speed, comfort and safety, beyond the ordinary. That’s another measure of the potential of a powerful brand – it can extend from being a product to a service. Volvo has not tapped this potential, but Apple has – it has extended from its trail of successful (hardware) products to an online music retail service called iTunes.

Bottomline: Challenger brands in the bus manufacturing business– e.g. Mercedes Benz and Isuzu – cannot set new benchmarks for Indian consumers by focusing on their product alone. This is Embrand’s rationale for recommending and creating memorable journeys as their key differentiator, with a larger market size as the reward for the complexity of collaborating with service providers.

Collaborating to grow markets

Collaboration in growing travel markets is nothing new. E.g. Aircraft manufacturers and airlines work closely, therefore, to create innovative products, e.g. the Airbus 340, that help create new routes, which give passengers new reasons to travel. The reason? Passengers of commercial airlines rarely remember which aircraft they flew in, unless the product is truly path-breaking – e.g. The Concorde.

Collaboration has worked in the IT sector too. Intel, a CPU maker, once got into the motherboard business. It designed and sold “Intel” motherboards fitted with Intel CPU’s, backed them with a three year warranty, and ran a “Genuine Intel” advertising campaign to help customers identify PC assemblers using this motherboard. Result: These PC assemblers gained the credibility of consumers who otherwise trusted only PC brands such as Compaq, HP etc. Intel’s actions increased PC penetration rapidly in developing markets in Asia.

In recent times, the success of the iPhone was driven as much by Apple’s tie-ups with telecom service providers, as by the product.

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