It is widely accepted in marketing that there are three types of benefits your brand can deliver: functional, emotional, and social. Functional benefits are what the brand does for me. Emotional benefits are how the brand makes me feel. Social benefits are what the brand does for my image. They form a kind of ladder where functional benefits lead to emotional benefits which lead to social benefits. And the higher up you go, the better it is for your brand.
Great brands have always had a strong social component. When you're seen using them, they say something about you. They are the holy grail of marketing that brands like Ralph Lauren, Rolex, Target and have built their fortunes upon. And once you own a strong social benefit, you do everything in your power to keep it.
Unless you're BMW.
Since its inception, BMW has been built and billed as "The Ultimate Driving Machine." A seemingly functional statement, but one that conveyed a great social benefit to its owners. BMW does all that work, engineering, racing, testing to produce a car so great that you must be a great driver to truly appreciate and take advantage of it.
BMW, however, has traded in their unique and defensible social benefit, for an emotional benefit that is weak and undifferentiating, joy.
How do I know that it's not differentiating? Hyundai owners look pretty joyful when they drive their first new car of the lot. Mini owners grin like idiots as they fling their cars through corners. And Jeep owners are damn happy when they reach that special destination far off the beaten path.
Joy is an emotion that I control, you don't bestow it upon me. I find joy in the situation and the moment. It can't be owned by a single brand.
BMW needs to get back to building Ultimate Driving Machines and communicate it quickly. Because Audi is doing a hell of a job filling the void created by BMW's inexplicable decision.