Matsushita Out, Panasonic Welcomes a New Brand Era
Panasonic began its long history in 1918 as “Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., Ltd.,” and has grown to become the largest Japanese electronics producer – that is really saying something! On October 1, 2008 the lead product brand, Panasonic, was united with Matsushita and National to become a singular corporate brand, Panasonic Corporation.
Named after its founder, Konosuke Matsushita, a large part of the company’s growth came from the promotion and support of multiple brands in the marketplace – namely Matsushita, National and Panasonic, in Japan, and National and Panasonic used somewhat inconsistently outside of Japan. As a result of this strategy, the company and brand relationships were well known in Japan, but that brand relationships were virtually unknown internationally.
The surprising thing about this name change is not only that it happened, but that the company has taken on a product brand name to replace the corporate name and family name of the founder. This approach is highly unusual among Japanese businesses, where traditions and history are fiercely defended even though they can, on occasion, create barriers to growth and expansion.
An example of this defense of tradition can be seen in the DAT Motorcar Company, founded in 1931. The DAT name was created from the first initials of the founder’s manes – Den, Aoyama and Takeuchi. Even though DAT Motorcars was taken over by Nissan Motor Co in 1933, they continued to use the Datsun brand in non-Japanese markets until 1986, providing 50 years of market support for a brand that existed for barely two years.
The Matsushita approach, until now, has mirrored this multiple brand/multiple market system. While Matsushita was virtually unknown outside Japan, the Panasonic brand has prospered around the world. The decision to move to Panasonic as the corporate parent name provides the opportunity to compete effectively against the likes of Sony and Samsung, and other key competitors on a global basis.
Having the full weight of the corporate name behind the consumer facing products can help to clarify brand image and allow a company to assign strengths from one product category to another and to enable extension into adjacent markets. Moving to the Panasonic name as the corporate entity, the company is poised to take advantage of a singular brand image and promise that can be extended to each business and product category around the globe. The specific brand strategy, messaging strategy and tiering of communications will ultimately determine how effectively they leverage this opportunity.
The “new” Panasonic Corporation manufactures a long list of electronic products including: cameras, recorders, video game consoles, etc., and acts as an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) components provider for many leading electronics companies.
According to the CoreBrand Corporate Brand Index®, which has been tracking both the reputation of both Matsushita and Panasonic brands since 2001, the Matsushita brand has been declining in Brand Power at a slow but steady rate. Conversely, Panasonic has been growing in Brand Power, just as steadily.
Matsushita has been steadily declining since 2004, when their brand power was 12.8. They have since dropped to 6.8 in 2Q 2008. Panasonic has been steadily increasing since 2006, when their brand power was 49.9. They have since continued to rise and are now at 54.3, as of 2Q 2008. These data trends serve to confirm the appropriateness of their decision. They are leveraging the brand with the greatest levels of familiarity and favorability rather than attempting to rebuild the declining corporate brand, a decision that could cost many millions of dollars and require significant time.
Much of this brand strength comes from the advertising behind Panasonic’s product brands. For example, Toughbook has been marketed heavily under the Panasonic brand name. The line is based on their “rugged” laptop computers. They also added Toughbook extensions to the line, including a mobile digital camera and a digital video recorder (DVR), in 2005. Toughbooks appeal to public safety and emergency personnel and the advertising is quite effective in standing out in a crowded field. It remains to be seen how the new Panasonic Corporation will leverage these strengths (or establish other strengths) as they roll out this corporate name change. Durability and reliability are certainly positive traits in complicated (and expensive!) electronics.
Panasonic is one of the largest manufacturers of electronic goods including; large flat-panel TVs, DVD players and cell phones. Profits are soaring for this global giant and it is high time that its corporate brand keeps up with the product brands!