CHRYSLER JOINS TURN TO BRAND BUILDING

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Chrysler Corp., the third Detroit automaker to intensify its focus on brands, is establishing a brand equity team made up of executives from throughout the company and Chrysler agencies.

The team, led by Executive Director-Brand Marketing Louis Patane, is charged with sharpening the definition of each brand and individual model.

"We will develop brand equity statements that allow us not only to understand what the consumer perception is of the brands, but also allow our designers and engineers in the future to develop vehicles that are customer- and feature-driven," Mr. Patane said

The group of about 25 people from the sales, marketing, design, engineering, manufacturing and finance departments, as well as from Chrysler's ad agencies, will point the way for everything from deciding what features to put into products to how they should be advertised.

Building stronger brands has become a priority for all of Detroit's Big 3, after years of brand blurring caused by lookalike products and promotional marketing that touted the latest incentives instead of product value.

General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are both adopting brand management systems, giving individual executives broad input into everything that defines brand character for specific products.

The Chrysler brand equity team won't decide questions such as whether the company should keep all its current brands, or whether it should adapt its structure to appoint brand managers like GM and Ford.

Jeep and Dodge are regarded as the company's strongest brands, while the Chrysler brand is in transition to a more contemporary image. Eagle, supposed to be a lure for affluent import intenders, has struggled to define itself.

The automaker has been testing ways to freshen Plymouth and will introduce a major new brand campaign beginning with the Plymouth Holiday Bowl Dec. 29 on ESPN.

Bozell Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., is agency for Chrysler/Plymouth and Jeep/Eagle divisions, and BBDO Worldwide for Dodge. Those two agencies and Ross Roy Communications, Bloomfield Hills, Chrysler's agency for merchandising and interactive media, are currently involved with the brand equity team.

Chrysler also plans to get input from its African-American agency Don Coleman & Associates, Bingham Farms, and Hispanic agency Montemayor & Asociados, San Antonio, Texas.

Mr. Patane, 45, was the principal owner of a Dodge, Chrysler/Plymouth and Jeep/Eagle dealership in Avondale, Ariz., before taking the new Chrysler post earlier this year.

He dealt with advertising and brand identity issues while serving on the National Dodge Dealer Council from 1986 to 1994, serving as its chairman in his final year.

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