I don’t have psychic powers, but I have mastered The Essential Principles of Marketing. Armed with that wisdom, I am able to predict some things with absolute certainty.

For example, a few years ago Volkswagon launched a $60,000+ luxury car — the Phaeton. I knew right away that it was going to fail miserably. Had I seen the car then? Nope. Did I know its specifications? Uh Uh. Was I familiar with the features it was going to offer? Nah.

Didn’t matter!

Because I know that consumers don’t think of Volkswagen as an upscale car…they think of it as an affordable car. (And those of us who grew up when they were selling the original Beetle think of it as a downright cheap car!) The concept of VW and luxury together just doesn’t compute. And when a concept doesn’t compute, consumer’s minds ignore or reject it!

Luxury-minded minds certainly rejected the Phaeton. At its “peak,” it sold less than 1500 units a year…nowhere near its goal of 10,000. Now, VW is wisely pulling the plug on Phaeton to refocus on higher-volume vehicles.

So, if I knew that the Phaeton was going to fail, why didn’t VW know? Because its then-Chairman Ferdinand Piech wanted VW to have a flagship luxury vehicle.

Unfortunately for VW, luxury car buyers don’t give a damn about what VW’s chairman wants! All they know is, if they’re going to pay upwards of $60K for a car, it better not be pushing a VW logo.

Phaeton also made no sense because VW already had a credible brand in the near-luxury/luxury market — Audi. A year ago, the head of Audi America was fired for criticizing Phaeton and its creator. He said that Piech “was an engineer and he wanted to prove that he can build great cars, and he didn’t look at the marketing aspect, the brand aspect.”

Volkswagen’s Chairman didn’t know The Essential Principles of Marketing!

The principles apply to radio every bit as much as autos or any industry. Stations need to understand what their brands stand for and stay true to them. (Or, if it’s not working, blow them up entirely.) When stations stray from their identities, they lose…

Take “Station A” — a long-time Rock station in the Midwest. Station A’s market isn’t sophisticated…most rock fans there like “meat and potatoes rock’n’roll.” And for most of its history, Station A has delivered it — mainly classic rock with compatible currents — very successfully.

But despite Station A’s success, it also has strayed from its identity more than once, when its Program Directors got tired of meat and potatoes! They wanted to be hipper, so they added more new music and edgier production.

And every time Station A strayed from its identity, its ratings went down.

Most listeners didn’t consciously recognize that Station A changed…that didn’t “compute.” In listeners’ minds, Station A was still meat & potatoes rock’n’roll! But it didn’t deliver on their expectations, so they simply listened less!

Fortunately, because its image didn’t change, Station A was able to return to where it was and reclaim its market leadership.

The message from the experience of Station A, Volkswagen (and countless others) is clear: Your brand identity isn’t what you want it to be…it’s what listeners think it is!

And they don’t care what you want or need. Deliver on their expectations and succeed.