Dany Bahar – The Story Of A Brand Guru

Brand awareness is the buzz phrase of the 21st century’s marketing philosophy. A few decades ago we didn’t talk brand we talked ‘make’. What ‘make’ is your new television… what ‘make’ is your new car… we’d eagerly ask – in an era where brand recognition was not such a fundamental part of our lives as it is today.

But brand – a word which, funnily enough, is derived from the Old Norse ‘brandr’, meaning ‘to burn’, is defined today as a name, term, design, symbol or any other feature that identifies one seller’s good or service as distinct from those of other sellers’, according to the American Marketing Association. In actual fact the legal term for brand is trademark.

Conversely, in the auto industry, brands were originally called ‘marques’, a word which is still used in reference to motor vehicles. Creating a brand and then making people aware of it to the point that they immediately identify its logo, advertising jingle or such like because of associations in the memory, is what every brand guru sets out to achieve from day one.

Brand gurus are a special breed of people: they have generally created and then grown a ‘make’ until it has become a household name and is respected – even coveted – in the market. Real brand gurus are few and far between – there are probably over 100,000 brand managers for just one ‘guru’ in today’s market and their specialist knowledge, their determination to rise above all others is not the result of training, it’s the product of instinct.

One such man with this special instinct is Dany Bahar, Group Lotus’s CEO, whose career this writer has followed for some years. Regarded by some in the industry as an enigma, Bahar is nonetheless one of the finest brand gurus around today. Why has he been called ‘an enigma’? It’s probably because he has, through much of his recent career, managed to keep his background and private life quiet while at the same time, promoting some of the world’s most recognisable brands.

But these brands were born out of his enthusiasm and nurtured until they became phenomenal global successes. Already a seasoned marketing professional in the field of sports marketing before he was headhunted for Red Bull by Dietrich Mateschitz in 2005, Bahar has nonetheless become known as the man who took Red Bull by the horns and made it a global brand. One of his first moves on joining the company was to negotiate a deal for Red Bull Racing to use Ferrari engines.

During the two years he spent with Red Bull, he had built up such an enviable reputation for – and a global awareness of – the brand, that it remains today hugely successful.

He moved from Red Bull to Ferrari in 2007 where, as Senior VP for the Commercial and Brand Department, he set up a new division within the company, which managed and developed the Ferrari brand around the world. He headed sales and service on the production side as well as marketing, licensing and merchandising for the F1 team. Bahar shaped and tweaked in his inimitable way and the name Ferrari today trips off the tongues of enthusiasts the world over who, if they can’t afford the real thing, have at least some item in their home or wardrobe branded with the famous prancing horse logo.

And now he is at Group Lotus where he is working to a five year plan designed to rejuvenate the company and put the Lotus image, brand and reputation as a world-class sports car and engineering outfit back where it belongs – on a winning streak.

I once asked Bahar to explain his philosophy on branding. “I believe that the brand should influence the people working for it, not the other way around,” he told me. “I also don’t take the traditional approach to brand awareness. With Lotus we don’t do traditional advertising with the exception of one or two special markets. Instead, we focus on brand experience activities – our motorsport engagement is the perfect example of this,” he explained.

And then almost as a throw-away comment, he added: “People should feel our brand and want to become part of it.”

There, in a nutshell, ‘become part of it’ epitomises this guru’s brand philosophy. He has helped to build dreams for people – the carefree and fun image of Red Bull which he created, the aspirations of consumers to want to own a prancing horse, and now the desire to re-ignite enthusiasm for the famous Lotus roar.

Already he’s on track with his plans for the whole brand – just a year into the five year plan, he’s been able to achieve results so far, despite the challenges which faced him when he took over as CEO at Group Lotus just 21 months ago. And just so people get the message that Bahar the brand guru means business, the company’s motorsport side announced in July that it had formed Lotus Sport USA.

In fact, Bahar’s keeping the Lotus brand well in the forefront of motoring circles at the moment for there has been serious talk this week that it will unveil a new LMP2 racer at next month’s Frankfurt Motor Show with the aim of competing at Le Mans next year, starting with ALMS, the American Le Mans.

On top of this, Group Lotus has also just confirmed it will be entering the Lotus Evora GTE in a full North American and International schedule for 2012, with a testing programme starting later this year.

There’s a certain ring around things at the moment Chez Group Lotus – there’s a positiveness at Hethel which, to a seasoned motorsports’ writer like me, tells me that Bahar, the brand guru, is definitely in business – and it’s been a good news week for him as he ploughs through his five year plan, 21 months down and just 39 to go till that final goal is achieved!

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