Posts Tagged ‘Automotive Retail’

“People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

Tuesday, October 29th, 2013

Simon Sinek spoke at TED in September, 2009 and he offered this wisdom about leaders and powerful brands: “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

I was reminded of this in a conversation with a colleague in the automotive industry.  He asked me what I thought of his most recent advertising.  There was nothing decidedly wrong with the advertising but it fell into the trap of doing what Sinek called speaking from the outside-in.  In other words the advertising basically said we sell luxury cars that have these mildly interesting features.

I told my colleague that I felt that the advertising didn’t have a point-of-view that came from the brand and therefore it fell short of having the power to change perception.  I spoke about the need for “core values” that in turn would shape the brand’s perspective.  I suggested that he needed to find the 2 or 3 immutable truths about the brand without which it wouldn’t be the same brand.

Sinek gets at the same issue by asking:  “What is your belief? What is your cause?”  Another way to express it is: What is your company’s or brand’s ethos, what are your guiding principles?

People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.

How can it be that in an industry where we expect people to make the second largest purchase of their lifetimes (a home being the largest) the “why you do it” piece of strategy gets so little emphasis.  We know this to be true because so much of the marketing in the category is uninspired.  Most of it emphasizing features and pricing in mildly entertaining executions.

But there are a few great automotive brands that do understand “why they do it.”  Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Audi, Jeep, Suburu, Lexus all come to mind.  Each of these brands have a defined “why they do it” that truly shapes what they make and at their best how they market it.

Despite from time to time losing their way, these great automotive brands always seem to come back to their “why they do it.”

Recently, Mercedes-Benz introduced their latest S-Class.  The S-Class has always been the epitome of what Mercedes-Benz represents.  True to form, the S-Class marketing overtly expresses the brand’s “why they do it:”

While I don’t love the line “The best or nothing,” it is a literal translation of “das beste oder nichts,”  the company’s “why they do it” in the founder’s own words. Somehow editing the translation seems inappropriate.

Just today Jeep announced the introduction of the new Cherokee and despite having seemingly lost their way in recent years, here comes a new campaign about the joy of adventure and exploration, values that have always been at the heart for the brand: (more…)

Do customers really want an “experience” from automotive manufacturers and their dealers?

Monday, October 14th, 2013

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to have an “experience” with my automobile dealer.  I don’t want my dealer to send me birthday cards, acknowledge my anniversary, or give me special gifts that reflect my personal preferences. I’m not even sure I’m open to periodic emails from the dealer or manufacturer because somehow “periodic” becomes every other day. I don’t want that kind of relationship with the company(ies) I purchased my cars from.

Yet automobile manufacturers seem intent on differentiating themselves based on “experience:”

“The need to deliver exceptional, truly differentiating customer experience has never been greater,” Steve Cannon,  CEO, Mercedes-Benz NA, Automotive News 1/21/13

“Lincoln wants customers to receive the kind of pampering, both at dealerships and online, that they would get at luxury hotels.” Automotive News 8/20/12

This is not new, the industry, particularly the luxury marques have been working on improving customer experience for years. These efforts were precipitated by the introduction of Lexus. When Lexus was introduced in 1989, the DNA of the luxury segment and the whole industry was re-arranged.

Customer service was re-defined. (more…)

Does the concept of “Tier 1 Luxury” have a future?

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

If you follow the luxury segment of the automobile business in the US, then you know that the best and most powerful brands are those considered to be “Tier 1.”  They represent the largest volume brands in the segment, have the most loyal customers, command the highest margins, have the highest resale values, are the best defined, are the most prestigious and the most desirable.

Every Tier 2 brand aspires to be in Tier 1.  Audi set the target years ago to become a Tier 1 brand and some would say that it has achieved that goal.  More recently Cadillac has made no bones about the fact that it wants to be a Tier 1 brand and has set it sights on BMW.  Infiniti is striving to make it into Tier 1 and Jaguar would like to return.  The fact remains that only Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus have achieved the volume, credibility and prestige to be true Tier 1, everyone else is Tier 2:

That said, I think the goal of becoming a Tier 1 brand may be a fool’s errand in today’s luxury segment.  It made sense almost 20 years ago when Audi set that as the target but does it really make sense today?

Tier 1 is full of accepted conventions that must be present in order for the brand to be truly Tier 1.  For example, in the Tier 1 world, all dealerships must be exclusive and should be Taj Mahals built to reflect the prestige and loftiness of the brand they represent.  In these Taj Mahal dealerships, customers must be served lattes, have a customer experience befitting their level of success and certainly not have that experience sullied by the presence of mass market product or customers.  In Tier 1, as defined today, manufacturers must offer three sizes of sedans, at least two cross-overs, a sports car as well as a tuner division that churns out high performance model variants.  In traditional Tier 1, it is essential to have a D-segment (think MB S-Class, BMW 7-Series, Audi A8) sedan that represents the brand’s ultimate execution of a luxury vehicle.  It’s pretty rarified air up in Tier 1, but if you can get there, profits and volumes are huge.

Here’s the rub, the whole Tier 1 paradigm has been built around the baby boomer generation and I can’t help but wonder if the conventional thinking about Tier 1 runs the risk of taking a manufacturer down a path that will be less relevant in the future.  (more…)

17 Million in sales predicted for 2015, here we go…

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Things have been looking up in the US market for the automotive industry lately.

Sales have been improving.  November was strong with most companies showing significant gains and one, Hyundai, blowing past everyone else with a +46% increase over same period year ago.  Some marques like Audi are predicting that they will achieve new sales records in 2010 and break the 100,000 unit mark for the first time.  It looks like we’ll finish the year at about 11.5MM units, up about a million over 2009.  Next year sales are expected to improve to 12.8MM.

The LA Auto Show was up beat; there were a number of new and exciting products shown (my personal favorite was the Audi quattro concept).  The sense of the industry moving forward was palpable; it was good to be there.  Then of course there’s GM’s successful IPO, where investor interest was so strong that the share price exceeded everyone’s expectations.

Even more important, the industry has made important progress during the worst recession within memory.  Given the widely held view in 2008 that we were entering a “new normal” with significantly lower industry sales, manufacturers took steps (some with taxpayer help) to reduce production capacity, which has led to dramatically lower inventories at the dealer level.  In turn, lower inventories combined with better product quality have led to lower incentives and higher margins.  Some manufacturers (BMW, Fiat) are even attempting to encourage consumers to order cars and wait for delivery as Americans become accustom to lower inventory levels and the idea that the car they want won’t be on the lot.

Sales on the rise, higher margins, lower inventories, Americans ordering cars, what’s not to like?  Nothing, all good news, until… (more…)

Reaction to the White House’s new vehicle sticker proposal: “If we get below a C do our parents have to sign off on it?”

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

So said my 24 year old son when he saw the announcement that the White House/EPA was planning a major overhaul to the window stickers that appear on new cars to include a grade based on fuel efficiency and emissions.  To be fair, the EPA has put forth two proposals, one without a “grade:”

and one with a grade:

According to the EPA’s website the “EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are updating this label to provide consumers with simple, straightforward energy and environmental comparisons across all vehicles types.”

Fair enough, after almost thirty years with very little updating, it’s probably time to make some improvements to the industry’s new car stickers.  I’m all for providing consumers more and better information to enable them to make the vehicle purchase decision that is best suited to their needs and desires.  I doubt that anyone in the industry would disagree.

Here’s the rub, the option with the letter grade is a not too thinly veiled attempt on the Government’s part to pass a value judgment on your decision to purchase a vehicle. (more…)

Responding to Toyota’s troubles. With incentives!!??

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Toyota has been very successful in the US and has undeniably eaten Detroit’s lunch. Now Toyota has stumbled and you can hardly blame its competitors for attempting to take advantage of the situation.

That said, it’s a good time to pause and take a deep breath, because as so often is true, it’s not what you do but how you do it that matters.

Today’s New York Times has an article headlined: “With Toyota in trouble, rivals gain.” Manufacturers are offering incentives to encourage Toyota owners to come in their stores, trade-in their Toyota for a new whatever. Supposedly these incentives are not being widely advertised and dealers are being encouraged not to “try to take a predatory stance in this type of environment.”  According to GM and others, their dealers have requested incentive support.  Of course they wanted incentive support, there’s blood in the water.

There are a couple of good reasons to push back against this knee jerk reaction to offer incentives. (more…)

Super Bowl XLIV: Which automotive manufacturer got it done?

Monday, February 8th, 2010

The sentimental favorites won the Super Bowl…at least the football game part.

Generally speaking I thought the advertising game within the game was just OK, not great.  Within the automotive segment, six manufacturers stepped up for the Super Bowl:

As I said in an earlier post, the tough part about advertising in the Super Bowl is that while the football game is the primary draw, the advertising contest comes in a close second.  As an advertiser you have to be willing to do work that will stand out and entertain because the very next day the “results” of the ad contest will be published in USAToday.

I always watch the Super Bowl hoping that one or more of the automobile manufacturers will break out of the category mold and amaze us.  Here’s my take on the automotive commercials, from best to worst:   (more…)

Do you know what your automotive brand’s promise is?

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

There’s an interesting piece in this week’s Adweek by Dean Crutchfield, Chief Engagement Officer at Method: “A Brand by Any Other Name…”

He posits that one of the issues with “branding” as a marketing discipline is that we lack an agreed-to definition, which subjects it to interpretation based on circumstances or agendas.  He closes by saying that agencies and marketing services firms need to more tightly define branding:

“If we don’t address this, we could be perceived as an industry made up of people who don’t know how to define what it is they’re not supposed to do.  As Grouch Marx would have told us, ‘These are my principles; if you don’t like them, I have others.”

Leaving aside the issue of agency credibility, the automotive industry needs to dedicate itself to building or re-building its brands. Manufacturers who do will succeed in the hyper-competitive “new normal” automotive marketplace, while those who don’t will languish.

The automobile business has traditionally had a shaky relationship with the idea of “branding.”  Programs designed to define or position the “brand” are often perceived as the “soft” part of automotive marketing.  This perception is in contrast to the marketing specifically designed to drive traffic to the stores or in industry parlance “make the doors swing.”  Often manufacturers feel that they have to choose between “branding” and “retail” and more than often than not they choose retail.

I think that part of the problem with the discussion of “branding” in the automobile business is that it most often devolves into a discussion of advertising, as in “this is a brand ad, that is a retail ad.” Brand ads are the ones that attempt to speak to a company’s “values” whereas retail ads feature “product, place and price.”  This either/or conversation is specious and has led the industry to it’s current situation, products that are perceived more like commodities and customers who focus on pricing.

Let’s be clear, in the “new normal” automotive market the traditional brand vs. retail discussion is a path to commodity status, decreased sales, decreased profitability and the loss of already weak brand equities.  The truth is, every successful automotive competitor will do both jobs, build brand leverage and make the doors swing.

The marketing conversation needs to start in a different place and I agree that it needs to start with a definition of what we mean by “brand.” (more…)

“Cash for Clunkers”- Fodder for the Spin-Meisters

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

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Here’s what Robert Gibbs had to say about Cash for Clunkers:

“It’s good for dealers and auto manufacturers, it’s good for our energy security and our environment.”

Like most “spin” there is an element of truth in all these claims but not as much as the claimants want us to believe.

Let’s begin with the environmental claim and the inference that the Cash for Clunkers program is making headway in the fight against global warming.  Yes it is true that a few relatively “dirty” vehicles are being taken off the roads and replaced with new “cleaner” models.  This is surely a good thing to do, but it has virtually no impact on the environment and it certainly has no impact on global warming.  The number of vehicles being traded in is a drop in the bucket.

I’m willing to give the spin-meisters the fuel efficiency claim.  It is certainly true that relatively inefficient vehicles are being traded in for more efficient models.  Of course that was the requirement to get your fellow taxpayers’ $4500, so let’s hope that it was accomplished.  That said, the “energy security” claim is pure political BS.  Again, too few cars, with too little efficiency gain to reduce our consumption of foreign oil in any meaningful way.

(more…)

I wish I had a Saturn dealership

Tuesday, June 9th, 2009

brand

This week it was announced that Roger Penske had cut a deal to buy the Saturn brand from General Motors.  What a terrific development for Saturn and the Saturn brand.

A few weeks ago I was with a GM marketing guy and he made the observation that “you can tell that finance guys made all the decisions about the future of GM, because marketing folks would have kept Saturn and Hummer.”

The point he was making is that a marketing person would have recognized the inherent value in the Saturn and Hummer brands.  It looks like Hummer is going to get a second chance with a new Chinese owner and it remains to be seen if Hummer can successfully navigate changing consumer sensibilities to build a solid and profitable business in the US.

Saturn on the other hand grabbed the brass ring.

(more…)