Posts Tagged ‘Strategy’

Deja vu all over again, here comes the VW Phaeton.

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

Just yesterday Automotive News had an article that reported that amidst a cost cutting drive, Volkswagen has decided to re-introduce the uber expensive Phaeton model:

“…the “people’s car” maker plans to spend millions of euros upgrading a money-losing luxury sedan.”–Automotive News 1/28/15

The blogosphere has erupted with any number of industry observers pointing out the illogic of re-introducing an Mercedes-Benz S-Class competitor when you have announced that you’re cutting costs and, oh by the way, the Phaeton has been a huge money losing proposition ever since it was introduced at the 2002 Geneva auto show:

geneva3668cs

I acknowledge the inconsistency of an austerity plan side by side with a re-jiggered luxo-barge but I admit to being a bit fascinated with the idea of the Phaeton.  The last time we went through the “we’re bringing the Phaeton back” phase was in 2009, right after the end of the great recession. At the time I wrote a post (“Has the VW Phaeton’s time come?“) and offered up the possibility that the Phaeton could be the luxury car for a new post recession sensibility.

I still think that possibility still exists, but the surging millennial generation adds a different twist to the idea.  After all, so many millennials grew up driving Volkswagens and we know for a fact that VW holds a special emotional place in American culture.  In five years millennials as a generation will be driving luxury segment sales. I think about a new generation of luxury car buyers, who are emotionally attached to the VW brand, who want to naturally separate themselves a bit from their parents and their parents’ luxury car choices (Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus) and I say to myself that’s an opportunity!

Boomers were never going to drop $65 large on a VW, they remember the original beetle, and VW as an economy brand.  The millennials don’t have that institutional memory, for them VW is Jettas, Golfs, and Passats that were actually premium priced relative to their competitive set. Is it really such a stretch to think that this new generation of luxury car buyers might consider and buy a large luxury entry from VW? (more…)

“WTF is going on with Lincoln?”

Thursday, January 22nd, 2015

So started a holiday conversation over dinner at a friend’s house. I’m always the person expected to answer the automotive related questions and in this case a few people in the room knew that I had worked with folks at Lincoln in the past.

“Cameron, WTF is going on with Lincoln?”  Before I even had a chance to answer, the entire table jumped in and started discussing the recent Lincoln advertising featuring Matthew McConaughey:

 

 

 

Lots of different opinions, some loved the ads, some thought they were stupid.  Some folks really love Matthew McConaughey, some not so much.  I really had no idea how many people thought The Lincoln Lawyer was a great movie. Not surprisingly the conversation turned to all the parodies of the ads, Ellen did one, so did SNL:

 

 

 

All this conversation went on for a full a full a ten minutes and then someone remembered they had asked me a question, turned to me and asked again, “Cameron, WTF is going on with Lincoln?” I said:

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Until now, Cadillac has proven the adage: “Nothing hurts a bad product more than good advertising.”

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

This morning Cadillac introduced a new campaign from its new agency (Adweek 12/1013). The good news is that for the first time in a decade and a half, the product is as good or maybe better than the advertising.  The new ATS and CTS are getting rave reviews from the industry pundits and there seems to be broad agreement that finally, the Cadillac product is up to the job of moving the brand into the rarified air of Tier 1 luxury where Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus and Audi compete.

The Cadillac brand has been through a lot of marketing fits, starts and shifts over the last decade and a half. Messaging has been inconsistent and no real brand values established. That said, there have been some terrific ad campaigns that have gotten the brand noticed, unfortunately the product wasn’t as good as the advertising.

In the 2002 Super Bowl, Cadillac introduced its “Breakthrough” campaign (from Leo Burnett) hitting the heart of the boomer generation with Led Zeppelin:

The Breakthrough campaign really helped Cadillac get noticed again after years of being ignored by boomers who were buying Mercedes-Benzs, BMWs, Lexi and Audis.

In the mid-2000s Cadillac changed agencies (to Modernista) and produced this commercial for its “Life. Liberty. and the Pursuit” campaign:

In 2008, Cadillac introduced Kate Walsh as a spokesperson and raised a few eyebrows:

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On the cusp of……slipping the needle in.

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Last week the auto industry reported US sales and what a great report it was!  Just scan the headlines:

“Out of the Doldrums, Automakers Post Strong U.S. Sales.”  –New York Times 12/3/13

“Brisk Demand Lifts Car Sales”  –Wall Street Journal 12/4/13

“Auto Sales for November Hit Fastest Pace in Almost Seven Years…Industry Bullish on Growth”    –AdAge 12/3/13

“Industry rides toward 2014 on a high” Automotive News 12/3/13

“Strong US sales boost Detroit Three Car Makers”Financial Times 12/3/13

Just this morning Automotive News reported:

“Likely from Santa: Soaring SAAR for December, big ’14”

So the march out of the recession continues for the auto industry, some forecasters are even predicting that in 2014 the industry could retail 17MM units again.  Forgive me, but I find these predictions a bit unsettling. I’ve seen the boom and bust of cycle of the industry a few times and each time we go through it, I quietly say to myself, “Ok now we’ve learned our lesson.”

It was just a few years ago that the country was thrown into the worst recession most of us can remember. Auto industry sales collapsed to 10.4MM units in 2009 and Chrysler and GM went through bankruptcy. Bankruptcy gave the domestic manufacturers an historic opportunity to rid themselves of excess production capacity and correct one of the industry’s long term bugaboos, we were simply making more cars than people wanted to buy.  Too much production led to inflated inventories which in turn led to marketing that relied heavily on incentives and made price virtually the only criterium for purchase. We taught consumers to ‘buy the deal.’ Promotions are a necessary part of any business and there will always be times when incentives need to be used, but using incentives became the SOP of the industry (particularly the domestics) and made it impossible for anyone to make money.

For the last couple of years, with the recession just behind us, the industry has shown restraint. Production and inventories were kept under tight control, fewer incentives were used and low and behold, margins increased! This has been great for the industry and things are really on firmer footing than anytime in recent memory.

But, will the industry become a victim of its own success……again?! (more…)

“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…)

Cadillac’s “Business Unusual” illustrates the wisdom of separating “Church and State”

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Cadillac and Time Warner have just started a new program called “Business Unusual. Daring stories from the road to success.” Comedian Chris Hardwick is the host and the basic concept is that he will interview entrepreneurs who have defied the odds by taking a risk and turning it into a successful business.  The outputs are videos featuring Hardwick and the entrepreneur(s) discussing their venture, what worked, what didn’t.  The objective is to draw parallels between what these entrepreneurs have done/do and Cadillac.

Fair enough, but let’s face it, the promise to the consumer is an interesting story about an entrepreneur and secondarily a bit of information about Cadillac.

The two available videos (at cnnmoney.com) illustrate the difficulty of finding the balance between providing the content that the consumer is promised versus the commercial message.

The first video is about a company called Wagic and I think does a pretty good job. The entrepreneurs, their business and products are interesting.  I felt as if I actually learned something about their business idea and how they succeeded.  There is only one moment where I felt the commercial interests intrude.  Toward the end, Hardwick asks shamelessly “how do you go from something like this (pointing to a Kiddalac riding toy) to something like this (pointing to a Cadillac CTS).”  That then leads one of the entrepreneurs to say, “they (Cadillac) started from scratch, that’s what we would do if we were going to make a revolutionary car.” I don’t mind the opening and closing visuals of the car that Hardwick is driving, but forcing the brand strategy into the conversation was a bit over the top and left me a little frustrated.

Unfortunately, the commercial nature is even more overt in the second episode(more…)

Is Fiat taking VW’s US positioning?

Monday, November 29th, 2010

The week before last, I was in Los Angeles for the auto show.  There were a number things that were interesting, but for me, the most interesting was the introduction of the Fiat 500 to the US market. The Fiat 500 represents the re-introduction of the Fiat marque to the US and thus garnered quite a crowd at the press conference:

As we watched Laura Soave, Fiat’s head of marketing, introduce the Fiat 500, I couldn’t help but lean over to a colleague and say “Fiat is taking Volkswagen’s US positioning.”  The presentation was full of “Italian passion” which might have been code for a youthful, fun, engaged approach to driving.  Here’s a video/ad:

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Why buy a Volkswagen?

Friday, November 12th, 2010

VW is intent on becoming the world’s largest auto manufacturer.  To achieve this lofty goal, the company needs to sell a whole lot more in the United States.

“The company plans to triple annual U.S. sales of VW, Audi and Bentley models to 1 million units annually by 2018 as part CEO Martin Winterkorn’s drive to overtake Toyota Motor Corp. and General Motors Co. and become the world’s largest automaker.”  Automotive News 9/18/09

Based on the VW brand’s 2009 sales (213,454), volume in the US will almost quadruple: “By 2018, VW wants to sell 800,000.”  Automotive News 1/19/09

800, 000 is a heck of a lot of cars for VW.  Especially considering that VW’s biggest volume year in recent memory was 2001, when it sold 355,648 units (in the 1970’s VW did sell roughly 500,000 units).  Many industry experts have questioned the wisdom and even the possibility that VW might sell 800,000 units in the US.

Volkswagen believes that it can sell 800,000 cars in the US by specifically developing vehicles to meet Americans’ tastes: “VW has concluded that price-sensitive U.S. consumers simply aren’t willing to pay for the extras found in a mass-market European sedan.” Automotive News 7/5/10

Consequently, the “new mid-sized sedan, which will be built in Chattanooga, Tenn., is supposed to be bigger and cheaper than the Passat that it replaces… VW wants to make its Passat replacement competitive with the mid-sized segment stalwarts — the Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Ford Fusion — and thereby boost sales sharply.” Automotive News 7/5/10

This strategy is also evident in the new 2011 Jetta, which has been de-contented to make it price competitive with the Japanese.  The 2011 US version of the Jetta will have drum brakes in the rear and a torsion bar rear suspension.  The interior has also been cheapened to enable it to reach a competitive price point.  The European Jetta has been dumbed down to meet the needs of the “price sensitive” US customer: “European buyers will get a more costly and more upscale version of Volkswagen’s new Jetta sedan than North American customers.” Automotive News 11/1/10

This approach is being mirrored in the Company’s US marketing. When recently searching for a new advertising agency, the VW CMO offered the following rationale: “The Volkswagen brand needs to inspire our base of enthusiasts as well as reach out and captivate those in mainstream America.”  Automotive News 8/18/09

So, Volkswagens will be more mainstream in the US, larger, less expensive and less European, more price competitive with the Japanese marques.  While I am tempted to go on a rant about the dilution of the VW brand and the dangers of chasing volume (see my earlier blog post), let’s skip all that, and ask a simple question:

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Volume is the holy grail of the auto industry…but should it be? The case for stronger brands.

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

A casual observer could be excused for thinking that volume is the only thing that matters to the auto industry:

“The annual global industry sales leader for 76 years.”

Headline on GM’s website

“Toyota ends GM’s reign as leader in global sales”

New York Times, April 24, 2007

“VW Group has declared its intention to become the global leader, overtaking Toyota by 2018”

Fortune 10/11/10

GM may have been the leader for 76 years, but we all know how that worked out.  The quest to be the global leader in sales drove Toyota to the breaking point where it lost its legendary focus on quality and reliability.  The result?  The biggest series of product recalls in history, allegations of unintended acceleration, thousands of lawsuits, and a decline in brand perception that will take years to recover.  Now Volkswagen has set its sights on the global sales crown and some are questioning the wisdom of the company’s leadership.

You can’t spend much time working in or around the automobile industry without feeling the relentless pressure of needing to sell more.

The problem that auto manufacturers face is that their business has extremely high fixed costs.   Unlike “variable” costs that go up and down based on the amount of vehicles produced, fixed costs remain the same regardless of volume.  Fixed costs include all the developmental investments, labor expenses and the costs of the factories themselves.  With such high fixed costs, the more vehicles the manufacturer can produce, the lower the cost per unit and the better the margin.  In short, higher volumes equal higher profits.

So bigger is better?  Maybe.

The performance of the automotive brands in Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands 2010” study might lead to another conclusion.  Interbrand’s study uses 10 principles to assess “brand strength” and ultimately places a “value” on the brand.  Ten automotive brands made the list of the top 100:

What’s interesting is that the brands that made the list fall into two distinct camps; (more…)

Top global automotive brands–Interbrand’s 2010 global brand ranking

Friday, September 17th, 2010

Today, Interbrand released their “Best Global Brands 2010″ ranking. Ten automotive brands made the top 100.  The following chart details the ten automotive brands, their ranking in 2009 and where they stand in 2010.