Category Archives: Automotive

Relationship Between Design and Marketing

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I’m studying up on the automotive industry and recently came across a video interview with BMW Group’s former chief of Design. His name is Chris Bangle and I see that he’s quite a controversial figure in the automotive design world. You can view the interview for yourself if you’d like (even if you have no interest in automotive design, this one is a bit of an interesting watch).

He has some thought-provoking words on automotive design. The one that struck me most is his view of the relationship between Marketing and Design. Bangle’s gist (and this is my interpretation): you have to keep the two disciplines separate. Closer to his own words: If you want to keep the design unique and fresh, you isolate it.

He says: “The marketing guys, these guys you have to keep a little bit at bay because their first reaction is: ‘No, no, no, no, no, no, no.’ You can’t create life under an atmosphere of no.”

I find fascinating this whole notion of a divide between Design and Marketing.

But, is a sharp divide between the two disciplines in the best interests of a brand?

As Brian Ling says over at his Design Sojourn blog, doesn’t Design and Marketing go hand in hand?

I say yes. The conversation needs to flow both ways. A brand lives and dies on its ability to consistently meet expectations. How can you achieve this, however, if one function is isolated from the other with little collaboration?

I value design freedom, but not if it strays away from meeting the needs of the user. That’s not to say Design is less user-focused and must be checked by Marketing… but Design and Marketing’s viewpoints may differ and those differences need to be addressed and reconciled. Each has a role in identifying unmet needs. Each has a role in interpreting how design options meet those needs and how those same options may be perceived by users.

Design and Marketing need to work together; they can’t and shouldn’t work apart. Do I believe Design should have some freedom to unearth possibilities and create life as Bangle says? Yes. But that same freedom comes with a responsibility to ensure the final art form serves the brand and its target audiences. This responsibility is best met with a closer cross-functional collaboration.

I just have to get some automotive designers and marketers together to discuss this one… and how hard could this be after all? I live in the automotive hub of Greater Detroit!

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Volkswagen’s Great/Good Campaign: Great, Good, or Less than Good?

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Great. For the price of good. That’s Volkswagen’s new theme line in support of its launch of the 2011 Jetta.

What do you think  of the Great/Good campaign theme? Great? Good? Less than good? That’s my question for this installment of this blog’s Brand Champ or Chump series, the first that I’ve run in quite a while.

I say VW’s got a winner here. Why? Well, I believe the vast majority of car buyers want the best car they can possibly afford. We’ve entered the age of new frugality, says Scott Burgess with The Detroit News. Car buyers are spending more carefully than ever before, even luxury buyers. Everyone wants to think they are making the smartest possible choice.

VW’s Great/Good theme line lends itself very well to this market environment. Plus, VW can pull it off because it counts quality German engineering and high technology as brand attributes.

For VW, putting value in the front seat to support its launch of the 2011 Jetta is a strategy, I believe, that will appeal to car shoppers.

See the execution for yourself.

You can learn more about the Great/Good campaign over at the Yahoo! Advertising Blog, which features an interview with Mike Sheldon, CEO of Deutsch LA.

If you think the Great/Good campaign theme is a winner (champ) or a loser (chump), sound off. I’d love to hear other takes on it.

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Troubled Toyota

Photo credit: angusw on Flickr

I feel compelled to share some thoughts on Toyota’s brand troubles.

Jim Lentz, president of U.S. Toyota sales, acknowledges that the situation is embarrassing, “but it doesn’t mean we (have) lost our edge on quality.”

Maybe not. But here’s the problem. First we learned of the accelerator problem. And now we’re hearing about braking problems with the Lexus and Prius. If we just had the accelerator issue, consumers might be willing to give Toyota the benefit of the doubt. But with other problems coming to light, consumers may now question who Toyota really is.

Is Toyota the auto company who can be counted on to build reliable, high-performing vehicles? Or is Toyota a brand that’s no more trustworthy than any of the other big brands?

Toyota has always ranked exceptionally well in the perception of value category. The current crisis now threatens to undermine that precious asset.

What’s the lesson?

Well, for starters, you can never let up on guarding your reputation.

As I’ve said many times before, brand building is a marathon event (probably more like an ultra-marathon). It’s tough, takes a long, long time and there’s no shortcuts. You build your brand mile by mile by mile.

But if you let up for a moment, if you slip, if you fail to do what you need to do, if you let your customers down, brand value that’s taken decades to build can be destroyed in an instant.

Guarding your brand’s reputation must be an obsession. It’s a total commitment.

Through all of the media reports on Toyota’s troubles, one of the ideas put forth is that the Japanese auto manufacturer had gotten complacent and overly focused on growth.

In fact, you can go back as early as 2005 and 2006, Toyota was talking then about the need to fight complacency and re-focus on quality even as it pursued growth across the globe.

Wasn’t it the Japanese who taught us that the relentless pursuit of quality and continuous improvement is key to growth?

For Toyota, the worst may not be over. We’re hearing reports that Toyota knew about the accelerator problem for over two years. And according to a U.S. House of Representatives committee, the sudden acceleration problem has been linked to 19 deaths in the last decade.

I think this is the most troublesome part of this story… that Toyota may have hid from its own problems. All of the sudden, it’s not just reliability and quality issues, it’s a question of integrity.

My view: Toyota will need to work hard, very hard, to bounce back from this crisis. They need to earn back the trust they’ve lost, and they need to rebuild the perception of high value.

Part of the value of having a strong brand is the ability to weather a storm when things go against you. Toyota will benefit from the brand equity it’s built with consumers, especially Toyota loyalists. But rebuilding the brand equity lost won’t happen overnight. It’s going to take years.

For more on Toyota’s troubles, see Toyota’s Chief Steps Forward to Apologize.

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Fab Ford Fiesta Movement

We’ve heard a lot about the Ford Fiesta Movement campaign. You know the one: Ford gives 100 savvy social media types a Fiesta for free for six months so they can share their experiences online. Sure, it’s a hip move given all the hype around social media. But will the rubber hit the road? Will it translate into sales?

Well, the Fiesta hasn’t even launched yet and won’t until the summer of 2010, so it’s still a bit early to say whether this campaign is a slam dunk. But, oh boy, it’s no air ball!

Consider this: content generated by this class of 100 has resulted in more than 4.3 million video views on YouTube, more than 540,000 photo views on Flickr and more than 3 million Twitter impressions. According to Jim Farley, Ford’s group vice president of global marketing, 60 percent of the public is aware of the brand. I came across this data in a Detroit Free Press piece on the Fiesta campaign.

Wow. Talk about building brand presence… and, again, doing it so far ahead of the vehicle’s launch.

Double wow: creating this quality brand presence came at a fraction of the estimated $50 million plus investment that would have been required if Ford had chosen to run a traditional media campaign.

I am not one who believes it’s an either/or choice between traditional and new media marketing, but one just can’t ignore the kind of results Ford is seeing from its Fiesta Movement campaign. As we have seen from this campaign and a growing body of examples, social media offers tremendous potential to build brand presence and do so much more economically.

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New Ford Campaign Has Right People Talking

fordAs reported by The Associated Press, Ford plans to go out next week with a new ad campaign to rev up talk about its brand.

I really like Ford’s go-get-’em approach. “We have momentum. Let’s build on it, now!” That’s what I’m hearing.

One can’t help contrast Ford to GM here.

Look at Ford. They’re going out with ads spotlighting various features of their vehicles – capless refueling, the Sync entertainment system, built-in refrigerators (that’s a new one for me, and I’ll take one of those!) and ambient lighting. They’re talking about what makes their vehicles special.

GM, on the other hand, well, their big talk right now is all about a 60-day money back guarantee. They’re not talking about the wonders of GM vehicles.

As Laura Ries rightly points out, a money-back guarantee doesn’t exactly send the intended message. See her post GM & the Implication of the Opposite for more on this.

Look Who’s Talking
Another big… wait… huge… no, wait… gargantuan difference between Ford and GM is who’s doing the talking.

For GM, it’s their chairman, Ed Whitacre Jr. Umm, Ed who?

For Ford, it’s someone just like one of us. Word is that Ford’s new spots feature actual owners/drivers of the brand’s vehicles. Even better, the comments are completely unscripted. According to The Ford Story blog, the people featured didn’t even know Ford had anything to do with the filming or that they might be used in commercials.

You can see the Ford commercials for yourself if you’d like.

I’ve got to hand it to Ford and their social media whiz kid Scott Monty. They really get it. I mean, who would you be more influenced by: big auto executive Ed What’s-his-name or a real guy or gal, someone who seems just like you and people you know?

This is the new marketing world we’re living in. Ford appears to be in the right gear. GM seems to have stalled somewhere along the road. Those who closely follow GM’s marketing, please correct me if I’m wrong.

I’m not sure if Ford has truly arrived. The competition remains intense. The challenges have not faded away. Ford is still in a fight. But we’re seeing more and more positive signals indicating Ford is turning the corner, such as the 25 percent of Ford Flex crossover sales coming from people trading in a foreign brand.

Ford has a long way to go yet. But… and I think it’s a big but, they’ve got the right people talking.

What do you think? Do you see things as I do, or have you some other thoughts? Please weigh in. Would love to hear from you. Thanks for stopping by.


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Saturn: The Power to Surprise?

saturnMany observers were keen to see what Roger Penske and his automotive group could do with its own car brand.

Now with Penske pulling the plug on plans to acquire Saturn, we’ll never know.

Or will we? Some insist Penske is still working hard behind the scenes to find the right partner to continue making Saturn vehicles and that a deal with GM could be on again in a matter of weeks. That’s likely wishful thinking, if you ask me. But surprising things can happen.

One wonders then if it’s still plausible for another player to emerge at this late stage, a player who might be looking for a way to enter the U.S. market.

Chinese automakers come to mind.

So does Hyundai-owned Kia Motors, which has a very small toe in the U.S. and is certainly driving to take a greater share.

We have already seen Kia aggressively going after Saturn’s dealerships. By moving into existing or already closed Saturn stores, Kia takes a big shortcut in the substantial time it takes to set up a successful retail network. And Saturn’s got a good one, one that’s well known for its customer-friendly approach.

My question is: why doesn’t Kia go for the whole enchilada and acquire Saturn? After all, Kia is a bit like Saturn, isn’t it? Both have their share of brand zealots. Both were born out of the idea to offer affordable quality vehicles. Both have sought to raise quality levels and deliver higher value vehicles.

Saturn, consistently ranked in the top ten of J.D. Power & Associates’ Customer Satisfaction Index, just might rub off positively on Kia, which usually is at the bottom of this same ranking.

Kia wants and needs to connect with customers in the U.S. Saturn would be one route to do just that.

Why wouldn’t this deal make sense? Would the two brands simply compete with one another? Are the two brands complementary… too complementary? Or, could Kia develop and execute a business model under which both brands could flourish?

Just seems to me that Kia could build greater consumer awareness and confidence by taking Saturn into its orbit.

I’m not an automotive guy, and perhaps it shows… so please share your insights and views and help me understand.

Thanks for stopping by the On Brands blog.


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Why Ford. Why Now. Brand Champ or Chump?

Ford is running some new ads with the following tag line: “Why Ford. Why now.”

See anything missing? Yep, no question marks.

Deliberately omitted? Definitely.

Why? Well, I think it’s because Ford’s not just asking rhetorical questions. They’re actually asserting that there’s simply no question about it – consumers should be thinking about buying a Ford now. After all, they say, Ford vehicles are among the most fuel-efficient out there. Why wouldn’t we consider Ford? Hmm… I like the show of confidence.

Still, I would have liked to see a bit more substance from Ford here. The auto giant has a great story behind its resurging brand. Could Ford not have presented its case in a more compelling fashion? If you’re going to jab with a why, you really should have a knock out answer with a set of benefits to rhyme off.

Now, that said, I still like the questions without the question marks.

A question is powerful by its very nature.  Like a jolt of electricity, like a jumper cable to the brain, a question demands an answer. When we hear a question, we’re instinctively drawn in. We become involved. We become engaged. That’s good for a brand when it’s trying to build consideration.

The problem with statements is we’re so adept at tuning them out. We hear what’s said, but we’re quick to move on. Questions don’t invite us to move on quite so readily. They stimulate us. They provoke us to think.

So, sure… I would have liked to see a more compelling case from Ford and I don’t believe the theme line here is killer and mind-blowing; however, the approach has potential to provoke thought, to get Ford back on the why and/or why not lists of buyers… and that’s a good thing.

I lean toward champ.

What do you think? Is this approach from Ford:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Or somewhere in between?

Thank you for stopping by the On Brands blog.

Oh, just so you know, I may be delayed in posting/approving comments. By the time anyone has read this, I’ll be pitching a tent somewhere in Northern Michigan.

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GM on the “New GM”: Brand Champ or Chump?

The automotive industry is back in the spotlight this week on Brand Champ or Chump.

gmAnd how could it not be after today’s historic announcement of GM filing for bankruptcy?

We saw this coming. In fact, we’ve been hearing about the impending bankruptcy for many months now. And GM has had time to prepare for this day.

So, I was curious. How would GM handle the announcement? What would the beleaguered auto giant say? And, almost more importantly, how would they say it?

I went to gm.com to see for myself.

I saw nothing about the big news on the home page, so I went to the News area of the site and saw the GM news release on the filing and a statement from the GM board of directors. I also stumbled across a video on “reinvention” and a link to the GM restructuring site.

I skimmed, scanned, read carefully and listened. Did GM say some of the right things? Sure. I can agree, reinvention is good, and so is leaner, greener, faster and smarter. No arguments here.

However, I had to ask myself: “What’s missing? Why don’t I feel any better about GM’s future or a future in which I might actually find myself behind the wheel of a GM vehicle, beyond the obvious, that is?”

Two words: No passion.

I feel GM said a lot of the right things. But I didn’t like how they said them. To me, the message came across too matter-of-factly.

I was looking for something else to come through: some emotion in what clearly is an emotional event. I wanted to see some passion behind GM’s words, some indication that we mean what we say and we care about what we mean to say!

I like GM’s emphasis on reinvention. As they say, “reinvention is the only way we can fix this, and fix it we will.” I also like GM’s reflection that this is “not about going out of business, it’s about getting down to business.”

That’s the kind of determination that wins me over. But hearing these messages in a video from a professional voice over talent is one thing; hearing it from top GM leadership or GM people at any level for that matter is quite another.

I don’t like kicking anyone when they’re down. I want GM to succeed. But I feel the automaker missed an opportunity today.

Was today just too tough? Perhaps GM gave its best given the nature of the announcement?

Or, perhaps, GM could have exerted its messages more forcefully and passionately and sent stronger brand signals of hope and inspiration to those they care about, to those they need to win over.

It’s usually not what you say; it’s how you say it. And for this, I have to call GM’s announcement today a Brand Chump.

Do you agree or disagree? Are GM’s brand communications around its bankruptcy filing and the “new GM”:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

You decide.

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Toyota’s New Prius Harmony Animation – a Joy Ride (Brand Champ) or a Ho-Hum (Brand Chump)?

The reaction to Honda’s animation, featured in last week’s Brand Champ or Chump, was overwhelmingly positive. The vast majority felt Honda hit the sweet spot with an inspirational piece that connected to consumers’ demands for greater environmental accountability.

So, the verdict from last week: Brand Champ.

This week, I want to know how you feel about Toyota’s new animation, which seems a fitting follow up to last week’s spotlight on Honda.

I leaned toward Brand Champ for Honda, and I’m taking the same position this week for Toyota. This time, I’m leaning strongly toward Champ.

This spot is a 30 second commercial promoting the third-generation Prius. Set to a familiar happy-go-lucky and eco-friendly tune, we see a Prius moving through a clean and beautiful environment.

But this environment is… well… unusual. The landscape is made up entirely of people. That is, the sun, clouds, flowers and blades of grass are depicted as people.

The point: Toyota’s third-generation Prius strikes a balance between the needs of man and nature. You can get everything you want in a car – extra power, more space and fuel efficiency… and the best part is you also make a difference by driving a car with fewer smog-forming emissions. So, a simple message: We get more of what we want in a car, but less of what we don’t want.

For me, this piece was eye-stopping to the point that I really wanted to see it again. The animation has a unique feel to it. Like some of Toyota’s earlier Harmony spots, this one feels organic and artistic… though much more uplifting. The flow of the piece suggests progress and change—for the better. I immediately connected with the message.

Toyota has its hands full with Honda. The latter is launching the competitive Insight hybrid and seems poised to take share away from Toyota, which has seen Prius sales drop quite sharply. This piece, as part of a larger campaign, may just help Toyota defend some of its ground.

Overall, I think this piece is a winner. I felt like I was on a joy ride. Do you agree? Or was it ho-hum for you? Watch it for yourself (see below) and let me know what you think we have here:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

If the video does not appear below, please see the animation here.


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Honda’s Doer Film: Brand Champ or Chump?

This week in Brand Champ or Chump, I turn the spotlight to Honda’s Doer film, a two minute ten second animation highlighting the company’s environmental commitment.

This piece goes beyond what Honda’s doing and speaks to the company’s view that everyone can help reduce impact on the environment. Honda says good things come from “doers,” people who do “things to move us forward, to make stuff better.”

As part of this, Honda offers tips on how drivers can make simple, small changes to their behavior to make a difference to the world around them.

So, is this campaign a brand champ, chump or somewhere in between?

I don’t feel right going with champ or chump. To me, the piece wasn’t mind blowing or awe inspiring. I have to go with somewhere in between, leaning to champ.

I like the simplicity of the little red car and the use of toys in the animation (the artistic quality is fantastic).

But mostly, I like how Honda takes what can be a big and complicated message and makes it easy to grasp. Certainly this piece does a good job speaking to Honda’s green credentials and reinforces to consumers that the environment is one of the company’s brand pillars.

Honda’s reputation has largely been built upon quality and good fuel economy. Toyota, mostly because of its Prius, has nurtured, by far, the strongest image for environmental friendliness. However, thanks to work like the Doer, Honda is closing the gap.

Not awe inspiring, but very good. 

Watch it for yourself and let me know what you think? Is Honda’s Doer film:

  1. A brand champ?
  2. A brand chump?
  3. Somewhere in between?

If the video does not appear below, please see the animation here.

 

Be sure to explain the reasoning behind your choice. And yes, you can cheat like me and say whether you’re leaning champ or chump.

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