Tag 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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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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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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Poor Pontiac

As many know, GM has announced that it will phase out the Pontiac brand.

So, what has led to Pontiac’s demise? What went wrong?

Pontiac was once a successful brand. In fact, many still feel great loyalty to it.

I was listening to a radio talk show just this week that addressed GM’s decision to cut Pontiac. Caller after caller came on the air to share their Pontiac stories. They were clearly fans of the brand, as they knew it. They shared their stories. A few spoke of falling in love with their Firebird, GTO or Grand Am, all models built around the simple notion of high performance.

And that’s where GM seems to have gone astray with Pontiac. The idea got lost. Somewhere along the way, GM decided they could essentially sell Chevrolets under the Pontiac name. They also decided that they could expand the range of models and be everything to everyone. Pontiacs were no longer Pontiacs, but Chevrolets in disguise.

Oh, and the Pontiac Chevrolets competed against the actual Chevrolets.

Tell me, please, what is the point of competing against your own brand for the exact same customer?

What’s even more baffling is why GM would mess with the essence of the Pontiac. Why would they stray from the core idea underpinning the brand? Why would they mess with the brand character?

Even when GM tried to bring back the GTO, they failed. Why? That car wasn’t accepted as a true Pontiac and it didn’t perform like one either. Ford brought back the Mustang with success. Why? They stayed true to the spirit of that brand.

In my view, GM should have stuck with a smaller range of true high performance models under the Pontiac name.

Now, mind you, the sport car market is saturated. It’s a different car game from when Pontiac was at its heyday. Even if GM had recommitted to the true Pontiac brand, they might not achieve the same level of dominance they once enjoyed in the market. But they might still have a winner at some level, and they might still be relevant to a segment of car enthusiasts. They might have been able to adapt and carve out their own share of the market.

What’s the brand lesson here? Stay true to who you are. Deliver on the promise. When you stray from the core idea, you erode the brand’s value. When you try to say you are something you actually aren’t, you aren’t going to fool anyone. And when you forget who you are, you’re doomed.

GM may have just announced its decision, but the automaker actually pulled the plug on Pontiac a long time ago.

Brand Neglect Drives Failure

I just read an outstanding piece by Olivier Blanchard, principal at BrandBuilder Marketing, on the mistreatment of brands by lousy CEOs.

See Blanchard’s blog post: Killing America’s brands, one lousy CEO at a time (It’s a bit lengthy, but worth the read).

In this piece, he rants against ineffective leadership at Chrysler and GM, whose CEOs, he says, have focused to their detriment on aggressive cost-cutting, efficiency and short-term results in favor of rebuilding the brands that once made them successful. As a result, the downfall of these auto giants have accelerated.

I think Blanchard’s point is a good one. Too often, business leadership focuses more on short-term profitability (making the numbers). By doing so, they may be running the business, but they’re not managing the brand.

A brand management mindset is different. Brand management rises above profit and loss and focuses instead on value. And value wins customers, long-term revenues and opportunities for growth. Managing costs and production efficiencies may create value in the short-term, but you can only squeeze so much juice out of a lemon.

As Blanchard says:

“Repeat after me. No major brand ever rose to a position of market dominance by focusing on cutting costs.”

Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that Ford appears to have emerged as the best positioned among Detroit’s Big Three.

fordWe see a lot of positive chatter about Ford these days.

One reason, no doubt, is that Ford is the one American auto-making giant that hasn’t asked for any loan money from the federal government. By doing so, the company seems to have claimed the position as the soundest, most dependable and most likely-to-stick-around American automaker.

That’s not to say they won’t ask for support. And by no means is Ford out of the woods. They still face an uphill climb. Their situation is still precarious.

But Ford seems to have gotten it right on many other fronts. And a large part of this seems to come down to the right mindset – a brand management mindset.

You can see it in the words of Ford CEO Alan Mulally himself. When asked about Ford’s healthier financial position vis-à-vis its Detroit rivals, he mostly talked about the value of the Ford brand. And he told the story about Ford’s focus and work over the past few years on ensuring that every new vehicle in the future was best in class in quality, fuel efficiency, safety and value.

And it seems as if the brand is performing. Ford is a recognized leader in safety and in recent reviews has received high praise for reliability and quality, including from the impartial magazine Consumer Reports. In fact, Ford’s reliability and quality is now said to be on par with Toyota and Honda.

Ford has also made meaningful progress on fuel efficiency, with a greater number of hybrid models this year and plans to replace almost half of its models in today’s showrooms with environmentally-friendly fuel efficient hybrids by this time next year. Ford already boasts the most fuel efficient SUV on the market.

Ford has had its share of cost-cutting and efficiency efforts, don’t get me wrong. But compared to its Detroit rivals, Ford seems to have put a lot more emphasis and substance behind its promise of being there with the quality vehicles people want.

Delivering on your promise is the ultimate test of  your brand. That’s where respect comes from. It’s where brand fans come from. It’s where long-term revenue comes from.

We’ll have to wait and see what happens with all three major American auto companies, but Ford’s brand management mindset may be giving it the edge.

As Blanchard says, one must drive your business forward with a focus on building the brand, on creating and pleasing customers. One must manage the brand, not just the profit and loss columns.

I’m certainly no expert on the American auto industry, so help me out.

Do you think Ford has set itself apart with a better focus on its brand, or are other factors at play?

Why does Ford seem better positioned at this moment to succeed than its Detroit rivals? Or is it?

Do you think Blanchard is right about CEOs failing because of brand neglect?