||Making Brands Relevant
Top Marketers Move Beyond Heritage
Chevrolet and Volkswagen are each blessed with a rich brand heritage, but making that tradition fresh and forward looking -- well, that's a challenge for their marketing chiefs.
At Volkswagen of America, for instance, new marketing boss Tim Mahoney plans to use the phrase "That's the power of German engineering" in advertising.
That pitch sounds familiar, so you might be steeling yourself for another round of VW commercials that tout advanced technology and driving performance.
But Mahoney says he can move beyond "cold sheet metal" and tell emotional stories about, say, the performance of VW's vehicles, environmental topics or VW's new plant in Chattanooga, Tenn.
"It's about the human feeling that people have" for the brand, he says. Mahoney joined VW in May from Subaru of America Inc.
Recently, Mahoney and six other leading auto marketers shared their ideas with reporters and editors of Automotive News about brand identity, product advertising, social media and other topics.
At Chevrolet, brand strategists will move beyond the current heritage campaign, "Chevy Runs Deep," with advertising that stresses the brand's technology and products, such as the Volt plug-in hybrid.
"We have a new (Volt) campaign coming out soon that will explain the car well, which people say we haven't done," says Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners. "It will bring to the forefront what Chevy is doing, as the bellwether of what the brand can be. But a lot of the power of this car comes from knowing what it does, not from zingy commercials."
Jim Farley, Ford Motor Co.'s marketing chief, is devising new ideas to sell a luxury brand, Lincoln, as the company strives to improve the brand's vehicles.
He plans marketing that emphasizes "elegance and design excellence and excitement of driving."
Another upscale brand, Buick, needs a fresh brand identity. Joel Ewanick, General Motors' global marketing chief, says Cadillac and Buick will play to different luxury customers.
Cadillac is "very distinctive, high-powered, has lots of energy," he said. Buick, on the other hand, is "this very approachable, very human kind of luxury, understated luxury."
Marketing today is not just a matter of having the right message. That message also needs to be delivered in new ways, reaching consumers where they gather in ways that are appropriate. The marketing chiefs are using social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, as a tool to engage consumers in ways that are more personal than traditional advertising.
For instance, Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc. asked consumers to vote for a charity that most deserves a free car.
"There are ways to get them engaged in products and the brand so that it's genuine and they want to participate, as opposed to forcing it on people," says Bill Fay, Toyota's group vice president of marketing.
At Ford, Farley likes to start social media campaigns early, well before the car goes on sale. And his spending on social media and other digital marketing is growing.
"Now social media and our investments are right up there with search and other digital banner advertising," he says.
Some of Ford Motor's ideas on using social media arose from what Satish Korde, CEO of Team Detroit, Ford's ad agency, saw in China. Because state TV is managed, bloggers in China are very important, he says.
Farley also is trying to make greater use of smartphones. But finesse is required, he says, because the smartphone is a "personal device," on which advertising can be annoying.
"You have to add value to people's life if you're going to market on there," Farley says. "People want something that's very practical such as "I'm in your showroom. I have a smartphone. I don't want to go home and watch a video on how the inflatable seat belt airbag on the Explorer works. I want to find out right now. I have a smart device, so make it easy for me.'"
With social media, marketers should be willing to relinquish some control of the message. Doing so, they say, can boost the credibility of the message.
For example, for the 2011 Buick Regal, consumer comments about the car -- good, bad and otherwise -- were compiled and posted for all to see "in a very open, transparent and honest way," says Rich Stoddart, president of Leo Burnett North America, which handles Buick and GMC.
"It became a way to get the word out about what was happening and let the consumer control it. We got a whole lot of positive response to that in terms of buzz."
Toyota's Fay believes social media can reach young people, who are watching less TV. "We're looking for where they are spending their entertainment time," he says. "Largely, that's on the Internet, through different gaming and Sci-Fi and comics."
At VW, Mahoney will use social media for the Beetle. For the U.S.-made Passat, though, he plans a significant increase in TV advertising.
He says: "If you don't see our advertising this fall, you must be out of the country."
(Source: Automotive News, 09/12/11)
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