Back in 2000, it was time for a new car. And, as I had been doing for decades, I had a Chrysler on order. Ever since 1975, my car choice had been Chrysler products. (I even had a car leasing company that provided only the Chrysler family of products to clients.)
Except that Mercedes Benz had just bought the Chrysler Corporation. Right before the delivery of my car.
So, I declared “Force Majeure”, canceled the order, and got my money back. (It wasn’t quite that simple, but that is not the point of this blog, and I’ll keep this part short.) Instead, I bought another vehicle, the Oldsmobile Intrigue- not only because it intrigued me, but because it was a vehicle made in America.
That was about the time Karen Francis was heading the Oldsmobile Division of GM. Where her marching orders were to kill the brand. Even though it was the oldest car brand in the US. And, even when Karen managed to turn the Oldsmobile brand around- for the first time in decades- GM killed the division- but fired her first. One of my favorite slogans that demonstrated her brand change: It’s not your father’s Oldsmobile anymore. (That was about the time this statement was making the rounds: “GM doesn’t have too many divisions. They have too little imagination…”)
Consider now how GM handled another division differently. After killing Pontiac and Oldsmobile (and, of course, Saturn), they are left with the Chevrolet (Chevy), Buick, and Cadillac (Caddy)- plus GMC (for trucks)- divisions. Buick would have received my vote for the axe and not Oldsmobile. (You do realize I bought an Olds and NOT a Buick, right?)
But, the Buick team has managed to turn around their image. The turnaround covered all the bases- position, product service/experience, and communication. Which is what makes studying how Buick changed to be a worthwhile study in brand making and culture.
Of course, they fixed their product line first, making cars that were better and more attuned to the (desired segment of the) younger car buyer. But, even with improved advertising, Buick still had more to do.
So, the firm studied their sales data and spoke to potential buyers; this informed them that the customer was confused. The cars didn’t look like a Buick. Which is why they adopted that as their advertising slogan: the car “doesn’t look like a Buick”.
Instead of stressing the product features (appealing to one’s rationality), they capitalized on the radical new look of the vehicles. The question of “That’s a Buick?” was converted to the emphatic “That’s a Buick!”.
In essence, this was Brand Strategy 101. First you have to open the minds of the consumer. Then, you have to proffer a “brand promise”. But, most important is the third step- you have to deliver on that promise.
Which is just what they did.