Seeking Perception Change, Lincoln Cites Technology


Lincoln, Ford Motor's luxury division, has spent the last three years evolving both the brand and what people think of it, from a maker of big cars and bigger SUVs to a space-age luxury brand -- and one that deserves to be on shopping lists with Lexus, BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes.

Vehicles like MKZ and MKS sedans and the MKX crossover have helped turn consumer opinion and drive Lincoln market share up for the past three years. But even the brand's marketers concede that consumer perception of it really has not caught up with new Lincoln products. With two new vehicles coming to market in coming weeks -- the 2010 MKS, a full-sized sedan and MKT, 3-row crossover SUV -- the company has the chance to turn heads both with the products and with the advertising.

"I think if you go back to five years ago, the biggest challenge was product, and we focused very hard on changing that," says Amy Marentic, who trained to be an aerospace engineer and just weeks ago switched from product planning to marketing manager for cars and crossovers. "Our showroom is very different today from 2005. Now I do think our biggest challenge is communicating those products and becoming relevant to our target consumers."



Adds Thomais Zaremba, Lincoln Mercury communications manager, "if you were to ask consumers today, 'What is a Lincoln?,' they would probably say, 'Town Car and Navigator.' There would be very few who could read back the current lineup of MKZ, MKS, and MKX." She says that the company has tried to change that with futuristic creative that posits Lincoln on-board technology as ahead of the curve.

Lincoln advertising, which adheres to a "Reach Higher" theme, largely eschews text supers and completely dispenses with voiceovers. Instead, Lincoln uses techno-pop stylings of pop classics like David Bowie's "Major Tom" (for the recent MKZ campaign) and focuses on vehicle technology and design.

Zaremba tells Marketing Daily the approach "was born from consumers telling us, 'look, I'm a very savvy shopper; you just let me know you are relevant to me and I'll figure it out; don't spoon-feed me the information. Let me figure it out for myself.' The idea is to provoke that target customer who doesn't know what Lincoln is today -- get them to take the next step," she says.

She says that media strategy for Lincoln is big on cable. "We tend to go out and buy large network properties, but cable networks are where we know our audience lives," she says. Lincoln also entered music territory this year with a promotion around its sponsorship of the Grammy Awards. Lincoln recently launched a new mobile Web site and digital campaigns that feature banner ads that mirror Lincoln's Web site.

Per Zaremba, a portion of the marketing for the MKT will be directed to professional women, who index strongly for the vehicle; also, Lincoln will boost experiential marketing efforts with the vehicle, with targeted ride-and-drive-type programs.

Marentic says the median age of the Lincoln buyer is down about 10 years for sedans, with the MKX crossover bringing in the youngest buyers -- and that consumers are cross-shopping brands like Lexus, Cadillac, and other luxury brands. "Our conquest is up; for the MKX, about 66% of buyers are coming from owners of other brands."

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