Buick's Bierley On Surrounding The Consumer

Craig BierleyBuick is on a roll. The General Motors brand, which has for years been trying to redefine itself as a near-luxury brand to compete with Lexus and Acura, but not with BMW (Cadillac's territory), has finally got vehicles to bring in new buyers. Buick is actually the fastest-growing major automotive brand in the U.S.

The company has only three vehicles: the Enclave crossover, LaCrosse sedan and Regal sedan that is heading into showrooms now. But coming soon are a compact sedan and small crossover. The company says Regal will be the oldest car in the lineup by 2013.

Marketing Daily speaks about the brand with Craig Bierley, director of Buick GMC advertising and sales promotion.

Q: What's the large view of where the brand is and needs to go?

A: Before we talk about how we are going to market, it's really important to talk about the product. The game changers are technology -- things like rear-backup cameras, hard-drive navigation systems and hard-drive radios that give you the ability to run a radio like TiVo. We just created a spot for LaCrosse that shows how you can pause and rewind that radio. The other game-changer is performance: driving dynamics, fun to drive. We call it responsive performance, and it's a much more holistic view of performance than just acceleration.



Q: So what do consumers think of the brand today?

A: Many consumers already give us credit for building quality products that look good, but it comes down to a question of relevancy. For many years, we were the victim of our own success: Post-war prosperity meant quiet, safe and cushy cars, and we did that really, really well, selling 78,000 Buicks per year for years. The world changed, and consumers today want a fun-to-drive experience, great performance, and the kind of technology that's already a central element of their lives. So when we talk about marketing for Buick, we have to talk about product relevancy.

Q: How are you going to do that?

A: We have to surround the consumer because in many respects we are a challenger brand. Conquesting has to be a big part of what we do. All the traditional media -- television, print, out-of-home -- are critical. We have made a large commitment to out-of-home in recent months for the LaCrosse launch and we will for the Regal launch as well. But grassroots is the heart of what we do.

We are meeting with every dealer in the country, and one of the things we are challenging them to do is to create their own events. Put our vehicles in the path of the consumer at places where consumers are having a good time, are relaxing, and aren't in a hurry to get back home. Food and wine festivals, for instance, where people have an opportunity to interact with our vehicles. This is a big part of convincing people that we aren't what they think we are.

Q: Isn't it better to let dealer groups and individual dealers handle that?

A: No, we all have a role in it. I am going to look to execute events around the Buick brand and put the vehicles in front of consumers on larger scale. Culinary is part of it; travel is part of it. We haven't identified partners yet, but we are working on it really hard, especially around the Regal launch in the back half of this year. We have identified key markets where we are going to do that, but we also want the dealers to do it.

Q: Are you developing test-drive programs?

A: We'd love to get people into test drives, and are looking at ways to do that. One idea we are studying right now is a process whereby you can literally send us a tweet on Twitter, and we will deliver a car for you to test drive. We are working on the idea; it's such a powerful opportunity for us to make it easy for consumers to drive the car for an hour.

Q: Who is the Buick consumer?

A: We have watched the average age of our buyers come down from the early 70's to 66; while the industry overall has gotten older, we have gotten younger. The Regal will help us out a lot there. The target customer is someone in their 40's or 50's, but more accurately, it's more a psychographic profile than demographic.

If you look at the last 18 months ... because of the dramatic events happening in the economy, consumers are reconsidering their choices: "Do I really need to buy a $60,000 car or is there a better alternative for me?" Consumers are making more rational choices. Two words that define us from a positioning standpoint [are] unpretentious luxury.

Q: Where is Buick going in terms of portfolio growth?

A: After Regal, we have a compact sedan, and a crossover smaller than Enclave, which is important because today we have two cars in the large-car segment and a mid-sized SUV crossover -- segments representing about 14% of the total auto market. In a couple of years we will have entries in 46% of the market, and the composition of who buys those vehicles will be much younger.

Q: What's the advertising plan for Regal?

A: We need to do product-focused advertising highlighting the technology of the vehicle and giving people a sense of how great the driving experience is. For Regal we will dial up creative a lot because it's a performance sedan. We plan to launch TV in the middle part of the second quarter, around the July time frame.

There will also be a major digital undertaking. One of things that remain a challenge is validation, because if people think of us as a brand that isn't for them, they may need validation to convince them it is. Part of that is third-party validation. In the case of the Regal, we have a lot of good stuff written about it already.

Q: So you will do a lot of TV advertising?

A: We are going to buy some network TV, but we are going to try to find properties we can go deep with and really surround the consumer from a 360 perspective. I think we do a great job of that with GMC with things like their home-life platform. The same team is working on it for me at Buick, so we have to find ways within the pillars we are identifying for Buick.

We had a pillar; it was golf. But we aren't going to do that anymore. Over the last couple of years, we cut budgets and cut budgets to the point that if you watched golf or read about golf or played, you knew the brand. But if you didn't golf, you knew nothing about us. Our budgets are now dramatically larger. It doesn't make sense to jump into that kind of big alignment with golf. It's still a great audience. There will be opportunities, selectively, but no major sponsorships.

That idea of surrounding the consumer -- from digital, events -- to me, all that synergy works incredibly well. When I was at Pontiac, we surrounded the consumer with our programs with NCAA basketball. You can leverage programs to look bigger by really going deep. That's what we are looking to do with Buick as we have done with GMC.

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