Q&A: GM's Bierley On What Makes The Buick Brand


In the first part of Marketing Daily's interview with Craig Bierley, the director of advertising and sales promotions for GM's Buick and GMC divisions, he talked about GMC. Here, he discusses Buick's opportunities. The company recently launched the fifth-generation Regal with a "Let the Performance Begin" positioning and a big lifestyle focus. Bierley says the efforts have helped grow affinity for the brand among the younger consumers Buick needs and the ranks of buyers coming to Buick from import luxury brands.

Q: Everyone's sales were up last month, but Buick has seen particularly rapid growth in year-over-year sales for over a year now. What's happening?

A: At the end of the day, it's about a product renaissance. It's about more competitive products, driven primarily by LaCrosse. When you think about it, on average, we are retailing 5,000 LaCrosses a month at a transaction price of $32,000, and very few premium brands generate volume at that level. And we are attracting a different demographic, which is another thing that makes it significant: a couple of years ago we were tracking an average age of around 72. Now, Buick's average age is around 60 years.



Q: LaCrosse has been in market for a while now, but Regal is fairly new. What are you seeing so far?

A: We are selling an incomplete line of the Regal right now; we don't have the Turbo yet, so there is relatively modest availability. We are building fewer than 2,000 per a month right now and sales are tracking that. The turbo will help. The metrics we are seeing for the Regal ads we have on air are among the highest we have gotten; the fun-to-drive message is working really well. In all likelihood, it will take us longer to get Regal to where we want it because it's a new opportunity -- we haven't had a mid-size car [fourth-generation Regal] since 2004 so we don't have an installed owner base.

Q: Who are these people buying LaCrosse and Enclave (CUV)? Are they loyalists of Buick or other GM brands, or are they conquests? Why are they turning to Buick?

A: We hired Portico to do an ethnography on people who trade in their imports cars for Buick. What we have learned is that a new customer for luxury has really emerged over the last couple of years largely fueled by the "age of reconsideration" and the economic crisis. The idea that status is inexorably tied to luxury -- that pretense is important to luxury -- is a less prevalent idea in the segment. People are more responsible. Large numbers of people now really don't care about status and badges; they want a brand that isn't merely something they "wear."

Q: But what is it about the product then that is drawing people to showrooms?

A: When we tested LaCrosse and Enclave in the design phase, what came out is, first and foremost, people love the way the vehicles look. It's a styling argument. They are saying: "All the rational things aside, I can't believe how beautiful that car is."

Q: But that doesn't seem like the kind of value-focused approach you'd expect nowadays from a more responsible consumer.

A: The value for what you get is important because that's the overriding issue with consumers, but at the same time, what really initially grabs their interest is the styling -- the way the vehicle looks -- then come the rational arguments. When we were doing focus groups on the Regal launch ads, what happened was that if we showed the car too soon to the groups, it actually detracted from their ability to talk about the message -- the communications.

Q: And this informed creative strategy ...

A: So there were two things we learned from that. One is that it was important to communicate how well-engineered Regal is; being able to establish those bona fides was important. And two was, we get out of the way of the car and in terms of communications and make it really pretty. And we are continuing to tweak Regal work.

Q: What is the campaign program for Regal?

A: We really went about this in three phases from a communications standpoint: the introductory phase, wherein it was important to communicate the car's German lineage [Regal is the U.S. version of the German Opel Insignia midsize sedan]. We did that for the first two months, and we have now rolled into a more product-centric communications where we take individual stories and develop them more fully. And the third phase is really about affirmation, where we may do an ad about what consumers are saying and what journalists are saying about Regal. That will be in December or January, supporting the Turbo version of the car.

Q: So the campaign is all about the car and not so much about the Buick brand?

A: No. The world we lived in with [former GM Vice Chairman] Bob Lutz was very product-focused, and it is still important, but for those not predisposed to the brand, we need more brand-level communications above and beyond individual products.

Q: What is the Buick brand?

A: It's human luxury, approachable, warmer. Buick is about community -- that we are better together. So for instance, our Regal Discovery Tour culinary program is about the power of food to bring people together. It's about building affinity for the brand and we are looking at expanding it next year because, besides advertising, we must put the vehicle in the path of the consumer.

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