Buick: Making Brand Chatter Work for Millennials

BuickBuick, long the solid and staid choice of those who wanted to seem professional without looking ostentatious, had watched its market share slip slowly away as its core drivers aged. The brand had once been the perfect car for, say, a doctor who made house calls. He wanted to look like he was doing well (but not too well). The problem, though, was that the brand’s image was, to most people, about as relevant as doctors who made house calls.

However, in a harsh economic climate, the idea of luxury that didn’t bask in ostentation was as timely as ever, especially to the new generation of millennials. refers not just to the moment when a consumer realizes what car they want to buy, but the brand’s journey, as well. “Basically this was our moment of truth,” says Craig Bierley, director of advertising and promotions for Buick/GMC, who points to the brand’s renaissance as starting with the release of the Enclave about two-and-a-half years ago. “We’ve had some success with the brand, and in many ways this was the moment of truth to see if we could continue this trajectory.” is basically a real-time aggregator of all the Buick chatter floating around online — whether from professional media reviews, official Buick promotions, expert commentary or just average people on blogs, Twitter or Facebook. The hub bravely collects it all: good, bad, glowing or indifferent. And, as such, it functions as a ready-made dashboard for the consumer conducting online research. And so, yes, you are as likely to see a block that says, “Where the heck is the Verano being sold besides China?” as you are to see one that says, “The 2012 Buick Verano is comfortable-riding, quiet car and one of the best vehicles on the market for taller drivers,” and as likely to be directed to some weird YouTube clip from a car show as you are to be directed to a video of a Regal owner talking about his car, produced by Buick.

The true strength in the site is in the power of peer recommendations and reams of research showing that people trusted peer reviews above all else: This emboldened the Buick team.

“We were confident enough in our product to offer that level of transparency, and thought that being genuine and authentic was the best way to go,” says Bierley. As Buick set about launching not one, not two, but three new category models to appeal to a younger and broader swath of consumers, Bierley says, “We thought allowing people to share their thoughts, conversations, beliefs and opinions was an important part of the social conversation of our brand. We thought that was important, but it’s hardly the default choice for brands in the luxury segment to take those kinds of risks.”

The negative comments may actually help boost the credibility of positive ones, says Barb Goose, executive director of Digitas Boston and Detroit. Research showed that people are more receptive to the positive reviews and comments when they saw all sides of an issue represented.

The site is aimed at, and designed to help, “what we call the ‘in-market consumer,’ the one who’s searching for this type of information, because they are ready to buy a vehicle,” says Goose, and it was born out of research into that sort of behavior. Digitas researched not only what people did on the typical review sites, but also mapped that onto where they went next, and how they continued their search.  “We saw that [we] were looking for a combination of things that they needed in order to make a decision. And we said, ‘Hey, wait a minute, we can pull it all together and bring it here.’ ”

The original site and campaign focused on Regal, but it made sense to the team to expand it to all the models in Buick’s roster. This winter relaunched as a brand hub. Three-quarters of people polled left the site with an elevated opinion of the brand, and roughly 80 percent said they would tell others to take a look at Buick. And through those many moments, Buick became a brand remade.

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