About 3 years ago I wrote how Volvo is turning from a school book example of brand building into one that is about destroying the brand.
Volvo is of course historically known for “safety”. Around 2011 it lost that edge in marketing with campaigns featuring for example the “All-New Naughty Volvo S60”. Safety features and innovations were not brought to the attention of the public. In fact, Safety all together was put on the back burner and replaced by the new key selling points Performance and Luxury.
The real problem with this approach was that Volvo gave up the best positioning in the industry: after all, which car brand would not want to be perceived as the safest car?
Brands that go out of focus usually go out of focus in sales as well. In 2006 Volvo sold 427.747 cars worldwide. In 2013 it sold almost the same, 427.840 cars. Indeed, zero growth over 8 years. This happened all at a time when markets like China continued to boom and last year also for Volvo. Still, Volvo sales in the USA are so bad that already in 2012 the WSJ Market Watch suggested that Volvo might as well exit the market.
AdAge calls it an identity crisis. A commenter quoted in the article says “Volvo used to be all about safety and long-term durability. But [now] everybody has safety. Many companies have more safety features than Volvo does, so they can’t own that anymore”.
Of course, all cars are safe and these days some cars might indeed be safer, but only one can be perceived the safest. Volvo stopped reminding consumers it was in fact the safest car on the planet. When you stop reminding consumers about your positioning you will slowly start losing it.
Just think for a minute that Volvo would have in fact continued the crash test advertising from the mid 1980s and put all of its innovation resources to safety. Introducing new safety features, setting the safety bar for the car industry higher every year… and reminding consumers that Safety = Volvo and Volvo = Safety. Continuous reinforcement would have helped Volvo to be still today perceived as the safest car in the world.
Instead of drumming the safety message, in 2011 Volvo talked about “Naughty Cars”
And when that did not work out, in 2012 it moved from being naughty to cars “designed around you”
And fine-tuned in 2013 to “designed for real people”.
Here is a transcript of the voiceover: “A Volvo isn’t for everyone and we kind-a-like it that way. The Volvo XC60, designed for real people, designed around you”.
So what is Volvo in plain consumer language, max three words? It is hard, isn’t it?
Volvo is so desperately trying to be a brand that it is not. You cannot be Audi, you cannot be the brand for people who cannot afford Mercedes-Benz, you cannot indirectly say that Mercedes-Benz drivers are “unreal people”. Everybody knows they are not. In fact, Mercedes-Benz has its own list of very impressive safety innovations. They have just not activated it in marketing. They could easily launch a counter campaign targeting women with a focus on safety and beat Volvo.
What should Volvo do? Continue to reinforce what consumers still might believe or want to believe Volvo is! My suggestion: revert as soon as possible back to “the world’s safest car”, continue to innovate in safety and talk about it… loudly! There is not too much time left before the brand will turn completely meaningless.