Saab should go Open Source

This is another one of those posts where I tend to push my own barrow a little, but not without good reason.
As you may know, I’m a passionate follower of Australian Rules football. I grew up in the city where it was invented and it’s like religion there. It’s all encompassing.
In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m also passionate about cars, driving, and Saabs in particular. The experience that got me interested in Saabs was what I’ve referred to here previously as my Damascus Road drive; but that’s not what really hooked me in.
It was when I looked further into buying one that I started researching the cars and the company itself, and it was as I learned more about their historic cars, achievements and philosophy that I really got hooked.
I saw an article today by an Australian Rules football coach called named Mark Williams. He coaches the Port Power, based in Port Adelaide, South Australia. The article was titled Open Source Football and as I read it, I couldn’t help but nod my head and think that the theory he’s promoting is one that could help Saab reach people who have a curiosity about cars.
Here’s a snippet. It’s about Australian Rules football, but apply the experience he describes to your favourite sport and it should translate reasonably well.

The average supporter’s main understanding of the game is typically restricted because of the view they get on the TV screen. We thought it would be a great idea for our supporters to gain a bit more insight into what’s happening in the modern game.
On the (supporter’s insider night – a promotion for supporters of his football club), each of the assistant coaches got up and spoke for 15 minutes about their respective area of expertise, whether it was the forward line, back line, midfield, fitness or player development.
We showed our members snippets of game footage and showed them exactly what players were faced with when they had the ball in different areas of the ground.
The whole night was based on the premise that we wanted to make it easier for people to try and understand why players might do things like hold on to the ball, rather than playing on all the time, or why they don’t kick long inside 50 (i.e. into the area closest to goal).
We opened ourselves up to any questions from the floor, armed with knowledge of some of the criticisms the general public have of our team and other teams in the league.
Our supporters want nothing more than for us to win and I think we left them with the realisation that that is all we’re here to do.

Knowledge breeds interest. The people who would have attended the night hosted by the football club would all have a keen interest in football aready. That interest has just been seasoned with some inside knowledge and I can guarantee you that all those who attended would be much more attuned to and passionate about their club.
If you’re a Manchester United fan, this night would similar to sitting down with Sir Alex Ferguson and having him explain Man U’s tactics – why they do things the way they do. How would you feel after that?
What I’m advocating here is that Saab could make use of a similar sort of program. I’m not sure that Ford, Toyota, Hyundai, VW or Buick could benefit from it or that anyone would be interested. Maybe Ford could with Mustang and maybe VW could with the GTI. Maybe. But those companies and others like them are generally too big and have an audience that buys transportation appliances.
Small companies like Saab have a much greater proportion of people who consider themselves as discretionary vehicle purchasers. They check out the cars they’re buying and they buy them for a reason. They tend to grow to love them. Sometimes they’ll end up hating them, but it’s rare that they’ll be totally ambivalent.
Companies that have customers like those ought to reach out and make a real connection with those customers. Not a magazine-every-quarter connection. A real connection, where those customers who care about the company get a real insight into the company.
Open the doors.
It doesn’t mean you have to give away your biggest trade secrets. It just means you give people a greater insight and appreciation for the way you do the things you do.
If anyone should know about the power of customer loyalty, it’s Saab. GM advocates always suggest that GM’s deep pockets in the 1990s and early 2000s are the only reason Saab is still around. I’d like to suggest that GM’s market for selling Saabs consisted of – to a very large degree – repeat customers who’d owned Saabs back when they were more communicative and engaging (and back when they had something really interesting to say, too).
Information doesn’t only bring knowledge. When it’s information about something that a person can engage with, then it also brings relationship. And if you don’t believe that people can have relationships with their cars, you’re reading the wrong website.
Saab could do with plenty more of those relationships if you ask me.