What Saab might learn from BMW

Saab have a unique opoportunity in the next few years – a fresh start.
You can’t get a much better scenario from a marketing perspective than the one Saab are approaching right now. They still have a loyal following that stretches back up to around 30 years. They have public goodwill on their side. They’re separating from an owner who’s not exactly popular in many parts of the world and is rightly recognised as having sucked much of the life and spirit out of the company. And they have a new coming on board that’s regarded as supercool the world over.
All they need now are the right cars. And the right marketing.
CTM posted a comment last night, the significance of which didn’t hit me until I read the news when I woke up in the morning.
The comment:

The shocking comment of the day:
“Premium will be increasingly defined in terms of sustainability and environmental compatibility. This is an area in which we want to remain in the lead.”
Guess who said that without googling it…

And the story:

Nine years after BMW’s return to Formula 1 with Williams, and four years after the formation of the BMW Sauber F1 Team, the Bavarian carmaker is pulling the plug. With the end of the 2009 season, the team will cease operations.
In all those years, BMW has not managed to win the world championship–a major disappointment for the Bavarians. Instead of pushing the brand’s sporty image (Munich engineers cultivate an attitude of unquestioned superiority), Formula 1 saw BMW as the eternal runner-up, and at times worse…..
…..Unsurprisingly, BMW attempts to play the well-worn “green” card: “More and more, premium is defined by sustainability and environmental consciousness. We want to serve as a model in this area” submits BMW CEO Norbert Reithofer, adding: “The commitment to Formula 1 does not reflect our goals any more.”

When I was thinking about this post, I was thinking along the lines of “what a load of crap! They love their performance image blah blah blah”
I even went to Google images and pulled a couple of BMW advertisements showing their emphasis on RWD and performance in general.
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These are all fine and dandy, and I’m sure BMW really do love their performance reputation and the fact that motooring journos all over the world fight with their colleagues to go to product launches so they can spout flowery adjectives about how superb the latest Ultimate Driving Machine is.
But the thing is, I have to admit that it took me a full 5 minutes to find suitable ads to post on this subject. The majority of the ads I saw in the process were about quality, desireability, icons. They were about cementing the notion that the BMW range really is a collection of quality machines, the ultimate evolution of the automobile.
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Yes, there were a lot of other ads that were pretty smug, etc, but most of them were reinforcing the notion that this is a quality, well engineered automobile. The assumption of an emphasis on performance was all mine and largely in error.
Still, the one thing that doesn’t spring to mind straight away when someone mentions BMW is ‘green’. If you believe BMW’s CEO at the top, about them pulling out of F1 because they want to be known for environmental reasons, then it initially seems like they’ve got a long road to hoe.
Here’s the thing, though…… I’ve got absolutely no doubt in my mind that they’ll do it.
BMW figured out one of the magic formulae of business a long time ago.

  • Find something that the people want
  • Give it to them again and again and again and again
  • Tell them about it, repeatedly

It’s all about execute, execute, execute and BMW do it very well.
They’ve built up their turbocharging credentials, their hydrogen credentials, their Efficient Dynamics credentials, their diesel credentials. Now they’ve pulled out of F1 and are citing their environmental emphasis as a reason.
It is – as I suggested at the beginning of this post – a load of crap. They’ve not been successful, they don’t like losing either races or dollars so they’re packing up and going home.
But the enviro-emphasis fits and they’ll play that card, play it well, and continue their quest to establish themselves as green warriors.
The performance thing? They already own much of it and as long as they don’t stuff up in a major way with their bread and butter models, they’ll keep that domain for a long time.
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So what of Saab?
The impressive thing about BMW is their longevity and their commitment to building the best cars they can in their given segment(s).
Saab, in motoring terms, needs to hit a home run with every vehicle they design and build in the next 5 years.
In marketing terms they need to either redefine or reinforce their image – and stick to it.
Execute, execute, execute. Focus, focus, focus.

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