They’re no longer boxy, and they’re no longer good (at selling themselves)


A few months ago, I announced I’d be mapping out Volvo’s CRM strategy as a prospective customer. Which was wildly optimistic, considering I was about to become a Dad for the first time!

The idea was sparked by a visit to The Baby Show with Lu, where we had a look around the new XC60 that Volvo had on show (see what you’ve done there Volvo, very good..). Lucy was about 6 months pregnant and we were thinking about changing our car to accomodate the imminent arrival. So, having been impressed with the product, I gave my details, expressed an interest in a test drive and looked forward to hearing from them soon.

Got a text within minutes saying thanks for the interest and that a brochure would soon be heading my way. And sure enough, within a week, I had a rather dull & predictable brochure:

volvo 4volvo 2volvo

Yeah, it spoke about safety and clever features blah blah, but it didn’t do anything particularly engaging. Nothing spoke of passion to me. Nothing spoke to me about why Volvo had to make this car, because its customers had been calling out for them to make it etc.

Don’t get me wrong, i know it’s a “Me Too” model in a rather crowded market (BMW, Ford, VW, Vauxhall, Toyota, Honda, Nissan all have small SUVs – and they’re the ones i thought of immediately without giving it any decent thought). But that’s the point. If it’s a Me Too, what makes it different? What makes it better?

A couple of days later i got a phone call from a Volvo call centre. Couldn’t talk, as I was on the other line, so I asked them to call me back. They never did. Nice.

Finally, a month later, I receive a random mailing about their new ‘Drive’ eco range of engines/models. Nothing about the XC60 specifically. Just a total punt. No reference to my previous interest. Oh, and it was a dire, dire piece of DM:

volvo 3

And that was that. Nothing since.

That, for me, is pathetic. Utterly hopeless marketing communications. The one thing that was good was the initial timings of receiving stuff. But the quality was soooo utterly drab, dull and uninspiring. Buying a car is a big purchase. An emotional purchase. A status purchase. None of this came across in Volvo’s approach. And that’s probably why they’re continuing to struggle to sell cars. So I didn’t think about Volvo again for a while.

But then, on Monday, I received the new Howies Autumn Catalogue, which contained the following:

Volvo 5

(Check out pages 42/3 of the catalogue to see the full story, but in essence it explains how a Volvo engineer invented the 3-point safety belt. And made it available to the whole motoring industry.)

It’s the best advert for Volvo that I’ve read in ages. It speaks to me about everything that Volvo stands for. It’s inspiring. And it made me think differently about them. Which none of Volvo’s own marketing or advertising does at the moment.

Sure, everyone can talk about 5-star NCAP safety ratings for their cars. But only one company invented the single most important safety feature in a car.

Maybe I’m wrong, but it sure as hell feels like they’re missing a real opportunity doesn’t it?

19 Responses to “They’re no longer boxy, and they’re no longer good (at selling themselves)”

  1. 1 Some guy named John

    I think your forgetting what Volvo is about, and it’s safety features. Not 0-60 times or race wins.
    Ford owns them and because of how poorly the company as a whole was doing the last few years, Ford might be paying more attention to its American brands overs it Swedish import, as those names sell much higher numbers worldwide.

    • Hey there

      Cheers for the comment & I couldn’t agree more. That’s the point I was making about Howies’ piece about them – they focus on a beautiful and inspiring story that gives Volvo a massive USP on the topic of safety. Rather than Volvo’s own marketing, which is bland and totally anonymous. Which is a shame, simply because of the brilliant story(s) they have to tell about their brand.

  2. Companies this days are changing effect for substance. Let me explain, the people that we’re dealing with is how much you car can surprise your friend or be better than theirs. For example, one friend of mine has this new car that has features for everything but it still some “eco-car” that ca n not be compared with my 62′ mustang with no dvd-cd player and no air conditioner. What it is happening is that, people and vendors are becoming more lean-guided and much less personal, and they forget that we’re not just buying “what they fills our eyes with” or making business, they have to remember that we’re searching for transportation medium that comply with all our necessities as a husband, son, wife, dad etc. ain’t it right?.

    I liked your article. maybe I say something in my blog later.


  3. 5 Tom

    I was interested in your article due to my focus on how companies (of all sizes) reach out to interact with customers. Part of the dullness in their response may well be the current economic position. Plus, I believe Volvo is owned by Ford and though it sounds ridiculous to cannibalize one model over another, Ford may well be doing that.

    The more auto companies come under the thumb of government (any government) the concept of customer service will diminish. GM is so desperate that they will give you a two month free test drive. The reason for this attitude is that advertising is not well respected by governments. Excess expense that does nothing to meet their “five year plan”

    Great article! Thanks for the report.

    • Glad you liked it and definitely can see the link between the current economic climate and dull/lazy advertising. But when there’s less people buying, you have to be better and work harder to get the sales. Slacking off will simply not wash.

      Cheers for the comment Tom, always great to get feedback and opinion :o)

  4. you don’t have to sell safety, people go looking for it

    • Hey Mike

      That may be true, but you can sell heritage in safety – and Volvo have such a wonderful story to tell. Stories are powerful ways to get a message across – and a one as strong as Volvo’s seatbelt one might just tip the balance in making that decision about which car to buy.

      Cheers for the comment.

  5. 9 yuphorix


    I think you bring up some good points in terms of where marketing could do a better job, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg in terms of Volvo’s issues.

    Marketing can only do so much, but it’s still up to Volvo engineers to build a machine that’s competitive. My family has owned purely Japanese cars, from Honda, Toyota, to Lexus, and we would happily own an Acura as well. This is because we value reliability and build quality over performance and status. People know BMW is the leader in luxury performance, while Mercedes has always been the highest status symbol of cars, and all these luxury cars have established themselves and what makes them unique. Volvo will have to decide the unique qualities they want, and then engineer a car that lives up to that. And, they will have to do all this while keeping their prices competitive.

    I believe this will be quite the difficult task to accomplish, especially with so many car companies in trouble.

    • Hi Yuphorix

      Yeah, I agree – it’s a tough position that Volvo find themselves in definitely. But it’s not an irreversible one. They still make good cars – some are great, especially their two SUVs. And they have a fantastic heritage and past. That’s something that many companies would die for and it’s why it perplexes me as to why Volvo aren’t using it to their advantage.

      Thanks for the comment 🙂

  6. 11 globalinternational

    hmm nice car .

  7. 13 giantgames

    Yes, their follow up is rubbish, their DM is rubbish, and the ad is good. But still don’t like the cars. Don’t understand why because on a logical level some models are great, just can’t ever see me driving one.
    Actually never even thought about test driving one, so my response is purely emotional, and reaction probably to all the marketing communications that I’ve seen over the last 20 years. So, that communication seems to have missed something with me, and I’m not sure how they can ever get it back now.

    • Yeah, I know what you mean – they’ve definitely lost their way over the last decade at least, in terms of advertising esp. They do still make great cars, but they’ve lost their story and what they stand for as a company. And it struck me as amazing that a clothing company is doing better advertising for them than themselves!

  8. 15 Joe Jeffries

    You’re right about Volvo and their marketing… uninspiring is most definitely the word.

    It’s almost as bad when manufacturers go too far in the other direction. Honda is the perfect example of what I’m talking about – their advertising and recruitment campaigns are so smug and cosy that I could never buy one of their vahicles. I might open the door of one, stick my head in and relieve the feeling of nausea their adverts give me. But nothing more.

    I recommend you take the “How Honda are You?” test that ALL new employees have to take: to see what I mean. Honestly, would you want to work for people like that?


    • Hey Joe

      Interesting that the Honda ads generate that reaction from you. Have to say that I enjoy most of the marketing from Honda – feels like an organisation with confidence, backed up by the vehicles they produce. Take the latest Civic, a car predominantly driven by OAPs in the UK. The design was way out there, but it’s a cracking one. And they’ve managed that difficult task of attracting a new audience without alienating an existing one.

      Have to agree though, that questionnaire is pretty bloody awful!

      Thanks for the comment, really appreciated.


  9. i like this blog:) good job:)

  10. good points. apparently only 30% of what influences us is brand-driven. mag article case in point, it’s independent.
    I recently bought a QashQuai, similar segment, the interesting thing during my buying journey was that i was not influenced by any brand-driven touch point other than in the dealership and some rational info gleaned online, partly via the Nissan site. The rest was totally wom and independent sources. Never even seen an ad.

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