Social Signals Steer Volvo's Entire Marketing Strategy

Does your dog have its own wardrobe? Is your second private island named after your third ex-wife? Or maybe your butler’s butler has a butler? If you answered yes to any of these questions, Volvo isn’t going to try to talk you into buying an S60. Indeed, the carmaker comes right out and says that the “Volvo S60 probably isn’t for you” if you fall into these categories of ultra luxury (click on links to hear for yourself!).

While Volvo is trying to shake things up with a more edgy marketing strategy, the brand is using feedback on social media to gauge when and where it might be taking things a bit too far. Volvo’s social media team has also been holding monthly chats on Twitter to learn more about its customers. Though its most recent Twitter chat focused on the brand’s marketing strategy, specifically asking followers to react and send feedback on a series of early draft content and campaign elements for social, digital, TV and outside of home.

“The work that we’re doing on social is an early indicator of what messages will resonate and what doesn’t resonate,” Volvo’s North America chief marketing officer Tassos Panas tells ClickZ. “It really is a test bed for what we pursue further down the track in digital.”

Social media has become such a guide for Volvo’s other marketing efforts that virtually everything is tested in social before the brand green lights content for television or other heavy media rotation. The latest campaign for the Volvo S60 would not have become a full campaign if not for the reaction on social first, Panas adds.

"We love the response that we’re getting and it’s fun” but it has also helped the brand steer away from potential marketing disasters, he comments.

In one case, Volvo decided to pull back on a plan to make outdoor billboards with a Chihuahua on it after almost half of the 2,000 comments it received were negative. “For us it was just a little too much,” says Panas.

“Some of the pieces we thought people would love, we actually got some negative reactions to that,” he says. "It really did help us fine tune the campaign and adjust it a bit accordingly.”

Volvo has used humor and a “kind of wry humor cheekiness” in the past, so Panas saw this as an opportunity to “turn back the clock and talk about Volvo the brand and what it’s all about.”

“Over the years, Volvo has done advertising that was probably a bit too tactical” by emphasizing savings or Volvo’s stellar safety record, Panas says.

“No doubt we’re a safe vehicle, but it didn’t help us learn more about [consumers’] connection with the brand,“ he adds. 

Panas notes, “We are a niche brand in the US with less than 1 percent share in the market so we feel we can be polarizing to relate to the consumers we are targeting.”

Being an outsider in such a competitive market has its marketing advantages. “I think we’ve taken a decision that we’re OK to take risks. We don’t have to please everyone in the marketplace. We’re actually enjoying not doing that,” Panas says, adding that the brand doesn’t have to dilute its messaging to point where its pleasing to everybody.

“Volvo owners are a little less uptight about what people think about them,” he adds. “The people who are Volvo owners… love that humor and find it really funny.”

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