Marketing has always been a crutch that automakers rely on to promote their vehicles. It’s been that way for years and it will continue to be that way for the foreseeable future. Volvo,, however, is planning to take a different approach with its future marketing endeavors. Among other things, the Swedish automaker is set to become the first automaker to use online shopping as an integral tool in its sales strategy.

To our knowledge, nobody has fully embraced this approach quite like Volvo seems to be doing now. That’s why it’s both brilliant and insane at the same time. It’s a brand-new day for Volvo and it’s trying to differentiate itself from the rest of the industry by undertaking what it calls the “Volvo Way to Market.”

Part of that plan is to begin putting emphasis on a sales approach that’s become familiar with consumers all over the world, but rarely used in the auto industry. BMW previously thought about online shopping in 2013, only to be met with resistance from its German dealers. As far as Volvo is concerned, this online approach isn’t meant to leave its brick-and-mortar dealers out in the cold, but rather, supplement their selling power with an online tool that will still go through the usual seller network when it comes to deliveries.

In addition to using online shopping to sell its vehicles, Volvo also said that it’s putting in place a three-auto-show strategy that involves participating in just three shows in a calendar year, one for each region where it has a presence. The company has identified the Geneva Motor Show as its European show, the Detroit Auto Show as its North America show, and the alternating Beijing and Shanghai Motor Shows as its Asian show. The rest won’t have Volvo’s presence, something it believes will help keep the company away from the pressure of participating in the constant game of one-upmanship other automakers subject themselves to in these events.

Instead, Volvo will plan some of its debuts at its own annual events, similar to the way it launched the 2016 Volvo XC90 in August 2014. This approach is designed to showcase the debuting models with the lights exclusively beaming down on them.

Click past the jump to read more about Volvo’s new marketing strategy.

Why it matters

To understand why Volvo is doing this whole “Volvo Way to Market” strategy, it’s important to remember that the Swedish automaker doesn’t have the same cache and financial might compared to some of its rivals in Germany, Italy, and the UK. Trying to beat them at their own game isn’t going to give Volvo the strategic traction it needs to get the attention of its customers. It’s just the way it is. Give credit to Volvo for understanding that and doing something about it.

The approach toward online shopping and auto show appearances are just two parts of an elaborate plan drawn up to bring Volvo into the forefront of digital marketing and create awareness for its cars to the general public. Volvo admits that it doesn’t have the advertising budget to roll out billboards, commercials, or print ads at the same rate as its competitors. But spending freely doesn’t always mean spending wisely. Volvo’s new approach is to leverage what it’s capable of pushing to the public and using it to increase the brand’s message.

One particular strategy the Swedish automaker singled out is sponsorship. We all see it in various forms, some more ostentatious than others. In Volvo’s case, sponsorships don’t accomplish anything if it’s spread too thin in a variety of channels. So it’s dropping the strategy altogether and will instead focus on one particular sponsorship: the Volvo Ocean Race. Having ownership of this event means that everybody’s going to associate it with Volvo, even if it does little to promote its vehicles.

Volvo’s movement to online shopping isn’t just about selling cars globally through the Internet. The company also wants to supplement that with items like a new online configurator that allows customers to work on fully-specified models and adjust them depending on their whims and preferences. Once the customer is done with his work, Volvo will send him a short video of the car in motion. It’s a relatively simple enterprise, but packaged differently to make it more interactive.

Despite all of the talk surrounding turning Volvo’s marketing into a completely digital experience, the Swedish brand isn’t going to leave its dealership network hanging. That’s why it’s going to begin integrating the two platforms so that both can work together to give customers a more personal experience grounded on the company’s identity as a proud Swedish brand that honors its Scandinavian roots.

So if you happen to find yourself in a Volvo dealership in the foreseeable future, don’t be surprised to see a place that proudly highlights its heritage. That’s just Volvo putting its words into action.

Press Release

Volvo Cars today announces a brand new global marketing strategy that allows it to market and sell cars in ways never before seen in the global automotive industry.

"The car industry is one of the most conservative, least evolutionary marketing clusters in global business," said Alain Visser, Senior Vice President Marketing, Sales and Customer Service at Volvo Cars. "For decades, car marketing has been following a certain pattern which is followed by the entire car industry. Now, Volvo Cars chooses to defy that logic and implement a strategy that is geared towards its own needs."

The new strategy – the ’Volvo Way to Market’ – focuses on four areas: marketing tools, digital leadership, dealerships and service.

One significant development contained in the new marketing strategy is that Volvo will in future concentrate on three key international motor shows, one each in Europe, the US and Asia. In addition, it will conduct an annual Volvo event to showcase its products and brand. It will also place online sales and marketing at the centre of its marketing strategy and drastically upgrade its dealerships and service offering.

In order to achieve these goals, Volvo is increasing its marketing budget.

"With the Volvo Way to Market, we don’t want to throw all existing marketing concepts overboard," said Mr Visser. "Many of them exist for a good reason. We also don’t want to have the arrogance to say that we are better than all the rest. But we do have the self-confidence to say that we are different. So our way to market needs to be different as well."

The details of the new strategy are as follows:

Marketing tools

The Volvo Way to Market entails a radically new approach towards the tools used to market Volvo cars to the general public.

Motor shows
Volvo Cars sees the need to expose the press and customers to its brand, products and innovations, but motor shows are not always the best way to do this. "Motor shows are a rather traditional affair in which brands crowd out each other at set times in the battle for press exposure," said Mr Visser.

That is why Volvo Cars will gradually reduce its motor show activities and remain in one motor show per region per year: Geneva in Europe, Shanghai/Beijing in China and Detroit in the United States.

Instead of following the traditional motor show calendar, Volvo Cars will embark on a series of new initiatives that seek to have a stronger and more individual approach towards the press and customers.

Similar to the Stockholm launch event for the all-new Volvo XC90 in August of this year, the company will organise an annual Volvo event where the Volvo brand, new products and innovations are presented in a manner that is commensurate with its brand and identity.

Advertising
Volvo Cars’ advertising spend will not be at the level of its larger competitors. That means the Volvo Cars message needs to stand out and the company will need to be selective in terms of media channels. Volvo Cars plans to significantly increase its investments in its brand message.

Sponsoring
Every brand in the industry is involved in some form of sponsoring activity, mostly because it is regarded as a ’must have’ within the marketing mix. Volvo Cars questions that logic and has decided to wind down most of its sponsoring activities.

Instead, Volvo Cars will increase its commitment and investment in the Volvo Ocean Race. Rather than just another sponsoring activity, it sees the Volvo Ocean Race as purely Volvo. It is the most competitive, fair and pure blend of people with nature.

Digital leadership

The biggest revolution currently underway in the car industry is not happening in the headquarters of manufacturers themselves, but in peoples’ living rooms.

The vast majority of customers around the globe shops online nowadays. Rather than going from dealership to dealership, car buyers now go from website to website.

As a result, the first leg of the Volvo Way to Market focuses on digital leadership and identifies three key elements:

Digital commerce
Volvo Cars will start to sell online gradually across the globe. But rather than a replacement of our dealership network, online sales will complement our dealerships. Volvo Cars has worked closely with its dealer network in developing the tool in order to retain the personal touch that is so important in buying, delivering and servicing cars.

A first, successful step in digital commerce was taken with the online-only sale of 1,927 Special Editions Volvo XC90 cars in September, and this success further boosts the company’s commitment to growing its digital commerce activities.

An industry-leading configurator
Instead of the existing ’build up your car from scratch’ concept that is ubiquitous in the car industry, Volvo Cars will offer customers a simple and functional experience that starts with what it calls ’the designers choice’: a fully-specified car which the consumer can then adjust based on personal taste and budget.

Once the choice has been made, the consumer receives a short video which shows the car of choice in motion. This will result in a simple, cool, fun and premium experience.

An industry-leading website
The new Volvo Cars website is no longer simply a source of information. It is a brand experience in which every screen and every single piece of information is laid out in a Volvo way and in line with the Volvo brand and values.

Dealerships

Several car brands invest in so-called brand centers, located in major cities. Volvo Cars believes that each Volvo dealer is a brand center on its own. That is why the company has started to implement the following initiatives:

All new dealerships will have a globally uniform lay-out and look and feel. Exterior and interior will look and feel Scandinavian and truly Volvo.

Existing dealerships will be upgraded in a similar way with small details that make a difference. These will display the Scandinavian roots of the Volvo brand and the key attributes and customer benefits of Volvo products.

Volvo Cars will implement small differentiators that underline the company’s Scandinavian and Swedish heritage. Examples include offering customers a drink in Sweden-produced glasses, sound and smell elements that portray a Scandinavian spirit and waiting/lounge areas that offer highlights from Swedish cuisine.

All dealer staff will go through a training program to be familiarized with these new customer service processes and standards. European dealership staff will be dressed by Swedish fashion designer Oscar Jacobsson.

Service

The final leg of the Volvo Way to Market is Volvo Personal Service which entails the introduction of a Personal Service Technician for each and every Volvo customer. At the delivery of his or her new car, the customer will be introduced to the Personal Service Technician who will take care of the customer and car throughout the ownership.

This programme obviously requires an extensive training and development programme, which is already underway. A number of countries have already adopted the Personal Service Technician concept as a pilot programme and customer satisfaction in these markets has increased significantly. By 2018 all Volvo dealerships around the globe will be offering this service as standard.

Volvo Car Group in 2013

For the 2013 financial year, Volvo Car Group recorded an operating profit of 1,919 MSEK (66 MSEK in 2012). Revenue over the period amounted to 122,245 MSEK (124,547 MSEK), while net income amounted to 960 MSEK (-542 MSEK). Global retail sales for the year amounted to 427,840 (421,951) cars, an increase of 1.4 per cent compared to 2012. The operating profit was the result of cost control and strong sales and was further tangible proof of Volvo Car Group’s progress in implementing its transformation plan. For the full year 2014, the company expects to stay in black figures and predicts to record a global sales increase of close to 10 per cent.

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