Interview Date: 07/03/2010
Run Date: 07/09/2010
Our publisher, Gerardo Orlando, had the opportunity in late May to speak with Finbar McFall, Vice President of Marketing for Land Rover North America. We learned about this iconic luxury brand, and we were able to ask Finbar about the challenges Land Rover and other car companies have faced over the past two years with the economic crisis. Fortunately, people are buying cars again, and that’s great for Land Rover, the other car companies and the overall economy as well. If you’re thinking about a luxury vehicle or a rugged larger vehicle, check out the interview and hear from Finbar why a Land Rover or a Range Rover might be your best option.
Finbar McFall: Hi Gerardo, it’s Finbar.
Bullz-Eye: Hey Finbar, how are you?
FM: Very good. Thanks.
BE: You took this new position in ’07, with this great luxury brand. I’m sure you had a lot of plans in place. And then we get to 2008 and the bottom falls out of the economy. It must have been quite a shock to your plans. Did that have a big impact? What happened?
FM: Well certainly, of course it had a big impact on everybody. It affected everything that was done because nobody had experienced anything like this really in recent memory. Across the business everyone was affected. The good news now of course is that we can feel a real momentum and our sales have been increasing, month to month, for the last seven months. You know, there’s always a positive side to these things. As we lived through what was a very difficult period, we all collectively learned, and I’m sure it was the same in your business; we all learned a lot of very useful lessons.
FM: And hopefully ones that we keep with us. So, you know, we’ve become much more efficient in everything that we do, and that’s not just from a cost perspective as well. It’s also made sure that we’ve been more focused in our messaging. One of the things that I’ve been very keen to do, and I’ve been doing over the last couple of years with Land Rover and Range Rover messaging, is to make sure that there’s a real, what we call, a call to action. And you know our brands have a very emotional appeal but also there’s a very rational side to them as well. It’s always important but it’s been even more so living through the environment that we’ve been in. And I think that’s what’s really helped to make us stand out and sustain our sales through a difficult period. Now that we’re starting to come out the back of it, we launched our ’10 model year and they’ve been a huge success for us and that momentum has continued. So such is the nature of the economy and the environment that we’re still living in that you can never take anything for granted but we’re very hopeful now. We see growth back in our numbers again. There’s a real demand for our products out there. All the key metrics that we measure, whether it’s awareness, or consideration, or showroom traffic, or web hits, or leads and hand raisers, all of the business metrics that we have have been on an improving trend now for at least seven months, if not slightly longer actually.
BE: Well that’s good to hear. Obviously many of the other car brands are saying the same thing, which is good for the overall economy. So obviously that’s good news. And like you said, there’s nothing like a tough recession to really focus a company, and it’s good that you went through that process because you can always get positive out of challenging times. In terms of focusing your messaging, what’s the core message now, in a nutshell, for the brand?
FM: Actually, I’m glad you asked that. There are two really. We make a subtle distinction between Land Rover and Range Rover. So for the Land Rover products our tag line is: Why get a car when you can own a Land Rover?
FM: I think it’s a very powerful line because it speaks to the breadth of capability of our vehicles. So on one hand, superficially, they’re luxury vehicles but of course beneath all of that, they have an incredible breadth of capabilities. So the same vehicle that just looks great, sat outside your house, is also the vehicle that can tow, that can…if it has full seven seat capacity, that can cope with any weather or road condition. And does all of those things and is still a luxury vehicle. And that’s really the key strength of Land Rover and Range Rover.
The line for Range Rover is: The luxury that’s more than a luxury. And very similar logic Gerardo, in terms of having that breadth of capability. And if you think about Range Rover and the environment that it competes in, the other choices that people have when they’re looking at that product, there really isn’t a direct competitor. Then if you think about it, it’s really about luxury vehicles. So people may be looking at an S class or 7 series while they’re considering a Range Rover. So they may be looking at sedan alongside an SUV. And then you can compare and contrast and you think well okay, exactly to that point, it’s not just a one dimensional product. As well as being a beautiful, luxurious machine, it’s just got incredible breadth of capability. And invariably, it’s especially true with our Range Rover owners who tend to have a fleet of cars in their household; the car that they drive everyday is a Range Rover because it does the most. It’s the one that on the most occasions fits exactly what we need. And that’s really helped us stand out. You know our cars…that’s always been their core attraction, but as the rational side of the purchasing decision has become more important in tougher times, that stood us in good stead. There’s real integrity and authenticity to the engineering of our cars. It’s not just a marketing spin on anyone’s part to say that they have this capability. They truly do and our customers use them. So it’s our job just to improve on that year on year. So those are the two key messages – The luxury that’s more than a luxury for Range Rover; and Why get a car when you can own a Land Rover, for the two Land Rovers. And we’re continuing to build on that now and it appears to be working for us. You know it’s found good favor with our retailers. We believe that it’s clicking with our consumers, with our customers. And they want to know that there’s real depth to engineering, beyond the obvious luxurious appointments in these vehicles. And from a communications point of view, that’s my job to tell them about that.
BE: Well I have to admit it seems like you’ve done quite a good job in reducing the core message to a very memorable tag line for both. So that is quite an accomplishment.
FM: I think again, it just comes down to the fact that it’s the reality, all good communications is based on product reality.
FM: So, you know, clearly like everyone else, when we sat back and we said okay, what behaviors do we need to change? How do we need to make sure that our cars are still as appealing and also as appropriate, irrespective of whatever environment you’re living in? Then those are the messages that we settled on. That breadth of capability isn’t just about the engineering capability. It’s also about the fact that from a social perspective, it’s hard to imagine, with a vehicle line Range Rover, it’s hard to imagine it ever being out of place. You think of an environment where it just wouldn’t be appropriate. It looks as good clean as it does dirty, you can take it to the top functions, as well tow the car, as well as throw all of you stuff in the back. It’s a pretty rare beast. It’s hard to think of a direct competitor. And of course, that theme breadth of capabilityis true for Land Rovers as well.
BE: So how would you describe your target market and have you tweaked that all over the last several years? Have you added to it or have you refined your thinking there with the new messaging that you have on the core message?
FM: Yeah, sure. Well for the most part I would say we haven’t changed our definition of the target market, we’ve just changed how we communicate with them, to make sure that our language is appropriate and still connecting with them. The other element that we didn’t talk about was making sure that people know that our cars aren’t just appropriate but they’re also affordable. And LR4 is a good example there because sometimes when people think…there’s a good awareness of both Land Rover and Range Rover but sometimes they may think “ah, is it beyond my reach? Is it something that I can afford and should I be considering it?” When we have a good message to tell on lease and APR we tell it. So LR4 is a good example. We’ve got a great new TV campaign on LR4 and our end card is promoting a $699 lease message. And that’s important because not only do we want people to know it’s appropriate and desirable, we also want them to know that it’s within their reach. And in terms of our target market, the sort of people, the demographics of the people that we sell to, probably a little bit younger than you’d imagine, mid-forties. And certainly verses the other luxury competitors, that’s significantly younger and typically they have a higher disposable income, significantly higher disposable income then they get in competition as well. So a very discerning buyer. And especially true for Range Rover, they’re not just business-oriented but they may own their business so they know how to make good, prudent business, rational decisions. So even when it comes to a luxury purchase it’s got to make sense and there’s got to be a strong rational side to it. And to add to that, it’s not just lease messages on example on LR4. If you look at the other work we’ve done on Range Rover or Range Rover Sport, we’ve spoken to the residual value, residual values that we have and have had. And the fact that Ranger Rover Sport, a great example of this, five years in a row now it’s had the highest predicted residual values in its class from ALG. That’s just a phenomenal success. Residual values are a function of lots of things but primarily it’s a good indicator to say how desirable is your brand, not just at the point of purchase but three years down the line. Range Rover Sport and all of our products have good residual values. Range Rover Sport has performed exceptionally well within its category. So again, that’s another message that we get out there as well. Another good, rational message that says this car is appropriate. It’s not just that you need or want one, it’s actually appropriate to have one and it makes sense, it’s a good business decision.
BE: Speaking of the Range Rover Sport, it’s become one of the “in” cars now with celebrities, athletes. We noticed last year that Land Rover was a sponsor of the ESPYs. Talk a little bit about some of the specific strategies and what the thinking was behind working with the ESPYs.
FM: Well primarily, the ESPYs was about making sure we had a good media buy and it aligned well with our target customers. It also coincidentally was good timing for us because we were launching the ‘10 model years at that point. So we were looking for a way to get it a real injection over and above just buying the standard TV slots. So the ESPYs was a good opportunity for us. Typically, in our media strategy we tend to place our TV spots around news and sports and then that covers a couple of basic requirements. They’re much more likely to be watched in real time and then also you tend to be able to cover the mornings and the evenings. But Range Rover Sport has sort of an obvious connection with its target customers and fan base from sports, sport viewers, and the ESPYs was just a good, obvious connection for us. On top of the media buy we also has some good added value opportunities with events that we ran around the actual filming of the ESPYs. And we had great vehicle displays and we did ride and drives around there so it was just one of the opportunities that we had to launch ‘10 model year.
BE: And in terms of your media strategy, obviously over the last ten years there has been a bog evolution with many brands doing more and more things online. So maybe you can speak to that a little bit, as to specifically has that balance shifted over the last several years? Do you have any special online initiatives?
FM: Yeah, of course. Just like everyone else, you know, as the years progress more of our buyers are biased towards an online perspective. Now TV still has a very important role to play for us because it is the key way, the primary way to make sure that you have the level of awareness that you need before you can they say do enough people consider us, are we on enough people’s short list? We need to make sure we have awareness covered in the first instance so that’s still very important to us of course. Online helps to serve two masters. It helps to build awareness but then also it helps to improve consideration and build leads and hand raisers. So we do all of the basics, all of the block and tackling of course. We buy from on retention sites so if you’re searching a Land Rover on Kelley Blue Book or wherever it might be, of course our message will be served to you and that’s appropriate. We are search engine optimized, you know, on the three key search engines. Our own website, we have just launched a redesign of our website just earlier this week. And so if you go on to LandRoverUSA.com you can see what that looks like. It’s there to be search engine optimized. It’s there to give customers and potential customers all of the background information that we need and the specific product information that they want.
So we do all of the good fundamental stuff online so our retention buys for search engines were optimized and we extend our buys. We have lifestyle buys as well of course, and it’s extremely important for us and for our retailers as well. We have retailer advertising groups that we work in conjunction with to make sure that we have a critical mass of media presence. I mentioned LR4 previously, you know with all of our ’10 model years we’ve seen a real uptick in interest and show and traffic, and therefore sales. The car that probably visually had the most change at ’10 model year was LR4. In fact prior to that is was LR3 and they felt the magnitude of change was such that we felt it was worthy to signify that through the name. It really seems to have struck a chord with customers. Our traffic numbers have almost more than doubled on that vehicle. We’ve started to buy us a bit more of our media spin towards it as well because I mentioned that awareness is actually quite good for both brands, but Range Rover is ahead of Land Rover for a number of reasons. But from LR4’s perspective we thought okay, we’ve got a bit of a job to do to really build awareness and make sure people who know Land Rover didn’t really know that there’s a new LR4 ’10 model year out here. So we increased some of our conventional media buys, whether that be on TV and on online. And then in addition to that we did a bit of an aside project with this little viral video that the team put together. Have you seen it yet?
BE: Yes, I have seen it. (We posted it on DashboardNews.com).
FM: Okay, good. So I’ve talked you through why get a car when you could own a Land Rover, Luxury that’s more a luxury. This is intentionally something completely different.
FM: And that’s a good thing. The role that it has to play is actually relatively simple. We’re just having a little bit of fun, you know, something a little bit more light hearted. The core of the message is there’s a fundamental truth that when we talk to our customers, and we say what is it that you like about your car, how do you feel when you drive a Land Rover? Invariably, they come back and they speak about the confidence that our cars give them, whether that’s through the command driving or their knowledge of all of the capabilities the vehicle have, knowing that whatever their going to encounter in any given day it’s engineered to cope with it. And then they speak to the fact that they feel safer and more confident when they drive our vehicles just because of their inherent capabilities. So we thought well how do we communicate that in a way that’s…without being blatant, how do we do that in a way that’s a little bit more fun, a little bit more light hearted? And at the same time, we knew we had a bit of a challenge to help improve LR4s awareness. So we did this viral video and it really only live on YouTube and wherever else picks it up and starts to forward it on. Hopefully over time that will build a little bit of momentum. If it is well received maybe we’ll do a few more of them. But it’s role is pretty simple, it’s just to increase awareness on LR4. And people pass it around if they like it, well then that awareness will grow and guess what, someone who may have been considering another product will maybe be inspired to go and search more about LR4 and in turn become a prospect. But in the first instance, it’s just about intentionally doing something different to build more awareness on LR4.
BE: I guess I’ll finish then with how have things changed at the company now that you’re under Tata as opposed to Ford?
FM: Well you know from our perspective, our objectives, you know we’re here to sell cars and be profitable, that’s just the same. Under the ownership of Tata we have great support to go and get done what we need to do in this market. So it’s down to us whether we succeed or fail. You know we’ve got a great team here, very motivated, we all love working for the brand. So that’s just the same Gerardo, our mission to go out there and you know, from a marketing perspective increase awareness and desirability of our brands and our products, that’s the same. So we get our heads down and we’re getting the job done every day.
BE: Well that makes a lot of sense. I really appreciate you taking time. It sounds like a very fun brand to work on. It sounds like you enjoy your work very much. We’ll look forward to speaking with you again sometime.
FM: Okay, well likewise, thank you for your time, enjoyed it.
BE: Thank you.