The Company Volvo Trucks North America builds class eight tractors (an 18-wheeler to you and me) for the US, Canada and Mexico. They’ve got a long history of building great commercial vehicles in Europe but their track record in the US is spotty. The brand has evolved over the last 15 years from GMC/White Trucks, to Volvo/White Trucks, and now simply Volvo Trucks. The GMC/White and early Volvo/White trucks were inexpensive units used only by large fleets. Their early reputation as unreliable and uncomfortable was hard earned.
The Product Fast forward to today. Volvo has dramatically improved their product line. Volvo Trucks North America produces a vehicle to equal of any class eight tractor in the world.
In fall of 2002, Volvo Trucks launched their latest edition of the VN series, the most admired, best-engineered trucks in the industry. That’s great but a lot of the market still sees Volvo as a redheaded stepchild.
The Market Volvo’s market is really a collection of sub-markets. There are the “Owner/Operators”, independent drivers who buy their own trucks and make their own contracts for carrying freight. There are also the “Fleet Managers”, individuals who make buying decisions for larger freight companies with multiple vehicles.
During the launch of the VN, any differences between the markets were glossed over. At Volvo’s request, the focus was on the product, not the consumer. That couldn’t work long term so we fought to change that for the 2004 campaign.
The life of a truck driver, particularly the owner/operator, is surprisingly well documented. A snapshot shows him to be a 30ish white male from the South or Midwest, with a wife and at least one child. He’s a high school graduate with strong family values. Ironically his job keeps him away from family while on the road over 22 days a month. We also know about his favorite music (country), his favorite sports (football), and his favorite pastimes (hunting/fishing/being with family).
But the profile of a fleet manager isn’t as clear. That’s unfortunate because an owner/operator might buy one truck every five years, whereas even a small fleet can purchase five or more trucks annually. It doesn’t take a genius to know that’s an important number.
The Research Volvo was doing an excellent job directly contacting the largest fleets in the US through their sales force. In fact the VN was selling so well in the large fleets that it was the fastest growing brand among fleets in 2003. But the vast majority of those sales were made to the largest fleets in the nation. So we narrowed our research focus to a group of 10,000 smaller fleets, operating 25 to 300 vehicles, and headed into the field talking to fleet managers in a half dozen states.
I knew if we just headed into focus groups we’d get skewed information. These are hard working guys and if you don’t talk their language you don’t get the full story. So we first went out in the field. We sat in their offices, talked with them in the repair shops and got to see their workday first hand.
With that experience in our back pocket we crafted focus group sessions that led to some real insights. Seeing the workday helped us. It gave us a whole line of questions about driver satisfaction that led to some real gold, “My drivers can be the best part of my day or the biggest pain in my *%$”.
The groups went through numerous exercises: Brand association, where truck manufacturers are compared with a type of retail store; Visioning, where participants choose images to represent Volvo as a brand; and a Day in the Life, where the managers walk through the activities of a normal day.
Great material came when we got the groups talking about their workday. The common themes just screamed to be addressed. From the moment they walk in the office there is a constant stream of problems coming at them. A truck is broken down in Nebraska. A driver’s wife is ill and he can’t carry the load to Orlando. Lettuce received in Des Moines is spoiled. And by the way, the cost of diesel fuel has gone up a nickel a gallon.
Truck manufacturers like Volvo were looking at these individuals only as truck buyers. In truth the fleet managers spend precious little time considering the pros and cons of different trucks. In addition we learned that nearly ninety percent of the small fleet buyers were not considering Volvo for purchase. They either had no perceptions of Volvo or their perceptions were from the Volvo of a decade ago. These fleet managers had never purchased Volvo before and few their of peers had them either. It made Volvo an unknown.
Since their perceptions of Volvo ranged from a decade old to non-existent, it was obvious that the advertising had not been effectively reaching this audience up until now. We had to convince Volvo that we needed to turn up the attitude to reach the fleet buyer.
The Position The research gave us a real profile of the fleet manager and his hot buttons. Work issues like driver satisfaction, fuel economy, and vehicle safety were more than just another to-do list. Because they are responsible for their jobs 24-7, these issues really affected the small fleet manager’s quality of life. One of the challenges was to connect the dots between those problems and the VN.
Our position was simple: Today’s VN is a different vehicle and a fleet manager is simply being negligent if the VN is not in the considered set when looking at a fleet purchase. To help keep our creative team on track we measured every headline against the message “If you aren’t considering Volvo, you must be smoking crack.” That attitude was translated into the language of the fleet manager in every piece
The Campaign Our solution was a print and direct mail campaign entitled “Tell It Like It Is”. The powerful and direct series of messages have already gotten noticed in the two months since their debut. The campaign features an abundance of information packaged in snappy headlines and easy to digest feature callouts. Issues like fuel economy, driver satisfaction and serviceability are addressed in the language of the fleet manager. The result has been a 15% increase in inquiries from the target market and is expected to climb even higher as the direct mail portion of the campaign is fully implemented.