Lincoln’s rebound in adversity is a “miracle” that all brands can replicate

One of the most fascinating scripts in the business world is to fight back against adversity. Adidas led the trend of sports fashion with coconut shoes in one fell swoop and overwhelmed its opponents in influence; after Jobs returned to Apple, faced with a loss, through deep insights, with a “weirdly shaped” iPod, it turned losses into profits and laid a solid foundation for success. Leading position in the mobile electronic product market, and step by step to establish the “Apple Kingdom”. When a brand is in a difficult situation, relying on a certain change to reverse the situation and get back on track in a short time, such stories are often classic business cases.

But in the auto market, this kind of “miracle” is hard to happen. Automobile companies have a stable competitive landscape, high technology thresholds, and focus on scale effects. It often takes a long time to get rid of a weak position or to enhance brand value.

If you want to choose a market that is more difficult to bottom out than cars, it is luxury cars. In this market segment, consumers have more fixed and concentrated brand preferences. In the Chinese luxury car market, if the brand is marginalized, it is almost impossible to return to the center of the stage. Not to mention the difficult 2020.

But Lincoln broke this “curse.” This luxury car brand under Ford has bucked the trend and has sold more than 7,400 vehicles in November, an increase of 82% year-on-year, setting a new record in China. It has also increased year-on-year and month-on-month for 7 consecutive months. Among them, the two new cars listed during the epidemic—the adventurer and the pilot—are very important sales contributors. What’s more worth mentioning is that in the shadow of the epidemic, the passenger flow of Lincoln 4S stores has created a new high. You know, in the first nine months, the luxury car market has shrunk by 7%, and the overall car market sales have dropped by 12.4%.

It is worth mentioning that Chen Anning, President and CEO of Ford Motor China, has affirmed Lincoln’s performance more than once in public.

If a year ago, no one would have thought that Lincoln would be a “phenomenon star” in 2020. At that time, people were still worried about how long it could last in China. Lincoln’s situation at the time was considered “domestic and diplomatic difficulties”: trade disputes between major powers caused heavy losses to its imported car business; dealers started to lose money; most fundamentally, four years after entering China, the honeymoon period brought about by the effect of new cars After the end, sales declined and the flow of customers to the store decreased, and Lincoln was in danger of being marginalized.

So, how did the reversal happen? An objective analysis will find that there is no magic in this. Lincoln just did one thing right: demand. It has insight into consumer needs, created demand, and successfully transformed it into buying behavior. This is also a summary of the “Lincoln Phenomenon” by Ford’s global headquarters. In brand building, this is the most basic demand theory. But knowing is easy and doing is hard, and how Lincoln did it right in a difficult situation is worth exploring in detail.

Micro-innovation: “Reshape the right to market new cars”
Lincoln China’s success in 2020 is first attributed to the successful launch of the first domestically-made model adventurer. It quickly became popular after being launched, and in September it has entered the top 5 of the compact luxury SUV market. However, before the launch, many people predicted that this car might be completely silent. Because its time to market is March.

When a new car is launched, the core purpose of all marketing activities is to bring consumers to the showroom. The biggest problem with traditional new car releases is the “crest effect”, that is, after the peak of intensive communication a week before and after the listing, the passenger flow of 4S stores quickly quieted. During the epidemic, the situation was even worse, because offline business activities were restricted and consumers’ attention was diverted. Many new car launches were like top diving athletes entering the water without any splashes.

The most surprising thing about Lincoln adventurers is that despite the tight epidemic prevention and control, they actually created new highs of 4S store-to-store passenger flow and sales leads in March and April.

Lincoln’s most important approach is to put the main battlefield of new cars on the line, and continue to create marketing events to extend the heat cycle. “At first glance, the epidemic will have a great inhibitory effect on people’s consumption and life, but in fact, various social platforms have become the mainstream way for people to share emotions and obtain information, which contains huge potential for communication.” Lincoln China President Mao Jingbo analyzed the background of the adventurer’s listing.

This may not sound new. The accumulation of buzzwords on the latest social platforms is already a common method for many brands to get close to new consumers. But the difficulty lies in not being embarrassed or violating peace, which requires professional knowledge. Adventurers warmed up in March, when the whole society had just gradually returned to normal life from a state of high-intensity epidemic prevention. Lincoln launched the topic #全民ubawishw.big.investigation# on Weibo. It does not directly introduce the product, but just gives the public a “Tucao pool” to imagine life after the epidemic is over. On this basis, the webcast conference is very close to the general environment, and the product is not too obtrusive.

At the same time, Mao Jingbo and her team kept Lincoln out of various groups. On Douyin, Lincoln uses fun videos to attract pan-young people; on Xiaohongshu, Lincoln uses the most suitable pictures and strategies for this platform to let more female customers grow grass; on Zhihu, it focuses on spreading the brand History, model performance and service concept.

Mao Jingbo is one of the most famous female managers in China’s automobile industry. Before joining Lincoln, he worked for Mercedes-Benz China for more than ten years. One of the most notable achievements is to promote the rejuvenation of the Mercedes-Benz brand in China. Mercedes-Benz, which has changed its traditional “Big Ben” image, is the most successful luxury car brand in China in the past few years.

Put the most appropriate content on each platform, and the adventurer’s out-of-circle plan is indeed effective: The adventurer’s predecessor model MKC, female car owners account for 23%, and car owners under 35 account for 30%. Increase to 30% and 56%.

Mao Jingbo, President of Lincoln China

After expanding the entrance of the “sales funnel” as much as possible, Lincoln also made great efforts to focus on conversion. Instead of placing simple advertisements on vertical websites like Autohome, it customizes more than 900 pieces of in-depth content every month to explain the product itself from all angles, allowing adventurers to truly enter the car buying list of potential users.

Compared with many auto companies only regard online marketing as an early adopter, Lincoln has been able to systematically release all the enthusiasm for a new car in online activities, which is a new reminder for every car brand. In fact, Lincoln itself has continued to develop its own marketing methodology on this basis. The second domestically-produced model, the medium and large luxury SUV Aviator, has been on the market in just 5 months, and its cumulative sales have exceeded 6,000, becoming the mainstream market segment. Models, and its release, is also mainly concentrated online.

Mesoscopic insight: insight into desires and creating needs
If you only look at sales, it is easy to simply attribute Lincoln’s rebound to the new car effect after localization. But those who are familiar with the Chinese luxury car market know that localization may not necessarily bring about a surge in sales. There are more and more examples of brands downgrading or even losing market position due to localization.

Behind this is the growing understanding of the concept of luxury by Chinese consumers. They are no longer blind, “You can buy a certain brand of car logo with less money”, this logic can no longer satisfy them. What they value is a truly luxurious experience. But on the other hand, more and more luxury car brands are increasing discounts for market share, and with it, the configuration and experience that should belong to luxury car brands are declining.

Sometimes, the needs of consumers cannot simply follow, but must be created. Corresponding to this, a popular saying in the business world is: consumers will “lie.” You can get structured conclusions through questionnaires and interviews, but you may not be able to discover people’s true desires. Because the interviewees themselves may not know what they really want. At this time, the insight of brand decision makers becomes more important. Groundbreaking products are often the product of this insight, such as Adidas coconut shoes and Apple iPod.

Mao Jingbo, president of Lincoln China, knew from the beginning that adventurers must create demand for consumers. When determining the market strategy for adventurers, Lincoln reached a consensus with domestic partners that 200,000 to 300,000 yuan is the most potential price range for luxury cars. This is a cross-cutting zone where consumers can choose popular brands or luxury car brands for cost-effectiveness. So, if a luxury car brand can achieve high quality and control prices in this range, it can become the most attractive apple that can be reached on tiptoe.

The quality here is not only high-end configuration and performance, but also service. After Lincoln officially entered the Chinese market in 2016, it is known for its high-level sales and after-sales service quality. This system is known as the “Lincoln Way”. After the expansion of the channel, the initial level of service is often diluted, but Lincoln insisted on this. According to Lincoln’s internal statement, this is necessary to create a “super-strong product-price ratio.”

Macro concept: persistence in doing the right thing requires determination
Regarding the outbreak of Lincoln’s sales, there is a number that is easily overlooked, but it is even more important than the sales itself, and that is the average selling price. While Lincoln’s sales volume increased sharply, the average price of bicycles also continued to rise, exceeding 430,000 yuan, second only to Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. The essence of the Lincoln phenomenon behind this is the persistence of the brand concept.

In any consumer goods market, luxury brands are the dominant players. It is not only the price, but the influence and reputation of the brand and the loyalty of consumers. This can bring an enviable premium in business, and it can also help the brand to withstand temporary difficulties and periodic influences. But in this process, the most difficult thing is to keep the positioning unchanged.

In Mao Jingbo’s eyes, this positioning is not nothing but a clear bottom line, which is the terminal price. The price war is a kind of harm to any luxury car brand. Excessive discounts will continue to reduce consumers’ expectations of the brand. “Sales have risen sharply without sacrificing prices. This is the most authentic way to shape a luxury brand.” Mao Jingbo said in a speech to dealers and investors, “The brand is the only one under any difficulty.” The moat is also the first funnel in the purchase journey of Chinese car consumers.”

This concept actually runs through the 103-year history of the Lincoln brand. Edsel Ford, the son of Henry Ford and the creator of the Lincoln brand, said a groundbreaking sentence: “Father made the most popular car, and I want to make a classic. ”

If you understand this concept, you can better understand the “Lincoln Phenomenon”, not only in 2020, when it has accumulated a lot of money, but also in 2019 when it has been working hard.

In 2018, Mao Jingbo took over a cliff-side brand. Luxury cars are lowering the threshold to expand sales. After Lincoln’s new car effect has passed, its appeal to consumers has gradually weakened. At this time, as the person in charge of the brand, the most intuitive reaction is definitely to keep the sales volume following the price reduction.

Lincoln did not choose to blindly lower the terminal price and keep sales, but insisted on itself. “Three Perseverances” is the most frequently mentioned key word in Lincoln internal meetings. Adhering to the positioning of American luxury, adhering to the experience characteristics of Lincoln Way, and adhering to the sales management of value marketing, these three points do not sound special, but there will be great resistance to it.

This requires the support of the entire large team. Ford China recognized the Lincoln team’s strategy and left enough room for decision-making, which made Lincoln’s strategy possible; dealers did not choose to complain or leave in the face of weak profitability, but paid enough patience; the team Internally, it did not mess up the battle due to the temporary decline in sales, but reshaped the combat effectiveness.

You should know that the Adventurer model released in March 2020 was a decision made in the fourth quarter of 2019. At the end of 2019, most of the preparations have been completed. This means that Lincoln’s team must tear down all previous preparations and determine a new plan within just over a month after the epidemic resumed work.

Anyone familiar with the automotive industry knows how difficult it is for a large traditional company to achieve this response speed.

Even with the momentum of continuously creating sales records, the Lincoln team did not overheat their heads and blindly improve their goals, but still emphasized the importance of luxury. This has also been fully recognized by Ford China and its joint venture partners.

Mao Jingbo will still calmly analyze the competitive environment to dealers. For example, she would cite the fact that Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi continued to expand their market share in the first half of the year, and in turn reminded herself: “This reflects the importance of brand building. The stronger the brand, the greater the ability to withstand risks, and it will recover from difficulties. The greater the flexibility.”

Whether it is innovation in marketing methodology, deep insights into consumers, or understanding of luxury car brands, this is actually the “right scene” that any brand can say, but it may not be implemented. The leadership of the person in charge, the creativity of the team and the help of the internal environment are indispensable.

This may be the real value of “Lincoln Phenomenon” in addition to the plot of “bucking the trend”: it does not have advanced theories or genius creativity, but just looks for the correct ideas and sticks to them. This means that every brand has the opportunity to replicate the “Lincoln phenomenon.” It will also inspire many brands to insist on what they think is right.