Monday, March 10, 2014
Mission: “Our global success will be driven by making life less complicated for people, while strengthening our commitment to safety and the environment.”
--Volvo Car Group, Global Home Page
Recent articles in the U.S. press suggest that Volvo is planning to move away from the revolutionary Safety Positioning it pioneered — and took subsequent, ironclad ownership of--within the worldwide auto industry back in 1927. The alleged move is to more of a Performance Positioning. If such rumors are true, the news has definitely not yet caught up with the Volvo’s internet home, where the brand’s grounding in safety looks alive and well. In fact, among the listing of car-related topics on the homepage, Safety comes first (followed by Environment, Design, Quality, and Sustainability). And when you click on Safety you read things like this:
--“Safety is a founding principle and living philosophy since 1927 and we work hard to stay at the forefront of the industry by taking an overall approach to safety, which has proven effective in real traffic situations.”
--“By 2020, our aim is that nobody shall be seriously injured or killed in a new Volvo. In the longer perspective our vision is that cars should not crash at all.”
So perhaps, as with Mark Twain’s famous quote (“The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”), the reports of a major Volvo re-positioning have also been greatly exaggerated. For sure, like all major car-manufacturers today, Volvo has a great many more sub-brands within its full line; and some of those no doubt promise higher performance than others. So, it wouldn’t be surprising to find some performance benefits linked to some Volvo models. But whatever the model, everyone just about everywhere expects a Volvo to be super-safe. We encounter this expectation no matter where in the world we go to conduct one of our Power Positioning workshops. When we ask a client audience of Chinese marketers in, say, Shanghai, what the positioning of Volvo is, almost before we can finish the brand’s second syllable, everyone in the room shouts out, “SAFETY!”
In the wide world of brands, this kind of “positioning recognition” is remarkable…not to mention that the Volvo Brand has managed to do something that almost no other brand has done — get the brand positioning down to one word! We’re inclined to say that Volvo has actually taken its brand positioning down to one meaning; but that’s probably not the case. More likely, Volvo’s safety positioning has both a functional and emotional meaning: you and your family’s bodies will, quite literally, be safe in the event of a crash or mishap; and this belief will make you feel safe whenever you’re driving your family around town.
Come to think of it, there is an even more enviable aspect to the Volvo safety positioning than the economy of its articulation: a good many people probably think that a Volvo is saf-er than other sedan or wagon options. Whether such a superior safety claim is demonstrably true across the Volvo line need not even be proven because the brand has so faithfully “stayed the safety course” that, at a minimum it has created the impression of better safety. For the record, creating this impression has by no means been done with “smoke & mirrors.” Rather, like any top-notch brand-builder, the Volvo Corporation has consistently led the way in tangible and functional product improvements — against safety, naturally. For example, these statements appear on their Sustainability webpage:
“…The three-point safety belt was invented by Volvo Car Corporation back in 1959.”
“The first Volvo car equipped with an airbag left the assembly line in 1987—and since then the company has extended the technology with several world-firsts. Volvo was the first with both the seat-mounted side airbag and the Inflatable Curtain (IC) — and in 2102 the technology’s 25th anniversary was celebrated with the introduction of the groundbreaking pedestrian airbag in the all-new Volvo V40.”
Actually, for brand-builders everywhere, the Volvo Brand Positioning is clearly one to admire, even to envy…for these fundamental reasons:
- The Brand stands for only two, interwoven Benefits: functional and emotional safety for the family;
- The Brand took ownership of these Benefits years ago — and has never let go;
- The Brand has made the Benefits overwhelmingly believable with a on-going series of Reason Why safety features;
- The Brand has mastered creating the impression — if not the reality — of being the safest choice.
Because of these fundamental reasons, we like to recommend the Volvo Brand Positioning as a model to all of our clients as they construct or evolve their brand positioning strategies — but especially to our many Medical Device marketer-clients. Like most medical devices, the Volvo car of today is a sophisticated piece of machinery, with many features and benefits. And, while there is a time and place to highlight and speak about these many features and benefits (such as in the colorful showroom brochures for Volvo or an “Additional Product Specs Sheet” in a Medical Device Sales Rep’s bag), Volvo always stays “on message” — in whatever it does. Said another way, it might speak about a lot of things, but as a brand it only stands for one thing: (the best) Safety.
A final, true personal story that brings the “power” of Volvo’s safety positioning ownership home: When one of our daughters-in-law was pregnant with her first child, she showed up at our house one day, not in her much-loved Ford Explorer, but in a new Volvo wagon; when asked about how she could switch from her Explorer to a Volvo she said the obvious, “We’re having our first baby.” Tell us that doesn’t prove the power of a laser-focused brand positioning.
Oh yeah, one last thing: did you know that the word “Volvo” is Latin for, “it rolls”?
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney
© 2003 Brand Development Network (BDN) International. All rights reserved.