Defensive Strategy

Rebuilding the Lincoln brand

4 Dec 2012  

Ford is in the news today for its efforts to reposition and rebuild its Lincoln Brand. One thing is clear: the company knows how to get attention. The story is everywhere. Ford staged a big media event at Lincoln Center in New York yesterday and CEO Alan Mulally is giving interviews to the big media outlets.

Does this all make sense?

Put another way, should Ford really be devoting billions (and a Super Bowl spot) to the fading Lincoln brand, a mark with some negative associations that makes up just 3% of Ford’s sales?

Ford has done a rather impressive job of narrowing its brand portfolio in recent years. The company killed off the Mercury brand and sold off Range Rover and Jaguar and others. At this point, Ford has just two main brands: Ford and Mercury.

One thing is very clear: without a significant investment, Lincoln will fail. Sales are falling and, more important, the brand is losing relevance. The trend is not positive.

To understand the Lincoln move, it is important to consider a more fundamental question. Could Ford just be Ford? Why not focus all the efforts on the core brand?

The problem with narrowing to one brand is that this will limit what Ford can do. A brand can’t be all things to all people. Ford certainly isn’t a luxury brand. I suspect people don’t often debate between getting a Ford or a BMW. If Ford narrows to just one brand, the company gives up on high-end autos. This might be the best answer but it certainly isn’t a popular answer for employees, the CEO or the board.

Once Ford decides it has to play in high-end autos, the Lincoln decision is easy. Launching a new brand is incredibly expensive. Why launch a new brand when you already have a brand with a long history and broad awareness?

Rebuilding Lincoln will not be easy. Step one is getting people to notice the brand again. As Jim Farley, head of Ford marketing noted, “The most important thing is for people to be aware that there is a transition going on. We have to shake them up.”

Step two is giving people a reason to buy a Lincoln. What is this brand, anyway? Why would I buy it? It isn’t enough to have a good, jazzy car. The brand has to stand for something specific.

Ford has about two years to get Lincoln moving in the right direction. Let’s hope they have a clear positioning to build on.

4 Responses

  1. Gerry Lantz says:

    Brand values start with product values. Get the product truly exceptional–all aspects right down to selling and service.

    Cadillac had more to build on than Lincoln but after a few failed attempts to be hip and modern, it invested year after year in performance and has now become a terrific high-end competitor.

    Lincoln can do it–it looks like they are building on a heritage of bigness can be appealing. I’m not so sure about that–I hope that is not their strategy. Their hybrd pricing is the same as the standard car–terrific tactic.

    It will be fascinating to watch.
    Gerry Lantz

  2. rob says:

    Watching Ford’s brand (and company) turnaround has been nothing short of spectacular. As recently as 1998, Lincoln was the top selling luxury brand. Time will tell if Ford can do for the Lincoln brand what it did for the Ford brand.

  3. Reuben says:

    At the end of the day, a premium buyer will need to feel special for what he/she pays. The challenge I see is to convince customers that Lincoln brand is really a premium brand like Lexus and this will depend on several areas – Quality, Styling, Technology and service. I find price of a two year old used vehicle a good indicator of if the premium perception holds, higher the price better the perception.

  4. Kathy says:

    Interning at Ford in 2011 in marketing, I had the opportunity to spend time with Jim Farley and some of his key players. They are definitely planning on investing a lot into the Lincoln brand, the key will be, will they spend enough to convince the market? Will their story be convincing enough in the midst of some incredibly strong luxury brands?

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