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Thursday, January 20, 2005

 

What To Do About Mercury

First, pretend you're a consumer. That means, you don't get the company car/deeply discounted Mercury A plan/employee price. You live in Coral Gables, FL. You are not, in any way, associated with the Auto Industry. In fact, like most consumers, you ignore ads until you realize, it's time for a new car.

Would you consider a Mercury? Obviously, now you know why Ford Motor Company has often considered eliminating the Mercury brand...and why the Mercury brand has struggled in the sales race vs. both domestics and imports.

More recently, Ford Motor Company has tried to give Mercury some unique products...but alas, none of them have defined Mercury the way the Taurus helped re-define Ford's car line up.

Mercury's Identity

What/who is Mercury? What are they known for? Ideally, a brand name has meaning. That meaning comes from previous experience/history of the product. I think much of Mercury's struggles as a brand start with a missing identity...which translates into products that don't seem to create separation from the Ford brand. Too often...Mercury is seen as a Ford with a different grille.

A great example is Jeep. We know what that stands for. Rugged, off-road, Army, etc.
Porsche focuses on high performance, luxury sports cars (with an interesting diversion into SUVs). Honda is known for great engines, reliability. Same with Toyota. Both Honda and Toyota are fortunate in that they don't have a brand in their line-up that competes in the entry market. Toyota has created Scion...but Scion is very, very focused on the youth market.

Another difficult challenge for Mercury's product planners - Over a thousand Lincoln-Mercury dealers want a continuous flow of car, suv and minivan products to feed their dealer volume that complements the more luxurious (and also struggling) Lincoln brand. By defining Mercury more specifically, dealers fear they will lose volume products. So...what to do?

Some Thought Starters

Run in the opposite direction of Ford. Be the opposite of the Ford brand. Ford stands for inexpensive, reliable transportation. Create a Mercury brand that focuses on one specific attribute. For example...what if Mercury only made 4x4s? Sedans, minivans, wagons, etc. Oh sure...you could offer a down market version a la Audi...who successfully pushes its 4x4, upscale performance image but makes 4x2s available.

Focus on a specific market segment...like Scion, focus on hip, up market young and young "thinking" customers. Older people will still buy it...but you create separation from the Ford brand...and certainly the Lincoln brand and you begin to attract a new kind of customer. Race the Mercury brand to create some excitement and tradition.

Or...re-think your distribution model...what if Mercury became the vehicle that you could order and buy over the internet? And you guaranteed a level of service/satisfaction and built the brand around those guarantees. Some consumers want that added level of service/support and the Lincoln-Mercury dealer might be able to deliver it through premium pricing. Sure...that doesn't help plant volume...but it sure hasn't hurt Lexus...or Saturn (ok...Saturn hasn't made money...but look at how many vehicles they've sold...and what they had to sell over the years).

Here's wishing Daryl Hazel, VP - Lincoln-Mercury and his partner in product development, Phil Martens luck in re-defining the brand. Phil...one suggestion...remember that study I had recommended back in 1993-4, when you were segment strategy manager? Figure out the true market segmentation...what customer's really look for...and find the hole that Mercury can fill. We used a similar type of analysis to recommend that Lincoln...and Ford make luxury trucks (that was in 1992-93 when Jeff Bell was on the Luxury Operations Team - my how time flies). I don't have the answer...but I highly recommend looking in the direction. Ford's future needs a strong Lincoln and Mercury.

Comments:
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