Skip to main content

How Cadillac can become cool again.

BNET contacted me recently and posed this question, “What should Cadillac do to strengthen its brand image?”

The article appeared today on BNET.  Given the limitations of space, the article had to excerpt the ideas put forward from each of the brand strategists who were interviewed.  But given the unlimited space of my own blog, I thought I’d offer up the complete point of view I shared with BNET.

Here's what I think Cadillac should do to regain its mojo.

Behave like a technology brand, not an automotive brand. Throughout the last century the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy.  Cars represented modern life at its best.  Today, technology defines modern life. Each new smart phone or lifelike home theater joyfully proclaims that today is better then yesterday.  Automotive brands such as Lexus and Ford are beginning to embrace this idea. Cadillac's brand positioning should be grounded in technology. This requires more than simply promoting whiz-bang gizmos. It's about projecting the sense of optimism and progress we want from technology. It’s about forging an image of being forward-looking, smart and efficient.

Here's the innovation brief I'd give to the engineering team: Pioneer new technologies that liberate us from old compromises.  Prove that design and performance can co-exist with safety and environmental responsibility. After all, the basis of Moore's Law, Silicon Valley's driving force, is that technology should always help people do more with less.

Understand the difference between "luxury" and "premium." Premium is more than price.  Premium is about worth.   This requires a new way of behaving.  The most successful premium brands exude worth through a mix of sensuality, rarity, confidence, authenticity and quality.  (These should replace typical automotive brand values such as bold, exciting, powerful, etc.)

Continue taking more design risks.  Right now, Cadillac’s cars are looking sharper, the interiors feel more premium and the quality of its cars and SUVs has been steadily improving. Cadillac has created a solid foundation from which to build.  Never again revert to playing it safe. Exploit the fact that a designer is now running the company. We live in a very design savvy age.  Bryan Nesbitt is a fresh face for the brand.  He should be used extensively in PR and maybe even advertising.  I think he could pull it off.   Internally, use design thinking to rethink the overall brand experience, not just the product.

Begin cultivating Gen Y.   To be sure, this generation is not yet ready to buy Cadillacs.   But it is a mistake to continue picturing this group on the playground – nearly half are of college age.  Cadillac needs to become this generation’s counter-intuitive statement.  Every generation embraces a new idea to proclaim that they are not their parents.  Boomers and GenX embraced Lexus and BMW over Cadillac and Lincoln.  The minivan was a revolt against the station wagon just as the SUV was a protest against the minivan.  Why can’t Cadillac be this next generation’s mark of independence from their Mercedes and BMW driving parents?

At the end of the day, Cadillac must solve the cocktail party dilemma.  People must be able to look a peer in the eye and say, “I bought a Cadillac” without having to explain why.  This is the crux of the problem.  People never have to explain why they brought a Mercedes (engineering), Lexus (quality) or a Land Rover (adventure).  Cadillac can be progressive and smart.

Playing it safe won’t do.  Cool, must-have technologies.  An image of being progressive and smart.   Audacious marketing.  And new cars that have convey the optimism and swagger of concept vehicles.  That's a plan that will rock the cocktail party circuit.