Vauxhall focuses on brand experience as it looks to recapture lost momentum

Vauxhall is restructuring its marketing team, introducing its first sales and marketing director and an enhanced customer experience director role. It is a move that aims to recapture brand momentum following a market share decline and puts it in line with the trend of aligning customer experience on and offline.

Chris Hawken has joined the car marque as brand marketing director and will be in charge of all brand communications and media placement. He has previously held similar roles across the car industry at brands including Volkswagen, Renault and Audi.

Peter Hope, currently the marketing director, will take on an expanded director of customer experience role, taking over from Andy Gilson who has retired. His new responsibilities include taking a “holistic approach” to customer experience to ensure consumers’ experience of the brand is the same whether they are online, on mobile or in one of its showrooms.

Overseeing both of those positions will be a new sales and marketing director role. An announcement on who will fill that position is expected in January.

The Vauxhall brand

Vauxhall’s brand has lost some of its allure in recent years. According to YouGov BrandIndex it sits at 15 in a list of 34 car marques in terms of its overall index performance (a measure of a range of metrics including quality, value and impress). In particular buzz (a measure of the positive and negative things said about a brand) is down by a statistically significant amount this year.

Neil King, automotive analyst at Euromonitor, says General Motors Europe, which owns Vauxhall, has not made much noise about the brand recently and that it needs a revamp to improve its standing among consumers. It has lost out as rivals, such as Volkswagen, Fiat and Ford have all communicated more effectively their points of difference and brand values.

“[These appointments] are clearly part of a strong initiative to improve brand image through product and customer experience. Vauxhall has been losing market share like all the ‘squeezed middle’ brands and it is long overdue that they tackled this,” he adds.

Vauxhall sales are still rising, up 4.98% to 229,362 in the year to-date, making it the second largest car marque in the UK. However, its share has fallen to 10.73%, from 11.19% in the same period last year as the wider market sees faster growth.

King estimates that this is the first time its market share has fallen below 11% in at least 30 years. Where Vauxhall’s market share in Europe (where it is branded Opel) has now bottomed out, he says, it is still falling in the UK.

Opel has seen some success in markets including Germany through a renewed focus on products such as the Adam model, which is aimed at a younger and trendier demographic and a brand campaign. Dubbed “Umparken im Kopf”, it focused on challenging people’s prejudices and left out the Opel brand until later in the campaign in a bid to position it as a challenger.

While that campaign may not translate to the UK, there is some branding work afoot, says a Vauxhall spokeswoman.

Chevrolet brand pulled

General Motor’s decision to pull its Chevrolet brand out of Europe also offers an opportunity to Vauxhall, says Ian Fletcher, principle analyst at IHS Automotive.

“The decision to withdraw the Chevrolet brand from the UK and the wider European region aims to reduce the possibilities of cannibalisation and confusion, as well as bringing Chevrolet’s former customer base in to the Vauxhall fold.

“The Vauxhall brand also tends to be dependent on fleet sales and deal-making so it may well be looking at these new roles as a way of increasing the traffic of private customers prepared to pay more for a vehicle,” he adds.

Customer experience

The move to enhance customer experience follows a number of other car marques including Audi and Ford that have introduced customer experience director roles in recent years in an attempt to more closely align digital and offline as the role of show rooms changes. Where previously customers would do their research in show rooms they are now doing it online, with show rooms increasingly used only for test drives or the final transaction.

Even that is moving online, with Volvo recently selling a limited number of its special edition of the new XC90 online. Ford has also tested the demand for online sales with presales of its EcoSport taking place exclusively on Facebook.

This means it is becoming more important to showcase the brand, not just product, in physical environments. A number of car marques, including Hyundai and Mercedes-Benz, are in the process of revamping their show rooms while Hyundai and Kia are both switching the focus of their stands at motor shows to promote brand values.

Speaking at the Barclays Automotive conference in the US last month, General Motors’ vice president Johan de Nysschen admitted the company has not been “consistent” in how it markets a number of its brands across digital, show rooms and experiential.

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