Since Volvo's founding in 1927, the Swedish automaker has continued to build upon its heritage as a consumer and safety-focused brand. From Volvo's invention of the Three-point Safety Belt in 1959 to the launch of their autonomous IntelliSafe technology in 2016. Volvo has been in pursuance of designing the world's safest vehicles. But now that Volvo achieved this goal with a refreshed vehicle line up underneath GEELY Automotive, what is next for the automaker?
For CEO Hakan Samuelsson, the answer was simple; the new Volvo should design cars that protect the planet. Thereby, Volvo Recharged, a new era "for a safer future," became Volvo's directive. In this new mission, Volvo will take four steps over the next 20 years to achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement. Volvo will begin with the full electrification of its vehicle lineup in 2025. Then achieve carbon neutrality across all vehicles, manufacturing, and supply chains in 2040.
Between Volvo Recharged and Volvo's EVA [Equal Vehicles for All] Initiative, which is sharing the brand's 40 years of safety research with the entire industry. Volvo has a clear vision for the future of driving, and it is all about "safety that benefits all." As a result, the new Volvo now exists as an industry leader that is redefining how automakers should serve their customers.
At Volvo, this resurrection of the brand has resulted in a continuous flow of PR campaigns and communication materials. Throughout the course of October 2019, Volvo has issued 82 materials, including press releases, photos, and featured videos. With the recent announcement of their fully electric compact SUV, XC40 Recharge, on October 16, 2019, Volvo issued a media kit with all these materials to technology sites, automotive journalists, and major media outlets.
As a result, websites from The Verge, MotorTrend, to CNN communicated information directly from Volvo's press releases and used visual content created by the brand. With all of this constant media presence, being a public relations officer at Volvo has to be both demanding and an exciting position. When building these campaigns, the public relations officer would have to consider two important aspects; Volvo's message and their audience.
For Volvo, the brand's desired message retains its mission. Volvo is seeking to become an industry leader in corporate sustainability and "human-centric innovation." According to Carl Hansen, the consumer strategist at Volvo, the brand is "moving from a traditional to a postmodern mindset to attract a young and urban target group." Based on Hansen's statement and Volvo's marketing strategies, it is clear that the brand is focusing on an external audience that is interested in safety, technological advancements, and global sustainability.
This external audience translates to younger to middle-aged, affluent consumers. According to studies conducted by Lightspeed and Mintel, 62% of vehicle owners consider purchasing an electrified vehicle because they care about environmental issues, while 53% of affluent owners associate Volvo with the attribute of safety. Therefore, Volvo's message and public relations campaigns distinctly consider what appeals to the brand's new target group.
Beyond consumers and the media, Volvo's external audience also includes competitor automotive brands. When focusing on this part of their external audience, Volvo has to consider its influence on the industry. According to Volvo's "Company Impacts" webpage, they want other automakers to see and mirror their values of environmental sustainability, workplace diversity, and manufacturing safety.
For Volvo, its key internal audiences are corporate employees, plant workers, and dealerships. Volvo's public relations officer would have to consider these uniquely different audiences when developing internal communications. For corporate employees, information regarding company changes, finances, and projects are essential. While for plant workers, information regarding manufacturing and distribution changes is a crucial part of their communications. For dealerships, Volvo would have to communicate new company initiatives, vehicle changes, vehicle maintenance alterations, and manufacturing promotions.
Strengths * Consistent representation in the media for safety and “human centric” innovation. * Volvo issues 5 to 10 press releases per month to communicate company progress and announcements. * Volvo executives have a positive presence in the media from their interviews and statements on the company. * On social media Volvo has a consistent brand appearance and maintains the communication of messages across corporate managed profiles. * On social media Volvo delivers content that appeals to their target audiences Weaknesses * General public lacks awareness of Volvo’s new brand and initiatives. * Inconsistency in message and brand appearance between Volvo’s corporate communications and dealership end communications. * Inconsistency of message and brand appearance on social media between Volvo’s corporate managed accounts and dealerships. * Volvo doesn’t respond or offer customer support to negative direct messages, comments, or replies on their social media.
Opportunities * Issue PR campaign targeting the general public to provide awareness of Volvo’s new brand and initiatives. * Provide dealerships with guidelines to build consistency in brand message and appearance for both traditional and social media communications. * Offer costumer support on social media and respond to negative direct message, comments, and replies. Threats * General public is not aware of the “new” Volvo and their initiatives. * Inconsistent messages and brand appearance between corporate and dealership communications. * Leaving customer complaints on social media un-responded.
With Volvo's brand resurrection, the Swedish automaker has gone full force in consistently representing their appearance and new messages across all corporate-managed communications. Between inviting automotive journalists to experience the new vehicle line up and having executives part take in interviews to share the company's progress. Since 2016 Volvo has built a positive media presence and has delivered communications sharing the automaker's new initiatives. Despite all of these strengths, the general public is not aware of Volvo's new brand and initiatives. For Volvo to compete as an electric car maker and gain significant market share by 2025, Volvo needs to build public awareness of its brand on par to the following Tesla Automotive has.
To build this awareness, Volvo should focus on their PR campaigns which share the progress, innovations, and changes the automaker has made to engineer the “future of driving.” By building this public attention, Volvo can gain a following that will support its electrification efforts. Secondly, Volvo needs to create consistency in the communications being put out by corporate and dealerships. Although Volvo does not own most dealerships, the brand’s appearance, initiatives, and messages need to be communicated. By tackling these two opportunities, Volvo can provide an exclusive brand experience similar to Tesla’s model which, its target audience desires.
Over the past four months, September through December, Volvo has gained numerous coverage from its safety, carbon neutrality, and electrification efforts. During this period between September 30th and October 17th Volvo received the highest amount of media coverage. This spike in media coverage as a result of the hype surrounding the announce of Volvo’s first fully electric vehicle, XC40 recharged. In these two weeks, Volvo gained significant positive media coverage through the company’s outreach to technology and automotive journalists with media kits. On October 14th, Volvo had a total of 450 mentions in the media relating to the launch of the XC40 Recharged. Volvo received significant mentions through coverage by The Verge, Digital Trends, Electrek, Car & Driver, as well as WIRED media. This coverage accounted for 1.42 billion of the total 3.87 billion in reach for that day.
The second highest peak of coverage occurred between November 18th to the 22nd. This spike in coverage was due to a combination of three significant stories that hit the media. The first story followed the announcement of Volvo merging their combustion and hybrid engine operations with their parent company Geely. The second story was Ford’s Mustang Mach-E announcement in which the media coverage consistently mentioned Volvo and the Swedish automaker’s EV subsidiary Polestar. The third story which gained the highest media traction was the NTSB’s announcement on their investigation of Uber’s fatal 2017 autonomous vehicle crash. Volvo was mentioned in the story because Uber’s test vehicle was a modified Volvo XC90 SUV.
The media coverage surrounding NTSB’s announcement resulted in one of the highest spikes of negative sentiment. On November 19th, the coverage was 94% negative as the media recounted the events of the fatal crash. However, over the past four months, Volvo has maintained a generally positive media presence. Coverage on Volvo tends to be characterized by stories involving Volvo’s initiatives and brand recognition. Such recognition has resulted in one of the highest spikes of positive sentiment on November 14th. This spike was the result of Consumer Reports’ 2019 Annual Auto Reliability Survey, which declared Volvo as one of the top luxury brands.
As Volvo continues into 2020, the brand will need to make some changes to its PR methods to ensure its key messaging and initiatives reach their audience. For Volvo, its most substantial challenge is to build consistent and streamlined communications through their dealerships. According to V12 Marketing, 54% of surveyed consumers are more likely to buy from a dealer that offers a preferred brand experience. As Volvo enters the realm of providing electric-vehicles, the automaker will have to focus on selling their brand as well. Thereby, dealership end communications will be increasingly important during this stage of Volvo’s new brand.
To solve this issue, Volvo will need to establish brand messaging guidelines for dealerships. These guidelines will allow dealerships to meet communications standards and enabling customers to transition between corporate and dealership communications without transgressions. Additionally, establishing improved communications tactics for dealers will provide Volvo the opportunity to turn dealerships into local level brand ambassadors. For Volvo, this will equip dealerships with communications tools and enable them to issue local PR campaigns targeting their community to share and educate on Volvo’s new initiatives.
However, as Volvo transitions to online and corporate managed car sales through their “Care by Volvo” subscriptions. Volvo will need to begin establishing customer support teams on social media. Through this open-end support, Volvo can interact with customers that either needs assistance with car buying, research, vehicle issues, or want to show brand appreciation. As brands such as Volvo enter the new decade, they will need to become more than just experts at social media content marketing. But, these brands will also need to leverage social media to become masters of customer service in the digital space.
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