Rebuilding the Cadillac Brand

June 7, 2013

The Cadillac Shield, a key component of the brand’s resurgence. Source: Cadillac

The Cadillac Renaissance: How Cadillac Has Rebuilt Their Brand

As GM neared bankruptcy, all of their brands were put under review to determine which would survive. At the time, GM had already eliminated the Oldsmobile and were taking a look at Pontiac, Hummer, Saab, Buick, and even Cadillac.
Cadillac had floundered for many years. The average age of their buyer was over 60, and their cars were largely duds or livery (DTS) vehicles. While they had gained some traction with the Escalade they had failed across the board to create a cohesive product strategy. The cars were uninspiring, the dealerships were tired looking, and the customer experience was underwhelming. The situation looked pretty bad.

So How Do You Repair A Damaged Brand?

1) Improve the Product

Cadillac knew they did not have a cohesive product strategy. Over the course of the 1990s they had tried to be competitive, and had a knack for producing front-wheel-drive cars that catered to their aged customer set.
By 2008 they released the ground-breaking Cadillac CTS with their new Art and Science design language. They worked with Modernista! to launch the car with a series of catchy ads with Kate Walsh delivering the now famous line “When you turn your car on, does it return the favor?” The campaign was a hit. It was brash, edgy, and loud — just like the car. The car itself was well received by the Press and won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year.

Cadillac attempted to continue this theme with their Escalade and SRX SUVs, but with mixed results. The larger problem was with their customer segments. While the CTS attracted a younger demographic to their brand, some were looking for a smaller car. The CTS attempted to compete in two segments — entry-level Luxury like the 3 Series and the mid-level 5 Series — but it wasn’t small enough for some buyers.
In response, Cadillac has released the smaller ATS earlier this year and the larger XTS to compete within all of their segments.

2) Modernize the Dealerships

If you walk into an Audi, Mercedes, or Lexus dealership they tend to be new facilities with all the amenities (free drinks, snacks, loaner cars) one would expect from a luxury nameplate. However, if you walk into some Cadillac dealerships, it will look like the last update was 30+ years ago. I recall walking into one in 2010 and noticing they were grilling hot dogs and offering them to their customers. The facility itself looked old — straight out of the 1970s.
Cadillac knew they had a problem and rolled out a new dealership design that raised the bar to competitive standards. I went to one of their newer dealerships a few weeks ago, and it was very impressive. Even though the dealership was smaller than their competitors, there was a certain class and sophistication to the design that some of their larger counterparts don’t have.

3) Build a Standard-Setting Customer Experience

If you’ve read anything about GM you’ve heard the horror stories of unreliable cars, apathetic (at best) dealerships, and very angry customers who vow never to buy another GM car again. That held true to a degree for Cadillac.
One important element of rebuilding a tarnished brand is setting a standard above the competition. In order to win back the trust of the customer, you have to demonstrate you are actually better. It’s a formula Hyundai used to great success with their “10 year” warranties.
Cadillac has rolled out the “Cadillac” shield to convey their value proposition to their prospects. They offer a longer powertrain warranty, “free” scheduled maintenance (similar to BMW), and six-years-worth of free roadside assistance with free loaner cars.
They’ve also improved their sales training. When I visited that newer dealership I brought my mother with me. The salesperson greeted both of us at the door, asked me a few questions about my buying intentions, and realized right away I was a lead to “nurture.”
Instead of trying to hard sell me, he took me around the dealership, talked about the car I was interested in, introduced me to a few managers, and let me know they are a family-owned dealership and take care of their employees.
After leaving the dealership, I received two emails, from one him and another from his manager offering to answer any questions I might have on the car, the brand, or the dealership.
Pretty impressive, and I’ll definitely be back to take a look.

What are some other successful rebranding examples you can share?


Corporate Strategy, Sales Operations

Sudip is in charge of Corporate Strategy, Sales Operations at <a href="">Alegeus Technologies</a>. Previously, he worked at OpenView from 2012 until 2014 with portfolio companies to provide insights on the markets they operate in, their customers, and drive development of business strategies.