Today we revive the monthly “save” series, where a failing brand is reviewed and a limited set of marketing recommendations are made that could turn it around. And despite the headline, the “save” series doesn’t really care what you would do.
This month we look at the cute little smart car brand (Note: the company insists on referring to itself in lower case.). At the beginning of 2008, after years of unnecessary teasing and build-up, smart introduced its popular-in-Europe teeny tiny fortwo model to the U.S. market.
In the early going, smart followed the strategy of “exclusive scarcity” to a T. But now it has become more like a Model T. Initially requiring a small deposit and some artificial “out of stock” time, smart sold roughly 25,000 cars in 2008. With gas at $3 a gallon, a full-blown recession, American automakers with their collective head up their collective ass, and with finding a parking space in NYC still hard as hell, smart should have done OK in 2009.
Its sales fell 40%. Just like everyone else’s.
December sales were down 63%. At current run rates, smart would be selling under 100 cars a month by this coming fall. Now that’s teeny tiny. And bad for marketing.
You’ve heard of “word of mouth.” Cars are sold by “word of eye.” There’s precious little time to get this car exposed, physically, to as many people as humanly possible.
Get the fortwo into every urban zipcar-like fleet. Free. And subsidize a 20% discount on rental fees.
Sponsor every wet T-shirt contest this coming Spring Break. There should be dozens of fortwos buzzing up and down the Fort Lauderdale and Padre Island strips, 24/7.
Find the right words to address U.S. drivers’ main concerns about this bucket of bolts – interior space and crash safety.
Put a little money into some photos of car interiors and videos showing big people getting in and out of the car easily. Ditto to address the crash safety concern.
Small Business Exposure
Every door-to-door business that buys a smart car should get a free logo job. Pizza delivery, locksmith, Geek Squad-like companies – they should be buzzing all around town in fortwos.
The new plan to offer a leasing option where drivers are locked into a 3-year contract and must put down $1600 is a joke. Offer monthly leases. The only residual value the finance guys should be worried about is their last pay check.
Oh, and you can forget social media. Here is the greeting you get on the home page of smart’s “social network,” from the company’s president:
“We thank you for your continued patience and understanding as we address the current spam issue with smartUSAinsider.com.”