Archive for February, 2012

Buying a New Car: Observations and Learnings

February 20, 2012

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I bought a new car: a 2012 Honda CRV. The entire experience was remarkable, and it highlights the core marketing challenge we all face.

Earlier this month we visited our local Honda dealer, Fletcher-Jones. We use Fletcher-Jones for service. We did a test drive on a new CRV and liked it. Our old CRV was 13 years old, so it was about time for an upgrade. We asked Fletcher-Jones for a price on the new CRV EXL, all wheel drive. They gave us a price of $29,105.

So I got on and asked three other dealers for bids. About fifteen minutes later I received a price of $26,306 for the same car from another dealer we like. Then a few minutes later another email arrived in with a price of $27,325. And then the next offer came in at a price of $25,765.

I then contacted Fletcher-Jones and asked them to match the low offer. They said that was simply impossible. So I contacted the other dealer we liked and asked them to match the price. And they did.

So we then visited the dealer and bought the car, for $25,765. To get the color we liked we ended up buying some mud flaps at a price of $400. I’m sure this feature helped the dealer’s margin fairly substantially; the flaps probably cost $10 to produce, providing lots of margin for both Honda and the dealer to enjoy. But we ended up with the car at what seems like a good price.

Two observations.

First, selling new cars is a brutal business. It is now very easy for shoppers to negotiate a price by pitting one dealer against the next. This drives down the margin on new car sales. The internet makes it particularly easy, since all it requires is a series of emails. I suspect we would have paid quite a bit more for the car, but it was just too easy to ask for (and receive) lower prices.

Anyone selling a product that lacks differentiation faces the same issue. Customers can and will price shop and drive down margins.

If I ran a car dealership I would work very hard to develop a point of difference or focus on volume and low prices.

Second, for consumers it is now much better to buy a new car than a used car. The problem with buying a used car is that it is impossible to price shop a used car in a similarly aggressive fashion. Every used car is unique, with a certain amount of wear and tear and a certain amount of mileage. This means the only way to figure out the price is through negotiation with the dealer; the on-line sites provide some information but not the final price. People who sell cars are good at negotiating and do it all day long, so you can be pretty confident that you won’t be getting the better of the deal.

2012 Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review

February 7, 2012

That was quite a Super Bowl!  The Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review results are in.  You can see my thoughts on the ads here:

Dannon Fights Back

February 3, 2012

Dannon will debut its first Super Bowl ad on Sunday, promoting its Oikos brand of Greek yogurt.

The move seems a little debatable on the surface. Oikos is a small brand, with nothing close to the size or reach of big Super Bowl advertisers such as Budweiser, Toyota or Samsung. Other small food brands have advertised on the Super Bowl in the past but few return. Tabasco, Planters, Emerald Nuts and Pop Secret all came and went. The learning is pretty clear: the Super Bowl isn’t an efficient spend for these sorts of brands.

But Dannon’s move actually makes perfect sense.

For many years, Dannon and General Mills’ Yoplait brand led the U.S. yogurt category. Stonyfield Farm shook things up a bit but then Dannon gained control of Stonyfield in 2001.

Over the past three years, however, the competitive dynamics in yogurt have changed dramatically as two new brands, Chobani and Fage, have come on the scene.

Chobani and Fage are both Greek yogurts, much thicker and richer than typical yogurts in the U.S. market. Dannon and Yoplait were quick to dismiss these products, but Chobani and Fage caught on. Chobani is now the #1 brand of yogurt in the United States with more than a ten percent market share and growing quickly. Fage has more than four percent of the U.S. market and continues to grow. Both brands are investing in building new factories to meet demand.

This is a disastrous situation for Dannon and Yoplait; the companies stand to lose millions in profits if Chobani and Fage continue stealing share.

What does that mean for game day?

Dannon is now fighting back. The company is heavily promoting its Oikos brand, directly attacking Chobani with taste claims and promotional support.

Dannon’s Super Bowl ad is just one part of the defensive effort. It will build Oikos, certainly. Perhaps more importantly, it sends a rather clear signal to retailers, investors and executives at Chobani and Fage that Dannon is going to fight for share.

In Dannon’s Super Bowl ad, actor John Stamos is knocked to the ground by a pleasant, likable lady. It is a pretty good illustration of what pleasant, likeable Dannon hopes to do to Chobani and Fage.


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