It's something we've heard off and on for years: Lincoln is getting ready to take another run at relevance in the luxury segments, and this time it's going to be different! Well, if we're talking about results, that remains an open question; but if we're talking about strategy, then I think the brand may actually be on to something. And it's not just because the elimination of Mercury means more resources can be spent on Ford's only remaining premium brand'”it looks like Lincoln also has a strong plan in place to make the most of those resources. For example, using products like the Lincoln MKZ hybrid, the division will tell a unique high-tech, high-value story aimed right at heart of the premium marketplace.
"Smarter Than Luxury"
That's the new tagline for the latest Lincoln media campaign, which features actor John Slattery of "Mad Men" and launches during the broadcast of golf's Ryder Cup. Neither of those choices are exactly surprising, and frankly, neither is the campaign's focus on Lincoln's tech toys. In fact, the ongoing technological revolution in the auto industry has now gotten to the point where many buyers' eyes start glazing over under the torrent of new goodies. BLIS, EPAS, Ti-VCT, AdvanceTrac with RSC, SelectShift, EcoBoost and even Active Nibble Cancellation are all in the mix for Blue Oval products, and that's just for starters.
So, what Lincoln is going to do is try to bring those technologies to life by getting more potential buyers to test drive Lincolns'”again, a standard tactic in the business'”while also seeking to show how the division delivers "more technology and luxury for an unexpected amount of content for the price.'? That's according to Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing communications for Ford, who should know what he's talking about.
Going the "value" route in the upper reaches of the marketplace can be a tricky thing, though, as you have to tread the fine line between offering "an unexpected amount of content for the price" and coming off as a cheap brand. After all, for some buyers, paying ridiculously high MSRPs for a luxury vehicle is an important part of the game. Lincoln also has to be careful here because similar value-oriented tactics are being used to support the launch of the Hyundai Equus and take its automaker further upmarket. I mean, getting into a price war with Hyundai is unlikely to be to Lincoln's advantage.
A Hybrid of Luxury and Value
It's based on all those factors that I think the MKZ hybrid is going to play an important part in any Lincoln revival. First off, the primary technology that Lincoln is selling here'”a hybrid powertrain'”is easy for customers to understand. That is, they understand what it does, even if they don't understand exactly how it does it. And what it does'”turn up a no-sacrifices EPA line of 41 mpg city/36 mpg highway/39 mpg combined'”is very attractive to today's drivers in a way that other technology may not be.
The point here is that two of the primary areas in which automakers are significantly increasing the use of technology are safety and connectivity. The former has never been a real difference-maker for buyers, and the latter is being made available under growing pressure to reduce the potential for distracted driving. Focusing on the hybrid part of the MKZ hybrid puts the emphasis on an unambiguous Lincoln advantage.
There's also something to be said perception-wise for positioning the MKZ hybrid system as essentially a piece of standard equipment as opposed to being a free or discounted option. The latter has that taint of bargain-hunting that a certain type of lux buyer strives to avoid.
Hitting the Sweet Spot
The MKZ hybrid also makes an excellent place to start the Lincoln turnaround based on sales volumes. The MKZ was the top-selling Lincoln through August, so putting this vehicle in the spotlight means you get the new Lincoln positioning in front of the most people. It's also worth pointing out that the Lincoln MKX, the second-best seller for Lincoln through the first eight months of the year and the division's No. 1 seller in August, will be the co-star of Lincoln's new marketing.
And with more customers seeing how Lincoln offers more value, hopes for more customers may not be entirely out of line.