The day everything changed

It’s safe to say that the 13th of November 2013 will go down in history as the landmark event that changed commercial vehicle marketing for good. It is the publication date of Volvo Truck’s Epic Split video, a two-minute clip showing Jean-Claude Van Damme performing a split between two reversing trucks to demonstrate the precision of Volvo’s then-new dynamic steering.

Part of Volvo’s innovative Live Test campaign, the video went viral and eventually picked up the top prize at the Cannes Lions, the world’s biggest annual award show for advertising held in France. To date, it has been watched 79 million times, roughly equating to a 168-year binge, and is considered one of the most successful B2B video campaigns of all time.

Since that fateful day in late 2013, heavy vehicle marketing has not only started to re-emerge from the shadowy existence it had to lead since the GFC descended upon the developed world, but also regained some of the appeal it seemed to have lost to the more prestigious automobile segment. In the wake of Volvo’s win in Cannes, budgets are slowly loosening again, allowing OEMs to rediscover B2B marketing as a viable sales tool that can deliver a quantifiable Return of Investment.

But how about the trailing equipment industry, which is often described as a little more on the conservative side? According to a non-representative Global Trailer survey, OEMs do acknowledge the value of marketing, but still approach it with varying intensity – mainly because they struggle to measure how exactly it will translate into sales.

One brand that is leading the post-Van Damme marketing offensive from the front is German family business Krone. “Even though one might think that in a ‘commodity business’ like trailer building, marketing would not be important, we know that all buying decisions are more or less emotional,” says Krone’s Marketing Director, Tobias Eichberg. “Marketing is a must in our business because it allows us to go beyond pure facts and bring that emotional aspect to the table.”

While most trailer OEMs now have a dedicated marketing department in place, funding and strategic importance still vary widely across the trailer building community, making for a succinctly different marketplace compared to the closely related truck segment, which put forth the famous Volvo ad. However, most agree that the slow and painful rebuilding phase after the GFC reminded them of the true value of brand equity – or more so the need to cement it lastingly, even if revenue is temporarily down.

“The Financial Crisis has made our clients more informed and demanding. Social networks never sleep, so it’s increasingly important to actively influence the brand building process that’s going on in that sphere,” says Miguel Ángel Luquin, Marketing & Communications Manager at Spain’s Lecitrailer Group, adding that an important lesson he had to learn was the need to personalise marketing messages in a world flooded with information. To do so, his approach to marketing changed to a more ‘cross-sectional’ one where marketing and sales closely interact.

In line with that, Schwarzmüller, a 140-year-old Austrian family business, decided to completely rethink marketing when the GFC shock finally subsided. “As a family company, we’ve traditionally relied on the close connections we had with our customers,” says Sales Controlling Director, Antje Schmidt. “Only after redefining our brand last year we realised how effective marketing can be. While a lot of people in the industry still think marketing is more of a hands-on job, it’s actually an important strategic building block too. That’s why we’d like to be more proactive in our approach to marketing and communications going forward.”

According to Schmidt, the main goal of every marketing activity should be to create brand awareness and form a connection with the customer – a bond strong enough for it to lead to a sale. In that context, Volvo’s video experiment also placed new value on Return of Investment as the ultimate marketing KPI. “We try to validate the Return On Investment for every marketing measure we undertake, but sometimes it’s not so easy to quantify the outcome because there is simply no data,” says Krone’s Tobias Eichberg. As a result, he says Krone focuses on channels that can prove they are most likely to address the right target audience.

While the vast majority of people in the heavy commercial vehicle industry still use a print publication of some kind as their primary information source, Tobias Eichberg says that “going digital” is unavoidable in the long-term – especially on the news front. For many an OEM, including Krone, the company website already is a core ingredient in the online marketing mix. “To us, our website is the gateway to the Krone world. Here we present all current news and information about our products and services, so it’s vitally important for us to keep it fresh and appealing,” he says.

Schwarzmüller’s Antje Schmidt is equally sold on the idea of a modern website – especially for recruiting purposes – but emphasises that in terms of product and service advice, customers still appreciate personal contact and print material. That dualism doesn’t necessarily have to lead to a budget show-off between online and print, she says, but should be treated as an opportunity instead. “We’ve set up a new website last year to create a new marketing tool. The old one was an information source only, a digital catalogue. Now we are on the path to forming a website that will actually complement what we do in print. It will provide product information, but also act as a platform to interact with existing or potential customers. You have to treat it for what it is, and that’s more than just a brochure with a URL.”

According to Schmidt, Schwarzmüller is also looking into launching an email newsletter to complement classic print advertisement, but says the project is still in its infancy. Lecitrailer’s Miguel Ángel Luquin, meanwhile, says email marketing has been “a bit overdone”. While he is sold on the idea of creating his own content and audience, he, too, says the company website will be the place to be going forward. “The trend is to have a web portal including all types of content, blogs and private client areas where people can receive personalised information. [In turn], traditional tools such as leaflets are being dropped. These products become increasingly out of date, while new technologies allow for a quicker, more personalised response.”

Social media, meanwhile, don’t play a huge role in the trailer building community. Even Krone, which successfully produced a whole range of Youtube videos in the past, says engagement in social media is not high on the agenda at the moment. “We use it to stay in touch with the end-user and also for recruiting, but it’s not a major tool for us,” says Tobias Eichberg. Albeit more expensive, Eichberg says being present at select industry events would currently have more merit. “One major marketing tool – now more so than ever – are trade shows, where we can meet our existing and potential customers in person.”

At the recent IAA Commercial Vehicle Show in Germany, Krone emphasised that position by taking out a sizable chunk of the trailer hall to celebrate the company’s new one-stop-shop strategy. Branding has become immensely important in that context, says Eichberg, with Krone placing high value on client retention and creating brand loyalty. “Dedicated trade shows give us an opportunity to do so whilst allowing our audience to build a physical connection with the product, which will enhance the experience and create a lasting memory.”

At the moment, truck shows are also the main access point to markets outside Germany, says Eichberg. “One of our main challenges is to internationalise our marketing activities in our target markets,” he says. “Trade shows are a great first touch point, but we are always evaluating new ways to reach out to our clientele too. We know that if you stop improving, soon you’re behind the times, so we keep marching on and learn as we go.”

The same strategy is true for Lecitrailer, says Miguel Ángel Luquin, who is convinced that meeting people in person will continue to be important and has to be complemented, not replaced, by new technology. “We must not forget how important it is to remain close to our clientele,” he says. “The key is to integrate new marketing strategies into a proven framework that we know works for an industrial product like a semi-trailer. The data we generate through our online activities will be able to help us achieve that.”

Luquin says harvesting and analysing ‘big data’ will help OEMs position themselves as opinion leaders and drive trends within the commercial road transport community. “Add to that the experience of a seasoned salesman, and you have a powerful tool at hand.”

Kässbohrer’s Ayşenur Nuhoğlu, one of the youngest marketing executives in the international trailer building community, is equally bullish about mixing old-school salesmanship with the school of modern marketing. “In the heavy commercial vehicle sector, word of mouth is still the most effective marketing tool. As much as the marketing department is useful in creating awareness, frontline sales staff is still the key to making the customer experience a positive one,” she says. “The most important thing is to maintain a certain degree of consistency. We need to mediate the right message to the all stakeholders in our value chain, even if the number of communication channels is increasing.”

As Head of Corporate Communications, Nuhoğlu reports directly to the company’s Board. And since Kässbohrer is not the only brand under the Tirsan Treyler umbrella, she has to be careful to make sure the right strategy is chosen for the right product. “In Germany, for example, Karl Kässbohrer’s innovative spirit is still very much respected. But as much as Kässbohrer’s heritage inspires us, we also need to communicate how much value our manufacturing and R&D capabilities add to the product to ensure the right fleet will end up with the right solution,” she says. “In Turkey, Tirsan is the undisputed thought leader, so we need a different strategy here. And last but not least there’s Talson, which focuses on the aircargo industry. Getting all these brands aligned is quite the challenge.”

Well versed in the use of social media, Nuhoğlu says investing in digital publishing and advertising is still very much a ‘horses for courses’ decision. “It all depends on the target market and how prevalent those channels are in that region,” she says – explaining that magazine advertising can be equally useful as consumers continue to trust in print media as objective information sources. “Our main goal is to communicate the value we create to our global clientele. Depending on the market and company, we need different channels to market.”

Despite not being representative, Global Trailer’s OEM survey has shown that modern-day manufacturing marketing is more than just producing a fancy video or placing an ad in the right magazine. According to Krone’s Tobias Eichberg, communicating the Krone values is an everyday job for each and every employee. “That’s where marketing has to begin, with our people. They represent what we stand for, and in that sense, they’re multipliers we need to nurture.”

Agrees Antje Schmidt, “in my eyes, what we do is very different to automobile marketing, for example. It’s highly emotional too – just think about how many people spend their whole weekend washing their truck – but it’s not so much about creating a desire. In the commercial vehicle world, it’s all about providing a solution to a problem, and only people can do that. But the product has to embody that solution or the ability to find it, which is where marketing must come into play.”

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