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5 Questions with Cadillac CMO Uwe Ellinghaus
BrandChannel


The new heads of Cadillac are in the midst of a grand plan to elevate the General Motors luxury marque to the same neighborhood as the German segment leaders and Lexus.

Cadillac global CMO Uwe Ellinghaus and his new boss, Cadillac President Johan de Nysschen, must carve out a more robust and distinctive identity for Cadillac as a serious competitor at the top of the global luxury automotive pyramid. With his prior experience at BMW, Ellinghaus was in the midst of a desperately-needed brand overhaul at Cadillac—redefining it as a distinctly American luxury brand (not a German wannabe) and preparing a new product nomenclature for the brand—when de Nysschen arrived in August.

Now he has a key partner to execute on the brand's global goals: holding firm on pricing, boosting the customer experience at dealerships, and launching a new flagship Cadillac CT6 sedan and ad campaign—not to mention shaking up the status quo by moving Cadillac headquarters from Detroit to New York.

In a further challenge, Cadillac has seen US sales dip (with dealers already warned that things will get worse before they get better) in a year that sibling Buick has been crushing, despite reaching new heights in China. On the precipice of a crucial year, Ellinghaus discussed the Cadillac brand strategy with Dale Buss of brandchannel.

Interview

1) You've been working on turning Cadillac around for almost a year now. What was your first major contribution?

Ellinghaus: It was to show my bosses at GM that luxury works differently than the non-luxury market. GM has huge expertise in technology and engineering, and financially it is in good shape as well, but they didn't understand that a luxury brand works differently. It's all about focus, continuity and consistency—the sort of secondary virtues that the German brands are so good at. Those are some good ingredients for successful branding.

2) How did you begin to apply that to Cadillac?

Ellinghaus: We needed to establish what Cadillac stands for, and not even a couple of values had been defined. What do we bring to the table and how do we explain to customers why to go with a Cadillac rather than something else? We had to set out positioning that differentiated us from the German brands; you can't build a brand emulating your competitors, and in some ways GM admires these brands too much. So Cadillac was missing a little bit on its own heritage and efforts beyond the distinctiveness of our styling.

3) What was the brand missing in terms of relevance?

Ellinghaus: People didn't know what Cadillac stands for. The previous thought was that we have to go in between the segments dominated by the Germans. But I said we need to right-size our cars and make our nomenclature clear. [GM CEO] Mary Barra herself assigned me to come up with a suggestion for fixing the nomenclature. Future cars will have "CT" and then a number behind it that indicates its size in our hierarchy, and future SUVs and crossovers will have an "XT" and a number.

4) You've talked about restoring a sense of "American-ness" to Cadillac. Give me an example of what you have in mind.

Ellinghaus: Well, our marketing will be less technology-driven than in the past. We will walk away from black cars in all of our communications, because that conveys the opposite of optimism. And we will reinject more vibe into the brand. And if you really don't want the American spirit that this brand embodies, then go to the German brands.

5) I know you believe in Cadillac's well-established design language and that it needs to be refined. In what ways is that happening?

Ellinghaus: We're staying with the vertical front grill and carrying the crest and some other elements forward. But we are adding proportion and presence and stance and muscularity, and looking at things like the size of the "greenhouse" versus the rest of the car. It must be about performance and the future. We don't want to go back to a bigger, more comfort-oriented car of the past. Cadillac will not be the car for a couch potato.
 

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I thought they were great questions by somebody who did they're homework. Number 4 about "American-ness" was a good tough question, and I wished he would have answered it better. On one hand, its an intangible that's hard to describe. On the other, he's the CMO and should be have a dialed-in in response that makes you go, "OK I get it".
 

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The bit about black cars is more superficial BS, just like the new nomenclature. It will have zero impact on perception or sales.

I wish there was more Q&A about Cadillac's retail/service experience. The product is on a good path. The part that trails BADLY behind Lexus is the consumer front end. Even as the Germans have slowly out-engineered Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand has avoided collapse by treating its customers like Egyptian Pharaohs.
 

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Cadillac and all of GM needs to win back its past customers if they have any hope of returning to profitability and greatness. I think GM needs to apologize to the American people for its failure as a company, and promise to make amends for the causes of their failure. Build the best vehicles they can, including using not the cheapest parts, but rather the parts that will outlast the car itself. Engines that can run 100,000 miles without any repairs. Transmissions that use the best parts so that the transmissions run 100,000 without needing servicing, and engineered to be easily fixed. Interiors that are attractive, wear like iron, without cheap plastic parts that break and aren't repairable. And on and on, building a vehicle that represents the best, rather than the cheapest crap they can get away with.
Then include long warranties that are fully transferable. And include free maintenance for the life of the warranty. And with more customers bringing their cars in for service, make the experience easy, quick and enjoyable.
I'm sure there are those who say GM can't afford to do all that, to which I would say GM can't afford to NOT DO ALL THAT!
 

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Those were some weird answers.
It all made perfect sense to me.

I liked reading this:

But we are adding proportion and presence and stance and muscularity, and looking at things like the size of the "greenhouse" versus the rest of the car. It must be about performance and the future.
 

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The bit about black cars is more superficial BS, just like the new nomenclature. It will have zero impact on perception or sales.

I wish there was more Q&A about Cadillac's retail/service experience. The product is on a good path. The part that trails BADLY behind Lexus is the consumer front end. Even as the Germans have slowly out-engineered Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand has avoided collapse by treating its customers like Egyptian Pharaohs.

I just saw the new Cadillac commercial for the CTS. Almost the same as the new ATS commercial and once again the car is shown in red. Showing the cars in red certainly makes them seem more contemporary,fun and emotional, as opposed to stuffy and old.

I like the song in this commercial but when they launch the CT6, if it is as striking as it is rumored to be, I'd like it to be in Black for the initial commercials with accompaniment of Quiet Riot's "Slick Black Cadillac".

Right from the get go, establish the CT6 as a car with chutzpa and attitude (the bad boy. Think Kirk versus Spock) amongst the ocean of the buttoned up, unflappable perfection of German luxury sedans.
 

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Those were some weird answers.
In what way?


He speaks basic Marketing 101. It's everything I've stated here for 7+ years!
-- Luxury needs focus and needs to portray an image..
-- Cadillac has gotten rid of its heritage, and needs to refocus on what makes it American, but not portray its American-ness as deficient.
-- More clarity and definition in the nomenclature.
-- Establish what the brand stands for.
 

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The bit about black cars is more superficial BS, just like the new nomenclature. It will have zero impact on perception or sales.
It is a matter of perception and brand portrayal. It's superficial, but that's all that matter at this point, when it comes to displaying cars in photos.
It's subtle changes like color and font usage that can immediately change the perception of a brand.

Again. Marketing and Branding 101.
 

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It is a matter of perception and brand portrayal. It's superficial, but that's all that matter at this point, when it comes to displaying cars in photos.
It's subtle changes like color and font usage that can immediately change the perception of a brand.

Again. Marketing and Branding 101.
In real world™ marketing at major MNCs, you make substantive choices backed by facts and data.

Black and silver (and gold in some cultures) are known to be strongly associated with luxury, exclusivity, and upscale goods. There are psychological studies behind this. Can you argue in favor of red or white, especially for an underdog in need of global attention? Sure, but you don't give "umm, car pics are going to be not-black" as an answer to a question about Cadillac's "Americanness."

In this case, it's whimsy masked as managerial action, BS spewed forth because he couldn't answer the question, because he (and Cadillac, and GM, and most of us) have no clue what American luxury is supposed to be.


"Cadillac is about American luxury!"

'What is American luxury?'

"No more black cars in brochures!"




Reminds me of when Buick's slogan was "The Spirit of American Style" featuring Harley Earl's ghost in TV ads. No one knew what the hell "American style" meant, the message didn't stick, and now Buick's most competent offering is an Opel. I'm all in favor of using nationality to define a brand as Jaguar is distinctly British, Volvo is very Swedish, Lexus is proudly Japanese, and Ferrari is very Italian, but if you can't provide a pithy answer to a basic question about how that nationality is interpreted in the context of your product, you need to find another direction.
 

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Interesting read ....yet a lot of what was said sounds like nonsense...

The product line at Cadillac needs an expansion for three cuv s...that's what the public is buying...

The faster good cuv s come from Cadillac...the faster sales will increase.

The naming change is smart although I would have preferred real names like ElMirage....etc..

The styling of the brand needs to elicit desire to own....

Can't say the latest Cadillac product does that enough......hence the lower sales than the market overall.

Nice product but just doesn't elicit the passion and desire to purchase..

Hopefully the new product coming will...
 
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There are many "right" directions Cadillac can go. What is good here is that Cadillac now appears to have strong leaders who have created a clear path for the future. The important part is that GM keep these leaders in role for several years and stick to this one path. Cadillac will never have its image repaired if it doesn't get some stability in its leadership.
 

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Interesting read ....yet a lot of what was said sounds like nonsense...
The product line at Cadillac needs an expansion for three cuv s...that's what the public is buying...
The faster good cuv s come from Cadillac...the faster sales will increase.
The naming change is smart although I would have preferred real names like ElMirage....etc..
The styling of the brand needs to elicit desire to own....
Can't say the latest Cadillac product does that enough......hence the lower sales than the market overall.
Nice product but just doesn't elicit the passion and desire to purchase..
Hopefully the new product coming will...
How can you NOT use legendary names like El Dorado, (a city or country of fabulous riches held by 16th century explorers to exist in South America, or a place of fabulous wealth or opportunity)?
America remains the land of opportunity and a country of great wealth, so it is a wonderful name for a Cadillac model, probably the large coupe currently called the Elmiraj.
And other names work as well.
The German mindset of logic works for other Germans, but may not work with Americans. CT6 as a car size designation is okay, but Cadillac NEEDS names. CT6 Deville would be okay, CT7 El Dorado coupe, and CT8 Fleetwood would all work, with people calling them by their NAMES instead of a logical but thoroughly uninspiring alphanumeric
 

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I wish there was more Q&A about Cadillac's retail/service experience. The product is on a good path. The part that trails BADLY behind Lexus is the consumer front end. Even as the Germans have slowly out-engineered Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand has avoided collapse by treating its customers like Egyptian Pharaohs.
Au contraire. Retail/service experience is one thing at which Cadillac truly excels. Cadillac was the #1 luxury automotive brand (and #1 overall) in J.D. Power's 2014 Customer Service study:

 

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The bit about black cars is more superficial BS, just like the new nomenclature. It will have zero impact on perception or sales.

I wish there was more Q&A about Cadillac's retail/service experience. The product is on a good path. The part that trails BADLY behind Lexus is the consumer front end. Even as the Germans have slowly out-engineered Lexus, Toyota's luxury brand has avoided collapse by treating its customers like Egyptian Pharaohs.
And when did Lexus ever out-engineer the Germans?

I just saw the new Cadillac commercial for the CTS.
Ooooh, I haven't yet! Describe it?

In real world™ marketing at major MNCs, you make substantive choices backed by facts and data.

Black and silver (and gold in some cultures) are known to be strongly associated with luxury, exclusivity, and upscale goods. There are psychological studies behind this. Can you argue in favor of red or white, especially for an underdog in need of global attention? Sure, but you don't give "umm, car pics are going to be not-black" as an answer to a question about Cadillac's "Americanness."

In this case, it's whimsy masked as managerial action, BS spewed forth because he couldn't answer the question, because he (and Cadillac, and GM, and most of us) have no clue what American luxury is supposed to be.


"Cadillac is about American luxury!"

'What is American luxury?'

"No more black cars in brochures!"
Get off my forum, you mumbling, stuttering bommunist.

Red universally expresses the virility Badillac is going for. Goes back to their red-blooded luxury bit.

Red

¨ Red is the color of fire and blood, so it is associated with energy, war, danger, strength, power, determination as well as passion, desire, and love.

¨ Red is a very emotionally intense color. It enhances human metabolism, increases respiration rate, and raises blood pressure.

¨ It has very high visibility that’s why stop signs, stoplights, and fire equipment are usually painted red.

¨ In heraldry, red is used to indicate courage. It is the color found in many national flags.

¨ Red brings text and images to the foreground.

¨ Use it as an accent color to stimulate people to make quick decisions; it is a perfect color for 'Buy Now' or 'Click Here' buttons on Internet banners and websites.

¨ Red is widely used to indicate danger (high voltage signs, traffic lights).

¨ This color is also commonly associated with energy, so you can use it when promoting energy drinks, games, cars, items related to sports and high physical activity.
How can you NOT use legendary names like El Dorado, (a city or country of fabulous riches held by 16th century explorers to exist in South America, or a place of fabulous wealth or opportunity)?
Easy. Because it's corny as ****.



Armed with her roll of quarters and a voucher to the buffet, good ole granny's gonna strike gold in the Eldorado before she goes back home on the Serendipity bus.

Take your head out of 1972 and you'll realize Eldorado no longer means anything to anyone.

Au contraire. Retail/service experience is one thing at which Cadillac truly excels. Cadillac was the #1 luxury automotive brand (and #1 overall) in J.D. Power's 2014 Customer Service study:

Okay... but now what do Cadillac's demographics look like and how do they compare to BMW/MB and what do they expect from Cadillac versus the Germans?

If Cadillac has a less wealthy clientele that has lower expectations, those results aren't really indicative of a superior experience... are they?
 

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If Cadillac has a less wealthy clientele that has lower expectations, those results aren't really indicative of a superior experience... are they?
Oh, please.

The logic of your position would have Land Rover dealers as being the worst in the known Universe.

One thing I find interesting with charts like this is the inverse relationship between "satisfaction", and "perception".

Land Rover as a brand is generally held in very high esteem by the public at large, but considerably less so by the people who actually buy them and have to spend so much time at the dealerships this chart would indicate they dislike so much.

It would also appear that satisfaction with dealers has POSITIVELY NO EFFECT ON SALES.
 
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