Public opinion, whether fuelled by expensive advertising campaigns, social media or simply by word of mouth are what makes or breaks a company. And once a bad reputation has been earned, it’s nigh on impossible to turn things round.
But with time, effort and a very good product base, opinions can be changed and that’s exactly what Skoda has done in the last few decades.
Not so long ago, the Czech carmaker was regularly on the receiving end of a joke – Christmas cracker-style banter, but still crushing for its reputation.
And then to make matters worse, there was the Jana Novotna incident, where she snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the Wimbledon tennis final and was left sobbing on the shoulder of HRH the Duchess of Kent. One of her main sponsors back in 1993? Yes, you guessed it – Skoda.
But like the late great Novotna who went on to claim the Wimbledon crown and win the hearts of the nation in the process, Skoda has also turned things round in dramatic fashion.
No longer is the company the butt of jokes and sly comments, but these days it’s a global leader with a fleet of award-winning models to its name.
We caught up with Kirsten Stagg, Head of Marketing Skoda UK, to discuss the success story of the brand and how the company transformed its reputation.
She said: “Skoda’s success over recent decades has centred around the quality, reliability and design of our cars. Over time we have seen this translate into a loyal customer following and love for the brand.
“The history of the company is dominated by technological milestones and since Volkswagen Group ownership in 1991 we have developed into a confident brand with a strong sense of identity.
“This has been complimented with a rich history of iconic advertising, particularly in the UK. Cast your mind back to 2007, when a team of confectioners baked a life-size FABIA cake to the tune of Mary Poppins classic ‘My favourite things’.”
Kirsten explained that marketing campaigns are very country-specific to appeal to certain markets.
“In 2017, we launched our Driven by Something Different creative platform that champions individual spirit and self-confidence. This was based on local market research that revealed a set of attributes shared by our customers in the UK.
“Paloma Faith perfectly embodied the Driven by Something Different attitude. She is an inspirational person who champions confidence and individuality and she stood out as the perfect choice to take Driven by Something Different that one step further. At the time of the advert, she was also a new mum and understood the modern-day family pressures that a lot of our customers identify with, so she was a great ambassador for our SUV range.”
Despite the pandemic, Skoda secured a record 3.6 per cent of the market share in the UK in 2020 and the plan is to stay at the top of the game moving forward.
Kirsten explained: “The launch of our all-electric SUV, the ENYAQ iV, will be one of the most important in the brand’s history. This car will appeal to a wider customer audience than ever before and take Skoda to the next level in terms of brand appeal.
“We’ve just launched our new TV advert, which I’m extremely proud of. It’s a beautifully crafted 60 second animation that tells the story of how the ENYAQ iV was ‘created’ and dramatises the two sides of our all-electric vehicle, which has both striking looks and is environmentally friendly. We’ve brought the duality of the car to life through two heart-warming robot characters, Pu-rr and Gr-rr, and we hope it will be a campaign that people remember.
“There is a large-scale multi-million pound amplification plan behind the new creative that spans broadcast, digital and online to ensure we reach a widespread audience with this campaign.”
Only time will tell how successful the ENYAQ iV campaign will be, but Skoda will be carefully monitoring the responses.
“As with our sales performance, we continually track the image and consideration for the brand. This helps inform our thinking at a campaign development stage. Following launch, we track every element of a campaign’s performance, from web visits, test drive requests and sales leads to engagement levels across all our social media channels, to name just a few.
“There are so many variables that can influence a brand’s image. One advantage of being a brand where some people have preconceptions though, is that you can genuinely surprise them by drawing their attention to the quality or desirability of what you have to offer,” added Kirsten.
Skoda picked up more than 40 awards in the UK last year, making it one of the most decorated brands in the industry.
And if you need further proof to the success of Skoda, just check out how many taxi drivers use them. And cabbies are a smart species – one Fred Housego even went on to win Mastermind!
Getting a brand noticed when competition is so fierce is another issue though and one that Korean carmaker SsangYong has battled with.
Despite scooping a hat-full of awards and boasting a loyal customer base that return time and again for their cars, it is still a bit of a ‘SsangYong who?’ situation.
We asked SsangYong Managing Director, Kevin Griffin, how the manufacturer aims to tackle the issue head-on.
He said: “SsangYong’s appearance has changed remarkably over the years. We are a challenger brand, without doubt and brand snobbery is an issue. Buyers tend to have a pre-conceived idea of the brand. However once they look at our vehicles closely, the realisation is an incredibly versatile and luxurious package at an extremely competitive price that is completed with an unbeatable warranty package of seven years, 150,000 miles. We understand that brand awareness is an issue however we have great aspirations for where we’re going.”
And SsangYong rather cleverly took full advantage of the badge snobbery issue when ex-footballer and actor Vinnie Jones, known for his ‘no nonsense’ approach, was chosen for the Korando TV advert.
Kevin explained the choice: “Vinnie Jones was the perfect candidate for the New Korando 2020 TV campaign as he reflected many of our key brand values. We called the campaign ‘Straight Talking’ and we felt Vinnie encapsulated just that - our vehicles do what they say on the tin.
“Do you want to tow? Our cars tow anything from 1,500kg to 3,500kg and have won awards for their towing ability. Do you want affordability? You’d be hard pressed to find better value on the market that has as much tech, safety features, kit as standard and a superb warranty. Do you want off-road prowess? Our vehicles come from over 65 years of designing and manufacturing 4x4s and SUVs, we’re South Korea’s oldest and only SUV manufacturer after all. To put it simply, they get the job done.”
As a brand, SsangYong scores really well in customer satisfaction surveys and the Musso pick-up and luxurious flagship Rexton model have notched up numerous awards, but is the message really getting out there just how good the company’s vehicles are?
Kevin said: “We are lucky to have an incredibly loyal customer base in the UK and we do our best to listen to them and react to requests as best we can, from the social media team to the customer service team – and it helps that our vehicles are extremely reliable.
“We have done and continue to focus on our dealer network which is expanding rapidly. Bringing in a new wave of dealers as well as promoting our vehicles through new and exciting digital marketing schemes has proven to be incredibly effective to help the brand grow and we are confident that with these changes we will continue on this trajectory. We have onboarded several Mitsubishi franchises over the last six months who are a perfect fit for SsangYong.
“Our Communications Department covers all things marketing, from events to digital marketing, PR & media, to brand ambassadors. All of these are essential in achieving our goal of growing the brand and establishing SsangYong as a household name in the UK. Whatever the form of marketing or advertising, modern or traditional, we have a dedicated team for it who are doing a fantastic job.”
The reliability and get-the-job-done ability of SsangYong’s vehicles has never been in doubt. And to prove that point, the emergency services is a frequent customer.
Kevin explained: “Our fleet team is focussed on government opportunities and our biggest customers are the likes of Highways England, the Metropolitan Police, IMT, along with other police forces, fire and ambulance services. The high-profile nature of these organisations choosing to buy SsangYong vehicles for operational purposes is huge for us – it gives customers added peace of mind and confidence in the brand.
“We had to adapt with the impacts of Covid-19 which has meant that we have had to change our approach to our campaigns. It was a great opportunity to refocus our efforts from getting people into our showrooms to focusing on spreading our name and brand message to a wide audience digitally. We have been more focused on brand recognition, generating leads and increasing brand awareness.
“However with the world opening up and our dealers more eager than ever to sell cars, we have begun to tailor campaigns to generate both interest in the brand and also sales. As a smaller UK marque, we can be more reactive to the climate and receptive to feedback garnered from the public and data. Campaigns can be tailored to specific models quickly and efficiently which has proven to be immensely successful for us.”
It seems SsangYong has great intentions for the future and we asked what’s next for the company here in the UK.
“Although challenging, we feel that we have exciting times ahead and we are working very hard to achieve this. We have our first pure-EV arriving to the UK later in 2021 which will be a huge step forward for us. In the coming months we are also looking forward to an update to our multi-award-winning pick-up, the Musso, which will include a facelift and updated running gear,” explained Kevin.
So exciting times ahead for SsangYong. But even with all the hard work and strategic planning that goes into building a company name, it can be destroyed in an instant, or with one mind-numbingly stupid comment. Ask Gerald Ratner if you need further evidence.
Once upon a time, Ratners was a well-respected high street jeweller that was doing just fine. Then the CEO – Mr Ratner himself – made an off-the-cuff statement and, for some reason known only to him, described the merchandise as ‘cr*p’. At that point, the wheels came off in dramatic fashion.
The value of the Ratner group plummeted as the public boycotted the shops. Ratner himself, was ‘let go’ and the company changed its name to distance itself further from the scandal. Gaffes such as these are still known in the industry as ‘doing a Ratner’.
And even companies that have millions to splash out on celebrities can be brought to their knees if that so-called A-lister goes off the rails, dragging down well-respected sponsors with them.
If there is a lesson to be learned, it has to be to pick your words wisely, think carefully about your brand ambassadors and don’t write anything on social media without giving the consequences proper consideration beforehand. Reputations that can take a lifetime to build can be brought crashing down in one simple moment of madness.