Today, as some of you might know, the long-awaited 2012 New, New Beetle is having its send-off party in Shanghai and New York. There’s a lot of interesting buzz about this product launch. Volkswagen called it a redesign, which is tricky because the look of the Beetle is so unique and recognizable. People are already questioning whether the promotion of the redesign was overstated, while other people are wondering if it’s updated enough to keep interest in the line strong.
In reading through a lot of this coverage, it struck me that we can learn a lot from this product launch, whether we’re manufacturers, marketers, or something entirely different. Here are 20 take-aways I thought of.
1. You need to be unique enough to stand out. Let’s face it, the Beetle looks nothing like the Accord or the Camry, even now in the redesigned version. Can someone identify your content or your products from a mile away?
2. Stay fresh, but stay in touch with your roots. As a footnote, this is a lesson some might argue JJ Abrams did not keep in mind when he created the new Star Trek movie. Many fans of the franchise (me included) were a little stunned that the entire history of the show was rewritten/ignored to make room for the new movie. The new Beetle looks like it belongs in the 21st century, but VW also included traits that hearken back to the original Beetle.
3. Don’t promote one thing and present something else. If you are promoting an e-book and you say, “This is all fresh content,” I’d better not find the contents of your book sprinkled through your blog site. If you are promoting a brand new design, it should probably be brand new. Be honest.
4. As you change, don’t badmouth your past. It can be tempting, as we progress in life, to say things like, “Man, what was I thinking there?!?” The problem is that if you had some loyal fans back then, they’re going to be rather peeved that you are dismissing your work and what they were loyal to.
5. Don’t let things on the surface overshadow quality. People are still concerned about the safety of the Beetle, and that concern exists even with the newly designed exterior. Quality needs to be priority 1 in whatever you do.
6. Don’t launch too many changes at once. It’s important to test changes to see how they’re going over. For example, if you want to revamp your website, best practices indicate it’s a good idea to test two sets of changes to see which goes over better. If you try to revamp 27 things at once, it will get very confusing. VW is promoting a brand new Passat along with the new Beetle. Is that too much change at once?
7. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself or your audience. The Beetle has become the car for female hipsters, essentially, along with a few other groups. That’s okay, and the audience is loyal, but it also restricts the amount of real change you can implement. Measure carefully how refined you want your products/content and your audience to be on the front end.
8. Don’t devalue your products by lowering your prices too far. If you want to compete based on price, you need to undertake the tricky dance of doing so without sacrificing quality. If you can’t do it, your selling point needs to be, “Why are they so cheap?”
9. You can’t just copy someone’s actions and expect the same results. If you set out to create an automobile that pulls on nostalgic heart strings, would you automatically have the same results as the Beetle? Probably not. Community and loyalty take a long time to develop and can’t just be photocopied. You can be inspired by others, but copying actions won’t get you too far.
10. Be open to improvements as times change. Even the most loyal fans will recommend improvements from time to time. Be open to the idea that your content, products, services, or whatever else may need a bit of a sprucing up. Showing that you listen is a great way to build loyalty, by the way.
11. If you get complaints, fix those problems, don’t ignore them. The Beetle was often cited as having too little space on the inside, especially for a family car. the 2012 Beetle has more foot room. Again, show that you are listening.
12. Keep your audience, not your product or content, front and center. If you sell a product to an empty room, are you really selling a product? Now more than ever, it’s about the people. I read an article I think from USA Today that noted that a lot of changes were scrapped because Beetle fans, the loyal ones, wouldn’t have liked them.
13. Speaking of loyalty, do your most loyal fans know they’re appreciated? In the blogging world, you can write posts or mention people in your posts. In marketing, you can create customer loyalty programs or other ways of identifying and appreciating your best customers. Are you taking care of the people who take care of you?
14. Let your fans have fun with your products or content. Have you seen a red Beetle “dressed up” like a ladybug? Have you seen the chartreuse beetle with hippie flowers painted on it? Give your fans a chance to have a little creative input in your products or in your content.
15. Be useful. Whatever you’re doing, people should either understand why they should want or need it. The Beetle would be useless if it couldn’t take you from point A to point B.
16. Make improvements that aren’t always visible right away. Certain changes in the VW Beetle are small and can’t be noticed just by looking. It’s fun to create pleasant surprises for your fans or customers. SEO is a great example of this in the blogging world. People don’t necessarily see what you’re doing, but they have an easier time finding you.
17. Gender-based marketing can be dangerous. Beware. The Beetle is still considered a “girly” car. Is that a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not. A lot of men are saying that the new Beetle still is not very macho. If you want to target a specific gender or other group, be aware that it could be very difficult to expand beyond that group in the future.
18. Set aggressive goals, announce them, and be accountable. Volkswagen has announced that it wants to outsell Toyota. That is a huge goal, and there’s a possibility it might not happen. But by announcing it, VW fans will pull for their favorite brand, and competitors will be on the alert. Can you verbalize goals to show that you aren’t playing around?
19. Remain aware of history – not just yours, but the history of your relationships. I will probably always remember the first people who started commenting here, the first people who tweeted back to me on Twitter. Do you remember the first people who wrote really nice comments on your blog or who wrote great product testimonials for you? Always keep that history in mind. Don’t be a slave to it, but keep it in mind.
20. Don’t be shy about promotion. VW started promoting the redesigned Beetle on the Oprah show late last year, and their celebrations today are making news around the world. When you have something to celebrate, bring your fans or customers in and let them celebrate with you. That’s how you forge relationships.
Those are my 20 take-aways from today’s New new new Beetle launch. What do you have to add? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Image by Michal Zacharzewski. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/mzacha