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March 22, 2009

CAR CRUNCH:How Volvo gave its dealers the experience of a lifetime without breaking the bank

Vehicle manufacturers have long seen the benefits of giving its dealers hands-on experience of its new models. But creating a global dealer launch for the new Volvo XC60 would not be cheap, and with the credit crunch sinking its teeth into budgets everywhere, could the spend be justified? Ian Whiteling reveals the story behind a multi-award-winning event.

Last year, Swedish car giant Volvo faced a problem. It needed to hold a major inspirational event to acquaint its international network of dealers intimately with the company’s new XC60 model. Yet this had to be two-thirds the cost of its previous Volvo Global Dealer Launch in 2007, while showing that maximum value was being generated for the spend.

Volvo’s dealers are the car maker’s main interface with its customers globally, and they needed to know everything about the new XC60, so that they could be helpful and informative. They also needed to believe in the car, so they could pass on their enthusiasm to customers. The Global Dealer Launch had proved very successful in the past at delivering these results, while also being highly motivational and enjoyable for dealers.

“This event was all about giving our dealers memorable stories and insights about every aspect of the XC60 to take back and use as sales tools in their own markets,” says Frank Shultz, Volvo’s global events manager.

Line Up, which created the 2007 dealer launch, was given the task of solving the conundrum for Volvo. And improving what it had achieved previously with 30% less budget was always going to be a challenge.

Less cash, same objectives
After all, this was never going to be a cheap event. It spanned nine weeks, during which time 5,600 Volvo dealers from across the globe, speaking 22 languages between them, would be educated, motivated and entertained. What’s more, the objectives remained the same as in 2007:
• To motivate, inspire and inform dealers about the XC60 through a series of engaging live experiences and powerful sales ‘stories’
• To create a premium urban driving experience for the dealers
• To highlight the advantages of the XC60 over its closest competitors, on and off the road

Line Up couldn’t simply run a truncated version of the 2007 event, as Volvo couldn’t afford to disappoint its dealers. Inspiration was the name of the game.

Content-wise, Line Up wanted to make the event as different to other launches and as hands-on as possible. Powerpoint presentations were banned. Instead, everything was to be communicated through ‘bite-sized’ demonstrations, interactive workshops, short films and memorable driving experiences.

City limits
As far flung locations were out, because Volvo couldn’t be seen to be wasteful or extravagant, all this had to be achieved in the car company’s home city, Gothemberg, which many of the dealers had already visited.

“The main challenges were finding an engaging location, knowing that the delegates had been to Gothemberg before,” explains Line Up’s creative director Rob Leach. “Ideally, they would have preferred somewhere sunny and different.”

So extensive research was carried out based on the previous Volvo dealer event.

“We wanted to know what the dealers had enjoyed and how to help them more,” continues Leach. “It was clear they wanted to be more hands on with the car. They wanted a complete product experience.”

Transforming Pier 113
Line Up was also only too aware of the costs of using different locations for the various activities due to the logistics involved. So it decided to find a single place where the whole event could be staged. Somewhere Line Up could build what it wanted in the way the dealers wanted it, which also had an engaging character that would reflect the urban positioning of the vehicles.

“We discovered a site that afforded us so much space that we didn’t need to compromise on any creativity,” explains Leach. “We could use the whole building for a very reasonable rate, and it was in the heart of Gothemberg.”

The building in question was Pier 113 – a 30,000 square metre disused customs warehouse. After successful negotiations with the property’s owners to gain exclusive use of the building for five months at very favourable rates, the event team set about transforming the space.

“We built apartments in the top floor, dedicated a whole level to interactivity, and the ground floor was an exhibition area for displays,” explains Leach. “What’s more, we were able to turn the car-parking space directly outside into an urban obstacle course, as long as we returned it to its original use afterwards.”

With everything centralised, Line Up was able to make savings without compromising on creative content or communication impact, hitting the required budget cut.

“This was only achievable because of the open working relationship we’ve built with Volvo,” adds Leach.

The dealer experience
With everything ready on schedule and on budget, it was time to welcome dealers to the first three-day Shaping the Future: Destination Gothenburg conference. On arrival, over drinks and canapés they experienced a bustling cityscape through hanging LED displays, ambient films and music, which culminating in the unveiling of the new XC60. Dinner was then served in the custom-designed loft apartments, which immersed the dealers in the lifestyles of four typical XC60 customers.

“The reveal session worked particularly well because it became almost like a private house party,” says Volvo’s Shultz. “The loft apartments made dealers feel right at home, and the camaraderie and relationships built over games of Guitar Hero after dinner set things up for a very productive day of workshops and presentations the following day.”

Day Two featured a series of business briefings, involving a conference-style arena, and interactive learning experiences, all on the building’s second floor. But the building really came into its own for the Day Three’s urban driving experiences, which took place in the converted car parking space, where the dealers could put the XC60 through its – strictly urban – paces.

“The biggest success was the custom-built Urban Obstacles course,” says Shultz. “We wanted to take dealers out of their comfort zone and really amaze them with the XC60’s performance in extreme situations. Given that they drive all the time in their work, it had to be an exceptional circuit, driven by the very best performance drivers.”
Evaluating effectiveness
So what did the dealers think? Post-event questionnaires were completed on the coach to the airport, revealing that the event had surpassed all expectations. The dealers gave the XC60 an average 93% approval rating.

Meanwhile, the creativity, content and quality of the event successfully engaged all markets, scoring an 82% average – an amazing result for such a large-scale, multi-cultural event. More importantly, 89% of dealers questioned said the event would help them significantly in their day-to-day business.

“The dealer reaction to the XC60 launch has been truly exceptional,” says Shultz “It’s the most interactive, hands-on dealer launch we’ve ever staged and results to date show it is already proving to be one of the most effective.”

Click here to watch Line Up’s Rob Leach talking about the Volvo Global Dealer Launch for the XC60 at this year’s Eventia International Awards


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