A thought on Saab marketing and service

From the people I talk to, I know there’s a lot of interest in Saab’s marketing and advertising. As a prelude to our Q&A part 2, where one of the questions related to this, I can foreshadow the answer by saying that the marketing plan we will follow won’t be a shock and awe saturation TV campaign. Put simply – it costs a kings ransom and just won’t have that sort of money. We’ll have to be smarter.

I’m not posting this article to have a crack at people who think we should do this. It’s a natural thought, especially if you live in parts of the world where massive campaigns are the normal thing. All I want to do here is get people used to the fact that we will have to do things different.

Again, not having a personal crack, but the following was written in comments by Bryan S:

BUMP UP THE MARKETING. Im sorry to say, but i havent seen SAAB “try” to sell any of their cars since being pulled from the hole, that they fell back in. SAAB needs to shove its product to the consumers face, and over do it. Start making commericals and ads…. alot of them, something sassy, informative, something targeting the 25-60yr old crowd. You know why other brands are doing so well? AD’s AD’s AD’s.

As I said, it’s a normal thought in a culture where companies do this sort of thing as a matter of routine.

The problem is, we’re not in the same situation as most companies and we just won’t have the budget for massive TV-based campaigns.

Another commenter, named Tom, responded as follows and I couldn’t help but nod my head.

OK, Bryan. Since I work for a small, humble family owned dealer in New England and we aren’t advertising, I thought I’d start a direct marketing campaign, starting here with you!. I hope this will get you up and bring you into our Saab dealership.

-I can’t offer flashy, in your face advertising.
-I can’t overdo things, like the cars I sell and drive, I tend to be understated.
-I can’t be gaudy and trendy but rather timeless with an understated cutting edginess (again, like the cars I sell and drive).

Here’s what I can do….

-I can offer a product, a Saab vehicle, that arguably represents the most car for your money compared to everything else on the market even though we don’t like to be compared to anything else on the market. (our cars, our style and our views are rather unique)
-I can make the case for my statement above
-I can offer extraordinary service, before, during and after the purchase
-I can promise you’ll be treated with decency and respect.
-I can offer an individualized sales process tailored to you.
-I can work on your terms and at your pace without pressuring you.
-I can offer as much product information as you can handle.
-I can promise easy, stress free pricing.
-I can’t offer BS

We WILL be advertising and marketing the Saab brand and Saab vehicles. It’s not as if we’re not going to do marketing at all. But I think you’ll find that what we will concentrate on is more personal than a big, broad scattergun approach. And, accounting is another big thing I need to focus on. You know, accounting for your marketing agency is crucial when the budget is an issue.

Tom’s writing, above, is typical of how we’re going to rely on our dealerships to do a lot of person-to-person promotion for us. We will need to package our vehicles appropriately, arm our dealers with the appropriate knowledge and passion, and reach the right people to drive them into dealerships and make the connection.

I don’t know Tom, or the name of his dealership, but if you can find him, he sounds like the sort of guy you might want to deal with.


And again, Bryan, I can understand where you’re coming from and you’re not alone in your thoughts. I’ve heard similar pleas from people all around the world for several years now. I’ve only used your comment here because it prompted the response from Tom in the same thread.

What you’ve suggested is actually quite accurate and if we can do what you suggest, I’m sure we will. BUT……..Nothing I know about our potential budgets indicates that that will be possible at a re-launch. The dollar amount involved is mind-boggling and you’re paying for a lot of eyes connected to brains that just won’t register what they’re seeing.

We need to be a lot more targeted and personal than that. And we need to make sure the experience is as good as possible, so that you as a customer will tell others about it.

A tall order, but that’s what we’re facing.

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  1. And, Swade, and everyone else who ostensibly has passion about something concerning SAABs,

    We need to each be missionaries, reaching out to others about these great cars.  I was schooled in cranio-facial biology and taught orthodontics.  After seeing enough head and neck injuries where “all the king’s horses and all of the king’s men will never put” that face together again, I became aware of the hypersafety of SAABs, even over and against Volvo, and I have sold quite a number of people on the car.  I have totaled two SAABs through no fault of my own and no one was injured either time in my car, and all 4 doors worked.  They have earned Forsham’s safety awards!  We need to tell it to our loved ones, friends and acquaintances.  Word of mouth will trump any and all ad campaigns.Hermannite

    1. In 35 years  I’ve never had a customer not walk away from an accident , myself included  a 99 I roled over 2 times , and that was my own doing, stupid driving . If it were not a SAAB I belive I’d not have lived let alone walked away.

    2. Didn’t the good old 9000 -guess what I drive 😉 – continue topping the Folksam safety list long after production had ceased?


    3. Yes, nice correction of the spelling– it is Folksam.  I still have a pristine 9000 with the manual and I still love it.  Comparatively recently, SAAB had print ads for a 9-5 Estate that said Folksam states it is safer than Volvos.  There was a link to this ad about a month or so ago on SaabsUnited.

  2. When Saab hopefully re-starts production and produces vehicles, the company is going to have to convince people that Saab if not here to stay; will at least be around for warranty and service work.  My local dealer is selling MY11 9-5’s for a straight $15,000 off list right now, and can not give them away.  Perhaps a longer warranty (like that of GM), and some kind of insurance company backed warranty policy could restore confidence.

    That’s the word you will have to define: Confidence.  You must make it acceptable to once again purchase a Saab.  The cars are fine – I am on my 6th – but the current status of purchasing one is not. 

    The consumer must be made confident by Saab, before any purchase of a new vehicle can take place for the near future.

    You may also explore new levels of leasing.  At least this affords the buyer additional protection and thus an additional level of confidence.

    I hope the people of Saab are working hard on not only re-starting the production line; but also on a new and possibly radical form of installing confidence in the would-be buyers mind.  I really don’t think there is much of a choice here.  It’s just too late in the game for anything else.

    Best of luck!


  3. I would think that direct marketing might be best here. Send a letter to every Saab owner of record, with the goal of being totally open with the present situation, and a clear vision of the future. The cost of a few television adds could be used to provide substantial one time incentives to current customers to trade up.

  4. Tom’s reply is right on the money. Smaller, family-owned dealerships don’t have the budget to advertise alongside those with 20+ dealerships. Instead, they have to be selective and make much of the family atmosphere. “Our dealership has been in the same spot for over 40 years. You can be sure we’ll treat you like one of the family.” It’s just not possible to compete dollar for dollar, so you advertise the advantage of buying from the little guy.

    SAAB’s situation is going to be similar. And with the uneasiness surrounding the last few years, it will be difficult to convince the masses that SAAB is still a viable alternative. However, I think that social media, word of mouth, and traveling advertisements (Germany’s taking cars to customers, the Best Towns in America campaign, etc.) have been doing a lot to keep the losses to a minimum. Sure it’s a daunting task at the moment, but there is still hope. Keep moving forward.

  5. What Saab really needs to do, when it comes to marketing, is to utilize its huge fanbase. You’ve got close to 100K fans on Facebook. I’m pretty sure a lot of them are willing to pitch in, with some kind of voluntary work, for Saab. Never mind direct marketing, focus on social media. 

  6. Here in the USA  Fiat (via Chrysler?) has been marketeting the Fiat 500.   I’ve actually seen a couple on the road which is really surprising considering Fiat has not sold cars in the USA in years.

    Their marketing campaign was in magazines, maybe a TV spot (not very memorable ..hence the maybe).    I do recall an email inviting me to my nearest Fiat “Studio”.   

    If they can sell these small tiny Fiats having to open new dealerships..Saab shoud be able to sell
    a new reasonably priced car.  Some marketing will needed.  I would suggest if there is magazine or
    other marketing to make it as unusual and memorable as possible..  Understated people wont remember.   A TV spot, for example,  may need to feature a Saab 900 with wing on the back just showing the wing going forward/away real fast…people will remember the ad as that car with the wing?

    Of course,  nothing beats  the marketing of seeing them on the road.

  7. I am from Spain and I just want to say that, in November my father decided to go Saab’s dealer in my town (Burgos), he wanted to buy the new 9-5, he was decided to buy it. We were looking it (it’s amazing), but it was late and we couldn’t try it. The saleswoman said she’d call us, but she hasn’t done it. My friend’s father also did the same, but none of us has been called. She lost two sales. =(  My father has bought another Audi A6, I hope in two years when I have a bit of money, buy the new 9-3 convertible Aero. 

  8. Outstanding , Steven , the last 2  topics have made me smile . Toms and your points on huge advertizing seem frugal and effective. TV ad’s and print ad’s cost a boat load of money , word of mouth is so effective and product that people want make for sales , not to say that given the cash eyeballs seeing your name dont help . but cash poor is the case at the moment . I’ll bring up one thing  , what did  Bob Sinclar do to have 60 months of sales gains during his tenure as head of SAAB Cars USA .  It could be a model of what we may need to do . But were back to people have to belive  SAAB will be here in the future , and we need a cash infusion , the production of cars , dealers that care  and effectivly do  what other sucsessful dealers have done . ( Ive had a salesman tell me to not buy a SAAB because they were going out of business , then showed me to a differant brand ) That is not the way  to build brand coffidence . Just drive the SAAB once you do you’ll know why we love the SAAB cars .  Sorry all I do tend to rant on but  I so want  SAAB to make it and belive they make a wonderful product .  Thanks , Dave

  9. It’s a bit frustrating not seeing any advertising for the Saab 9-4X besides one magazine ad here in the US.  Together with the 9-5, Saab has a great current offering of cars but it seems people just don’t know about it. 

    I see TV ads for the new MB M-Class very frequently and could only wish for the same coverage for the 9-4X.  Nationwide advertising is prohibitive, unfortunately, but often the only way to get a new model successfully introduced.  Saab owners and enthusiasts know the 9-4X and 9-5 exist but the general buying public doesn’t.  The personal and low-key approach is great but it doesn’t matter if people don’t know about them.

  10. As much as we all might love a huge ad campaign, I am not sure that we need one to be successful.  SAAB is looking to sell 100K cars a year globally, hardly a number worthy of a major ad push in all markets.  Selective, targeted, exclusive, different etc is the key to our brand flourishing and could actually a symbol or badge of what makes Saab unique. 

    Embrace our differences and make them assets, let our freak flag fly (something GM lowered down the pole a bit).  They will be weaknesses or turn offs to some, but those aren’t the customers we need/want.  A little car business Judo if you will (use our opponents apparent strength and turn it against them).  Mr. and Mrs customer, aren’t you glad we are not like everyone else? 

    We don’t need to appeal to everyone, just those that see value in our brand pillars.  In a world of 7 Billion, I think we can scrape together 100K sales a year with the right game plan!

  11. Best of luck selling cars here in the US without television ads.  I totally understand that money will not be available for an ad campaign.  However, social media, word of mouth and other methods to sell cars in the US have not been effective.  I’m not sure that you can ever reach sales goals without high priced advertising.  The dealers in my area are not reaching out to their customers to sell cars either.  They are also not advertising Saabs as well.  Tom’s dealership may offer everything a customer could want, but the name Saab is just not on the average American’s mind.  I know Victor Muller’s goal was only to bring back Saab customers to buy the new cars but that method was ineffective also.  You have to make the general public aware that Saab is alive and well and selling cars.  Saab needs a new customer base and only advertising will accomplish this.

  12. One thing that is said here is the Lowish volumes, that Saab is about to achieve > MY12 = 100k cars [with a bit of Luck & a good head wind].

    The numbers are tiny by global comparison, so, Individually numbered cars, is a good move for starts.
    Making buyers feel important & treating them as important to the company, makes everyone feel special.
    So, a Plaque in say the interior, maybe stitched to the door panel or seats, saying.

    Car # 45321of2012-THN
    shift # ******
    Customers Name [if possible]

    Everyone loves limited editions in low numbers, so the Salesman’s line is ‘ You car is made individually for you & is number # [maybe an online tracking system on the progress of the production, etc].
    Be quite neat to be able to know, say,  Car logged for shipping ******. On ship ***** etc..

  13. Are US Saab dealers selling other cars? I think Saab people should sell Saab cars. It’s not uncommon sales person not “selling” Saabs. I would like to see Saab only dealers with people that love these cars as much as we do.

  14. Others have said it in one way or the other, but in the US, Saab simply does not exist anymore even in the eyes of present and previous Saab owners. I have three friends, one a previous owner and two who presently own Saabs, they all have asked me (knowing how much I love my Saabs and have owned a series of them for almost 30 years); what am I going to do for a new car now that Saab is out-of-business. I tell them, just wait and see, Saab is not dead yet, and they just roll their eyes.

    We all know that Saab doesn’t have the money for Super Bowl ads and the like, but if VM pulls another rabbit out of the hat and Saab lives, something beyond social media, local dealers, and word-of-mouth will be required for Saab to announce that they’re back, are back to stay, and have great products. Some wide spread publicity and ads are absolutely necessary even if targeted to certain geographic areas (i.e. New England, the northeast, and the West coast) and targeted to certain demographic groups. Some combination of local TV and print is Sine qua non for Saab to bring both new and old customers into dealers showrooms. And smart PR people should be working overtime to find alternative low cost ways to broadcast the same message starting with trying to get TV and print to broadcast and write stories about the cat with nine lives, or……. the fat lady didn’t sing. Much as American’s like winners, they also like it when the little guy overcomes huge obstacles and succeeds. Saab’s story should naturally be in the motoring press, but the story should also be in the NY Times, on 20-20, etc. Incidentally, the NY Times published a big story today comparing the situation at Volvo and Saab. All in all it was a pretty level headed view of Saab’s present situation. I’m sure there might have been more than a few readers, who were surprised that Saab still existed even if it was on life support with the hours ticking down.


  15. Love this post a great deal.  I bought my Saab 9-5 from Just Saab in Ohio, and it was the best sales experience I have had anywhere.  I believe that you are right – create that personal, individual experience (as was done with me), and you cant help but make Saab fans.  Oh, and sell a few cars too.

  16. Great post and one I personally wanted to read for a long time 🙂
    I agree that SAAB can not afford expensive TV ads (unlike BMW, every 10 minutes…those are not ads, they are brain washes). But like someone said “Extreme creativity comes from an extreme environment” and I bet no one disagrees this is perhaps the most extreme period of all for SAAB. That campaign in Ohio is a very clever example that hopefully will get results. Personally I don’t think there’s any better advertisement then watching a beautiful SAAB rolling and standing out. But there is one very important thing in my humble opinion:
     Market cultural differences; One can not expect the methods and arguments used  in Northern Europe to work the same way as in Southern Europe or Latin America, for example (the  ones I know best). It may be necessary to adapt some guidelines to specific markets and have people who can understand both SAAB and the local culture and somehow help to adapt the marketing strategy. To succeed in such a niche market  it may be wise to use people according to the balance between their brand knowledge, passion and human relation skills.

  17. Marketing can be expensive but it does not have to. It can also be smart. I think Saab should be defined by a word that is putted on all new cars, all printed material and so on… Maybe “Different” is a good word?

    Furthermore, look at what turned Apple around… Maybe Saab stores (as Apple stores) in cities are much better value for the money then expensive TV commercials? If you display the cars you can sell them. Now they are not visible. I think it is a cheap solution and Saab should own the stores themselves. 

  18. While I agree with all that you say and as we all know, Saab just don’t have the funds to do a blitz on expensive advertising, I think we need to be careful if we think that the dealers will all be like Tom’s above.
    I went into my dealer during the Re-Bjorn campaign and I have to say I was completely underwhelmed. They made no effort at all to woo me into a Saab. It was so bad in fact that I made a complaint to Saab about it who were very grateful for my bringing this to their attention but I don’t know if they did anything about it as I have never heard back from them.
    I want to get back into a Saab and I am a great fan of Saab and I went into the dealership as I knew that Saab were still there and I knew that this campaign was on. But if I knew and they made little effort with me, what about all those who didn’t know and still don’t know that Saab are still out there, fighting for survival yes, but still alive?
    I think it is going to take a lot more than sending out flyers or booklets to existing saab fans and hoping that the dealers are all as committed as Tom appears to be.