Scion is an automotive brand of Toyota which has used innovative marketing techniques including viral, experiential, event marketing and branded entertainment (Scion has a record label and ‘Scion Release’ – a clothing line’). This week, Gina Chon at The Wall Street Journal reported that Scion will reduce production to avoid surpassing its target sales goal of 150,000 cars for the year. Scion will also reduced its television advertising and steer it entirely off of network television to hipster late-night cable shows like ‘Adult Swim’ on the Cartoon Netwook.
We write about Scion not because of the advertising we link to (which will probably confuse most adults over 25) but because Scion has excellent lessons for the modern marketer. More than many other brands targeting young adults today, Scion has understood that ubiquity and brand strength are not complementary goals and has been willing to forego the former to gain the latter. The very brave decision to scale back manufacturing to avoid oversaturating the brand shows both the intelligence of Scion marketers as well as the commitment of Toyota executives to the brand promise.
What does Scion do differently? By the numbers:
- Thin-Slicing – We’re using this term differently than Malcolm Gladwell in Blink, but it is an equally apt description of how Scion has come to dominate a specific subculture of the youth market. Instead of lumping all teens together or blithely assuming that “trend-setters” can be identified by their number of MySpace friends, Scion thought very carefully about the attitudes and beliefs of the consumers it wanted to reach and then instead of pre-judging which people would share these it designed the product and the marketing campaign to appeal very narrowly to these people. It did not worry about broad acceptance or consider conventional taste in designing these cars, one of which looks like a toaster on wheels. Finally, the decision to scale back production when the car was set to exceed targets by 20% was a bold assertion of Scion’s willingness to leave some dollars on the table to preserve the exlusivity of the brand.
- CrowdSourcing – This advertising blog apologizes for picking up a buzzword, but Scion has been very clever in the way it has drawn its consumers into the brand (we could also think of this as an engineered ‘Brand Hijack’ on the terms of Alex Wipperfurth). This starts with the conception of the cars themselves. Scion realized that a huge trend among young drivers was customization. Instead of overdesigning the three Scion models, the marketers underdesigned the cars and essentially made them platforms for accessorizing (on the tC for example offers an LED light kit allowing owners to project multiple colors in the footwells of the car.) Instead of sending Scion buyers to aftermarket accessory manufacturers to personalize their cars, Scion lets them accessorize in the showroom (or on the Internet). Then Scion carefully watches how those consumers are designing their cars and uses the information to inform their marketing and product design. This means that the accesories business for Scion is higher-margin than the car sale and the flow of data to the marketing group is extremely rich. Scions marketing efforts cultivate this attachment in indirect ways as well. The Scion recording label, for instance, is dedicated to emerging artists. By supporting these artists, Scion gains cachet with them and they help Scion stay connected to the culture of its core users.
- Stealth Marketing – Perhaps no other $2 billion dollar brand has gone so unnoticed by so many people outside its immediate target market. The precision of Scion marketing is attested to by the fact that it has been eminently possible for many of us in the marketing profession to miss contact with the brand altogether. Scion embraces this lack of ubiquity, happily preferring to be intensely liked by the few (with just 150,000 new customers this year) rather than moderately well liked by the masses. This is a good recipe for sustained gross margins.
- Experimentation – Scion’s move away from mainstream television advertising and increasing focus on experiential and event marketing shows that they are not afraid to experiment and move quickly to redirect money where they have success. Nimble brands do not hesitate to make mistakes but learn from them quickly. Toyota’s willingness to allow Scion to make major commitments in marketing practices the rest of the brands do not use stands in stark contrast to the rigidity of the Sony approach to the digital music industry. As a result, Scion is poised on the top of the emerging youth car market while Sony has lost the music wars to Apple.
The difficulty in maintaining a youth brand is that youth culture changes quickly. Scion might be smarter to age with their current audience than to attempt successive Madonna-style reinventions each decade as a new group of drivers is minted. While we feel that Scion marketing is dead-on at the moment, preferences will change as will the style of the users. We are personally waiting for those droopy pants and exposed male underwear to go the way of the Zoot Suit.
Branding Bottom Line:
Scion marketers are the smartest guys in the room.