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Friday, 26 June 2009 11:01

When an iconic automotive brand opts for a reinvention, it doesn’t do it by halves: Citröen has set about instilling the idea ‘creative technology’ into its visual identity, network of dealerships and corporate language. Max Hotopf reports

Think Citröen and, if you are a certain age, you probably think of two iconic cars of the 1960s and 70s – the practical simplicity of the 2CV or the sophisticated, shark-like DS. But all that was 40 years ago: which illustrates just how badly parent PSA Citröen needed to redesign the brand.

The paradox, says Hervé Richard, brand strategy director, is that the company has a formidable line up of innovative new cars which sell reasonably well. “Our cars have been hiding our brand. You buy a C4, not a Citröen.”

That is not a good position to be in if you want to fight for big new markets like China or Brazil. Qualitative or quantitive, survey after survey showed that, as Mathilde Lauriau-Tedeschi at brand agency Landor baldy puts it, “Citröen was not a brand which was attractive to drive in.” It lagged badly on perceptions of quality, modernity and trust.

The challenge, says Richard, was to come up with brand values which could elevate Citröen to a level where the consumer would buy the Citröen rather than a more expensive Audi. “Today, they buy Audi and they are annoyed at the amount the brand costs.”

Richard says the first seven months after his appointment in September 2007 were taken up with “internal reflection”, an uncovering of the brand and its heritage, rolling right back to 1918 when Andre Citröen set up the first mass-produced car outside the USA. The answer for Richard and the car design team who played a crucial role in the early exploration was ‘creative technology’ with the idea of coupling originality to technology to surpass consumer expectations. The car designers reconfigured the chevron logo design, but it was clear that Citröen needed some serious muscle to redeploy the new brand.

Landor won a three-way pitch in March 2008. Richard says: “We needed an international agency. Citröen is French, but all the brand discussions from the start have been in English and the rebrand has to be worldwide. We were amazed by Landor’s work for BP. And we knew we could work with Mathilde Lauriau-Tedeschi, head of the French office.”

Landor developed the brand further. “We came up with Créative Technologie which represents the company’s ability to innovate and added the font and the red house colour. We are also trying to position it on other qualities which we want to associate with the brand such as optimism, being demanding and creativity. It means unexpected cars and unexpected business solutions. It is about reformulating the corporate ethos."

We also clarified a lot and rationalised bringing subsidiaries like Citröen Insurance and Citröen Finance into the brand – racing and second hand sales are the only exceptions.

A major challenge was to carry the brand experience into the car dealerships. Lauriau-Tedeschi says that 70% of would be customers first go to theweb. “It is vital that the dealership continues and extends that brand experience. All too often this is not the case. It can be an anticlimax! It is vital to not disappoint but on the contrary for the dealership to grow the experience and to add to the relationship.”

Five Landor offices asked 12 architect firms, for a flat fee, to come up with a new showroom design. Lauriau says this allowed Citröen to see interpretations from countries from the USA to China. The best was reconfigured to include other elements.

Innovations include integrating the showroom with the workshop. Painted brick-blood red and behind glazed walls, the workship is an integral part of the brand – just as the kitchen is often visible to the diner in a top class restaurant. Citröen is also setting certain quality standards – for example, all visitors have to be offered a 1-2 hour trial drive.

Richard and Lauriau say that Citröen employees communicated with the dealers early in the process. Important, this – they, after all, are the guys who are going to pay for the redesign. And now is not a good time to ask a car dealer to put his hand in his pocket. Richard accepts this and says the showroom redesign has been simplified, cutting the price to as little at €30,000-€40,000. He claims that the dealers have welcomed the rebrand, which is an important marker that the parent company PSA Citröen, which also owns Peugeot, is serious about Citröen’s future.

Equally, he says that employees have welcomed the rebrand. “They know that this won’t be repeated for another 20-25 years. This is a unique, probably once in a lifetime opportunity, to be involved in a project like this.” For Citröen is not just painting walls in garages and redesigning the plastic label on the bonnet, it is also in the business of re-engineering employee attitudes. Lauriau says: “It is about how employees tackle problems, how they deploy creativity and originality and about creating an atmosphere where that is acceptable.” Workshops andseminars have enabled employees to talk through and understand the deeper significance of the rebranding.

Not that Citröen’s employees are being asked to be too creative.

Lauriau says it is important to communicate in a unique, Citröen style. To this end, Landor has written a style guide to writing and communicating and even compiled a lexicon of favoured words – a Citröen as they show creativity, as do words like ‘imagination’, ‘surprise’, ‘transform’, ‘quality’ and ‘satisfaction’.” Seminars include sessions on how to talk about new brand with influencers, but also with friends.

Everything hangs on the willingness of dealers to pay to roll out the new image. Lauriau says this could Citröen chief executive, Christian Streiff, is keen to blitzkrieg it in as little as two. All eyes are on Brazil, where a dealer has already implemented the new format. Citröen is carefully monitoring traffic and conversion rates.

But this part of the roll up could well be tough. Outside its domestic market, one wonders how many Citröen dealers are really serious players with the will and the resources to “extend the brand experience.”

Richard says there is still plenty to do. “The real work starts now. The implementation task is huge. We have to check how it is done, change habits, control it. It is tough and hard. It has to be done perfectly.”

For Landor, the project is nearing completion. Lauriau reflects: “In an environment this tough, some companies would have gone into reverse and stopped the project. Citröen has kept going which is the right thing to do. It is pretty audacious. For me they are living the personality of the brand – the courage, the optimism.”

 

Learnings for Hervé Richard
Communicate: “We didn’t explain enough. We allowed a month to plan our communication with staff and dealers and it would have been nicer to have had longer. You have to communicate and communicate and communicate.”

Learnings for Mathilde Lauriau
“More time would have been good. We had to move very fast. This is not necessarily a bad thing but it did put us under a lot of pressure.”

 

Peer review

Tim Hill, Futurebrand
“With automakers, the brand is in the hands of the dealer. We came across this when we rebranded Opel. A rebrand is just a logo change, unless it’s backed by real change. That means staff induction and checkpoints every 3-4 months to check the brand values are being realised on the dealer’s floor. Skoda is doing this well. Defining the words which will be used in communication sounds a little top-down. However, I’d argue the strapline, Créative Technologie, is a truth. Citröen is innovative. It also stresses the Frenchness of the brand. Automakers are good at this – Audi’s ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ is based on the truths that Audi is technical and that this is a German brand. Brands have to be based on truth or the web will find you out.”

Wally Olins, Saffron
“Most automakers rebrand to stay the same, to not look old-fashioned. When they try to move upmarket, it’s normally a disaster. We were working for VW when it did this with the Volkswagen Phaeton which was a disaster. Citröen is difficult and different. For decades, PSA didn’t know what to do with it – it was just a cheap version of Peugeot. The trouble with the Créative Technologie slogan is that I don’t think Citröen is particularly innovative today. It has an uncontrolled product range with no coherence. Just over a year ago, they were advertising a car as so good it could have been made by Germans –madness, complete madness. It is a company with a huge tradition, it is the great French auto brand. If I were working for them, I’d go right back to the 2CV and the DS and look at André Citröen’s heritage.”

Brigid McMullen, The Workroom
“It is interesting to note that Citroen’s car design team came up with the new logo in-house before Landor was involved. My concern is that the originality, the idiosyncrasy of the brand has been lost to some extent with the new metalicised 3-D brand, an approach a lot of automakers have taken over the last decade. The original chevrons had a sharpness that was very strong and was inspired by the original gear system. The work Landor has done, particularly the showroom design, is very well executed and should help Citroen to compete in world markets. But it all feels a little generic.”

 

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