Car and Driver carried an interview with Uwe Ellinghaus, Cadillac’s marketing boss. He said a few surprising things.
As an industrial designer by training, I noted that Ellinghaus is tired of what are called “personas”. These are stereotypical identities that embody the essential character of a vehicle’s target customer. For a Ford Fiesta the persona was probably a female, aged 25-35 with an urban lifestyle and perhaps one or two children. The designers were told to imagine this person when creating the car’s look and feel. All car companies use these strategies.
What did C&D ask Ellinghaus: “Who is your ideal Cadillac customer?” And he replied: “I don’t care. I want the brand to appeal to everybody who likes the values, appreciates the products, and has the means to buy them. You do not gain appreciation by overtly signalling who you appeal to. So I absolutely struggle with any segmentation of our customers, saying to me ‘your ideal customer is Mr. X, 35 years old, living there, having this hobby and this job.’ Forget it. You simply need to like it, and of course in luxury you need to have the financial means to buy it.”
There was a lot of criticism in the subsequent posts about this interview (essentially Ellinghaus was completely wrong on all counts). I find his answer refreshing but also probably disingenuous. He doesn’t care who buys the cars, yes, but his marketing and design people must know who they are designing for. It’s a rule of any design project that you need to know the characteristics of the customer and user before you can specify the product’s requirments. And you need to know after you’ve designed something whether it’s what the users wanted.
However, Ellinghaus is right in saying that signalling who your customers are is unwise. It is perplexing that manufacturers have spelled this out rather than spelling out what the car was for. That’s target neutral: ‘our car is for people who like to hike, bike and travel at the weekends’. If that’s a childless couple in their late 20s or a spry retiree in his 70s what does it matter? Cadillac’s designers are probably still being instructed in who the target customer is – personas are still being drafted – but Cadillac wisely will be keeping schtum. Here’s our new car. It’s this fast, this big and costs this much. If you like it, we’ll sell you one.
Side note: Cadillac will ignore their sunset buyers who want a cushy ride and lots of room, says Ellinghaus. Isn’t there room in a large line-up for a range of different sorts of car? Sporty and comfort orientated? And if we can have a car in nine different formats why can’t you buy a car with two or more markedly different suspension settings? So, if you want your Cadillac (for example) sporty then press sport and if you want to relax, press comfort. This technology exists and is in use but it does not seem to be noticed. Doesn’t that solve the problem?