Lincoln Will Have You Smell and Taste Your Way to a Car


On Wednesday, we covered a piece which talked a little bit about Ford’s (NYSE:F) plans to help revitalize the Lincoln luxury brand, which as fallen behind its rivals on just about every front. As you can probably imagine, bringing a nearly-defunct band back from the brink is no easy task, as there many huge factors to be taken care of and hurdles to be jumped.

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Equally as crucial to the big-picture vision is the little things. Ford knows this, too, and has spared no expense too small when repositioning and re-energizing its Lincoln brand. It has everything down to the cheese sorted out. Indeed, somewhere in the $1 billion investment that Ford is initiating in its leather and wood trim-clad offspring, is an allocation to outfit Lincoln dealerships with cheese plates.

In addition to overhauling its vehicles, Ford is applying the same sort of shake-up strategy to its buying experience as well. Lincoln is hoping to attract younger, better-educated, and wealthier buyers, and to do so, it’s putting its dealers through training at the Lincoln Academy where they will learn numerous tips and tricks, including sampling cheese.

According to the dealers themselves, most of Lincoln’s customers tend to be in their 70s or 80s. Although the elderly crowd certainly needs a set of wheels, a brand with such a high percentage of geriatric ownership can suffer in the rest of the market. General Motors’ (NYSE:GM) Cadillac found this out as well, and has since shifted its model to accommodate younger buyers — and it’s working wonders.

“This initiative isn’t just going to change our brand, our advertising, and our products,” Holly O’Donnell, a trainer at the Lincoln Academy, told dealers last month. “This initiative is going to change the client that’s going to walk through our front door.”

Lincoln’s new service model is aimed at luring buyers from BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and other luxury leaders. Rather than go toe-to-toe with matching models and higher volumes, Lincoln is betting that changes to its service will make the difference, and Ford says that by making improvements to sales and service staff will put Lincoln ahead of the other brands, at least in that regard.

“These clients want no hassles,” Andrew Frick, a Lincoln group marketing manager, says in a training video made specifically for the Lincoln Academy sessions. “They want quality, reliability, and effortless customer service. They’re cynical, but open-minded. And there’s a chance they have never stepped foot in a Lincoln dealership.”

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Attracting buyers has been an uphill struggle for Lincoln for a while. Since its peak in 1990, when the brand sold 231,660 units, sales have tapered off to 82,150 units last year. “For our brand to grow, we simply need younger, more affluent buyers,” said Frick, in another video message that also said the brand needed to take 60 percent of its buyers from other luxury manufacturers, such as BMW, Mercedes, Toyota‘s (NYSE:TM) Lexus and Volkswagen’s Audi.

Lincoln MKT 2013 SUV crossover

While the service overhaul will be a nice change, Cadillac has found that an overhaul of its vehicles to make them more appealing to a younger crowd has had the desired effect. Since its new releases of the XTS, ATS, and SRX, the brand grew nearly 40 percent last month as a whole.

Lincoln is “on a journey that will take some time,”  said Jim Farley, executive vice president of Ford global marketing and sales and Lincoln, on a conference call. “We’re encouraged by our MKZ sales in May, but we have a long, long road to rebuild this brand.”

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