Simply telling people a few facts about a company and its products in an eye-catching way really does have an effect.
One of the most striking cases of the past year has been Honda, which has been behind some of the most innovative campaigns of the past year.
Mention the ‘Cog advert’, or the ‘Hate something, change something’ song and most people will remember the advert and the manufacturer behind it.
It is all part of a determined effort to educate drivers, including user-choosers, and make them aware of the wide range of choices they have when choosing company cars.Within the business car market, this mission is now being led by Stephen Hollings, the new head of corporate sales at Honda.
As well as the important role of overseeing the firm’s relationship with the leasing industry, working on dealer service standards to fleet customers and keeping a close eye on running costs, he will also be working to widen the number of drivers who see Honda as a viable alternative to the automotive brand names they currently consider.
Hollings, who is marking his tenth year at the firm, said: ‘When customers drive the products we have, they come back saying they are more than pleased. We are benchmarked against the quality end of the sector for cars such as the Accord, and we are able to offer residual values that can match premium rivals, yet still have maintenance costs that rival mass-market models.
‘We need to make sure that more people are aware of the core strengths of the brand. We have done extremely well in fleet sales this year, thanks to a committed team and product that is just right for the corporate market.’
Like his predecessors, the challenge is fighting effectively in the brand war being waged in the corporate car park, but ensuring the values behind the Honda badge filter through to customers.
He said: ‘We used to be the best kept secret in the motor industry. We produce the best product in the world, but our Achilles heel has been our brand. We have not had the prestige corporate statement that BMW and Audi has portrayed.
‘But now we have our strongest corporate focused line-up, which is going to get even better in the next year.’
This is where the investment in innovative advertising comes in, working hand in hand with a product plan that has seen the recent introduction of a market-leading diesel and a new six-seater – the FR-V.
If the investment pays off, then one in 10 user-choosers will buy a Honda in future and the firm will see fleet sales take up one-third of total UK demand. Last year, fleet sales at Honda rocketed by 27% to 26,146.
To meet this growth, Hollings is keeping a close working partnership with the dealer network, ensuring they fully understand the company’s aims and culture.
This includes an open welcome for user-choosers to test drive vehicles at its network of 200 dealerships, even though their fleet order might be supplied through another outlet.
New product due over the next year is just right for the corporate market, he adds, which is ideal as the company’s focus for growth over the next five years will be to add profitable user-chooser business, to match its success in the retail market.
‘We are slowly building up a genuine customer desire to choose a Honda, alongside the running cost benefits that are available to the fleet manager,’ he said.
During 2005, fleets will see the new Civic and the arrival of Honda’s acclaimed 2.2-litre diesel engine in the new CR-V – already a popular fleet car and about to be more so with a diesel – while a diesel engine for the FR-V will arrive in August.
Hollings added: ‘These products make us enormously confident for the future. Sitting here as head of corporate sales, I am a really happy man.’
Stephen Hollings’ CV
1989-1994 Volvo product manager
1994 – 1995 Advertising manager – Honda
1995 – 1998 Product planning manager
1998 – 1999 National corporate sales manager
2000 – 2002 Head of marketing
2002 – 2004 Head of product PR and product launch – EU
2004 – date Head of corporate sales