B2B marketing at Volvo Trucks

One of the latest marketing communications achievements of Volvo Trucks is the campaign which includes the viral video of Sophie, the toddler, driving a truck with a remote control. The campaign has received multiple international awards. But there is more to it. Volvo Trucks is not just about internet trends and fancy video clips.

I spoke to Ingela Nordenhav who will join us in The Netherlands in the 16th of March 2017. Ingela heads the global brand – and marketing communication department of Volvo Trucks in Sweden. Her department is responsible for all marketing and external communications of the Volvo Trucks brand and Volvo Trucks products. Ingela has worked at Volvo since 1995, starting her efforts for volvo consumer vehicles and then moving to the volvo trucks division. Today she has offered a sneak preview into the world of Volvo Trucks marketing and communications.

Ingela discusses her biggest achievement so far
“I would say that the journey that we have gone through in the last five to six years is my greatest achievement. In 2012 we planned the launch of a new line of European heavy duty Volvo trucks. We wanted to do this in a different way. So, we challenged the company and our management about using new ways of communication and ‘new’ social media channels. We would no longer communicate only about functions and product features of the new Volvo trucks series, but we would open up about the precision engineering behind each feature and place the product in a different context.

We wanted to reach a broader audience, not only the buyer and the driver, but also the people around the drivers; families and friends. We wanted to do this in a more open, entertaining and emotional way to reach a broader audience.

One of my biggest successes was to convince our Volvo Trucks Management to take this new approach. This was not too difficult because management was aware that the innovation in our trucks would have to match innovation in our communications. It was clear that we needed a new mindset and the change had to happen internally if it was to be successful.”

Not just another truck
Ingela and her team created and executed a totally new strategy for external communications, using new media for Volvo Trucks. This included the renowned YouTube hit, “The Epic Split”, with Van Damme.

Ingela: “The Epic Split YouTube hit was part of our new journey. We knew that we had a fantastic product. It was the biggest update ever. It was a series of new trucks and we hadn’t introduced one for 20 years. This was not just another truck, so we had to think of a new approach to launch our product.”

“The first time I saw the Epic Split video tears started to fall and then I knew this was something different. When you see it, it is so simple but still so brilliant.”  – Ingela Nordenhav –

Part of the success of the campaign is that it touches the viewer on an emotional level. Although, Ingela finds it hard to explain why exactly the campaign was so successful and what made the difference. She explains:
“ When everything works out and we are able to create something that touches on the emotional sensibilities of our audience, we know that we have a better chance of convincing them about our product than through mere facts. ”

Many other brands, truck or heavy equipment companies have their own Youtube-channels and use photography in their marketing. Think of Caterpillar, DAF Trucks, as well as Volvo Trucks of course. The images are vool and engaging. I wonder who started this? Ingela: “I don’t know if we were the first one to have our own YouTube-channel, but I know that when we started we didn’t look at what others were doing, we wanted to do our own thing.”

Did it bring Volvo Trucks any more sales?
The creators of the videos claim that the production wasn’t particularly expensive compared to a typical automotive launch budget that they might have had. It is estimated that the whole campaign achieved 126 million euros worth of earned media. The company made a relatively small investment for which they got a massive return. Arguably “The Epic Split” has become one of the most successful automotive launch films ever made. But some hard core B2B marketers would argue that it was all a waste of money, due to the fact that the production of the clips seems very expensive.

Ingela: “Our goal was never to get a lot of views on Youtube. And yes, the ROI question is one of the biggest challenges. How do we prove that creating brand awareness leads to actual purchase and re-purchase. But part of the campaign goal was also to emphasize our brand, to create a new image of Volvo Trucks and to show what we stand for.”

Ingela points out that the virality of videos is just part of the awareness stage of the campaigns. They are connected to press releases, brochures, e-lectures and more. It’s an integrated marketing and communications campaign approach.

How are engineers involved in marketing and communications?
Ingela’s colleague, Anders Vilhelmsson, Public Relations Manager at Volvo Trucks says: “The use of relevant and engaging content is the best way of providing something that people actually want to watch. You need to remove all the unnecessary obstacles for the creatives so that they can come up with the best ideas and work together with the engineers. In our case, we even used our engineers in the films.”  Using your own engineers in the process, is that a strategy that Volvo Trucks use often? Ingela: “We work closely with our agency and the agency also wants to meet our specialists and the engineers. Our engineers would take them out for test drives and explain the benefits of what has been developed. In some of our films we use these engineers. It is also a way of creating internal awareness and getting buy-in. They can really participate in what they have developed and created.”

The organization of marketing, communications and sales at Volvo Trucks
Has changed a lot over the years, but right now Volvo Trucks has one department for marketing and communications and one department for sales. Marketing has a clear sales target and the team is working with sales in order to track leads from awareness to qualified leads.

Ingela: “There is not one right and one wrong, you need both marketing and sales in any business. We must work closely together even when we are not in the same business unit. I see that we are co-operating more and more marketing and sales, but also in product development. It will surely continue to be a challenge for us to make sure that we share the same vision and objectives. But hopefully, the challenges we face will force us to work together more and more.”

The biggest challenge of Volvo Trucks
Volvo Trucks have been around for almost 90 years, this doesn’t mean that they no longer have any challenges. Ingela: “We provide trucks, fantastic trucks. Our biggest challenge however, is to predict the future. When we are investing in a product we must be aware that development time can be more than 10 years, and the product must be in the market for a few years before it starts paying off. So, our main question will also be around what the future will bring?

The biggest marketing and communications challenges
Ingela is dealing with two types of challenges: “Our short-term focus is on creating content that is suitable for the channels and the target audience. We must look at it from the perspective of our buyer and see who we are reaching, where they are, and how we can make content for them that is engaging.

Our long-term challenge is more about betting on the right horses. How do we position novelties in our industry, esp. if we do not know exactly where innovation will take us. That is a big challenge for marketing and communications.”