Road Warriors’ New Ride

July 30, 2009

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Al Saltiel, vice president of marketing at Navistar International Corp., the maker of long-haul trucks, has a message for marketers struggling with the economic downturn. Reinvent and innovate.

At a time when General Motors, Chrysler, Citibank and even the State of California are in crisis, Saltiel’s work at Warrenville, Ill.-based Navistar points the way forward for marketers in struggling organizations.

Navistar’s roots run deep, back to Cyrus McCormick who invented the mechanical reaper in the 19th century and revolutionized farming. His company merged with four others to become International Harvester in 1902. In 1907, the first International brand trucks began delivering farm goods to market. By 1955, Harvester was No. 26 on the Fortune 500 list and it remained a highly profitable, performance-driven company into the 1970s. But the 1980s held trouble.

“We almost went bankrupt,” Saltiel says. “We divested the agricultural equipment business and became a truck company. We’ve gone from a shrinking company to a growing company in the last five years,” he adds. “We reestablished our brand. Today we project a new more confident voice in the marketplace.”

Saltiel and his colleagues launched a major new product, a long-haul, fuel-efficient truck designed for comfort marketed under the International LoneStar brand, in 2008.

Saltiel’s buyer research showed more than 70% of truck drivers also are motorcycle enthusiasts. That research drove Navistar to co-brand a LoneStar option with Harley-Davidson. With LoneStar, Navistar’s share of the long-haul truck category went from 17% to 30%, according to Saltiel.

Saltiel’s promotional program for the truck line is state of the art. It’s predicated on research insights, creative in its use of marketing tactics, and highly metrics-focused.

“Truck drivers have a lawyer complex,” Saltiel says. “Everybody makes jokes about how bad, how low lawyers and truck drivers are on the totem pole. We wanted to bring back the cowboy persona of the truck driver. Trucking is a noble profession. We want to build on that.”

So Saltiel decided to create a movie, Drive and Deliver, featuring real truck drivers and their lives on the road. He hired Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Brett Morgen and Omnicom’s branded entertainment unit, Fathom Communications, to create the film. According to a New York Times report, the production budget for the 45-minute feature was $2 million with additional promotional expenditures of $3 million out of a total $15 million marketing budget for LoneStar. Navistar would not confirm this spending.

Saltiel’s team interviewed more than 700 truck drivers to find the right stars for the film. After 21 days on the road covering 17 states with a 20-person film crew, the film features three truck drivers: Steven Donaldson, of Fayetteville, Ohio; Chris LeCount, of Goshen, Ind.; and Tim Young, of Flat Rock, Ala., as they make deliveries with the LoneStar.

It shows the details of their heroic lives and relies on music from Merle Haggard, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Marshall Tucker Band and Hank Williams to make the point that trucking is a noble profession.

Saltiel’s promoted the film with a Hollywood-like opening at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, as well as at conferences, through print media and even on the Internet. It’s a solid, differentiating hit that motivates the dealer network and the end customer.

According to the Fleet Owner newsletter, at the screening, “Truckers gave the movie a three-minute standing ovation.”

“These truckers are very emotional about Stand and Deliver,” Saltiel adds. “They say, ‘Finally, somebody is telling our story.’ ”

Saltiel believes marketers who want to reinvent and innovate need to think about four critical steps, the same steps he’s using at Navistar:

  • Craft a bold vision
  • Create a culture that rewards creativity
  • Understand what drives customer experience
  • Challenge conventional experience

In addition to utilizing branded entertainment as a marketing tool, Saltiel deploys a fully integrated suite of tactical elements, from glossy brochures, to blogs, to interactive Web sites and print advertising. Wherever he can, Saltiel aims to be unconventional. He displayed the LoneStar truck at a major auto show—the only long-haul truck at the show—where it clearly stood out.

Saltiel cut his teeth in sales at Inland Steel and then in marketing at Ford Motor Co. working on the Jaguar brand. He’s worked at Sony in the consumer electronics business driving marketing for flat panel televisions.

“What I bring to this job at Navistar International is a total outside perspective,” Saltiel says, indicating he’s not limited by traditional business-to-business marketing principles.

Saltiel thinks customer relationship management is the future of marketing, especially automotive marketing. “I think the entire marketplace is moving towards a much more CRM-centric approach and away from expensive 30-second commercials,” he says. But he worries about the future of General Motors, lamenting that the internally competitive GM culture in Detroit prevents the kind of forward-looking change he’s creating at Navistar International.

Saltiel says marketing is a great career for today’s college graduates, even if jobs are scarce at the moment.

“Marketing is a terrific career. It is so portable. I'm living proof that you can take your marketing skills from business-to-business, to business-to-consumer, from luxury products to consumer electronics, to automotive products, to industrial products. It's been a very interesting career for me. Never boring.”

If American industry wants to get on the right road to recovery, Saltiel’s reinvention principles are worth a look.

Michael Krauss is president of Market Strategy Group, based in Chicago, and can be reached at Michael.Krauss@Mkt-strat.com or news@ama.org.

 

 

 ©2009 Marion Consulting Partners