Cadillac's new Perspective on Growing their Millennial Customer-base
Cadillac Canada is daring to do things differently. In the past they were synonymous with luxury and technological innovation but somewhere in the shuffle of the past few decades, the brand's identity was lost among Gen X/Y consumers. Fast forward to 2017 and they have been doing better than ever thanks to a revolution within products, marketing and company culture to "Dare Greatly."
Mahmoud Samara, the Managing Director of Cadillac Canada lead the charge in bringing “Dare Greatly” to life in authentic ways for Cadillac’s employees. He led his team and dealers to the summit of Mount Washington in 2015 and biked 1,400 kilometres across borders from New York to Cadillac's head quarters in Oshawa come 2016. These challenges epitomize Cadillac's new perspective on getting the attention of millennial consumers and at the same time has driven the company to dare to take the challenging route.
Raised in Dubai, Samara’s fascination with cars, luxury and international business began at an early age, an interest that would eventually lead to him to becoming one of Cadillac’s youngest ever executives at age 38. We spoke to Samara about how Cadillac has lived and breathed "Dare Greatly," what it has in store for the next year and the brands' iconic history.
How did you get started and to where you are now?
I did my undergrad in marketing and my masters in international business. My passion was around vehicles and doing business globally, hence, everything I’ve done throughout my studies was about how do you do business globally around the world. With a natural passion for automotives and a bigger passion for luxury, I took a path of joining General Motors in Detroit and then they took me to the General Motors Middle East in Dubai. In 2010, before I left Dubai, I was the regional manager for three countries, UAE, Qatar and Oman. I was very fortunate to be presented with a great opportunity to take a great leap of faith and to dare to widen my horizons throughout my career to join the manufacturing team. In 2011, I had one of the best career moves in my life by joining the manufacturing plant in Oshawa.
I didn’t realize back then that, the plant was not only the largest plant in North America but also the most complex and high tech. So, [I was] learning from the best and I was learning very, very, very fast. That plant is very successful, it is the most decorated manufacturing plant in the world. It has over 24 JD Power plant quality awards. Canadians do build some of the best products around for General Motors. In 2014, I got tapped on the back to take a 140 year old iconic brand luxury brand like Cadillac and reinvent it. It was a privilege to start with, a huge responsibility and one of the best journey to be put on. When I joined in 2014, there was just a couple people looking after Cadillac Canada. Cadillac was just a brand, not an organisation. In two short years, we have managed to have a fundamental transformation, not just double the business but redefine the world of Cadillac from an iconic traditional luxury brand into a very progressive contemporary lifestyle brand that resonates among millennials, Gen Xs and Gen Ys.
How has Cadillac adapted to the changing ways in which people shop?
If you look at how next generation luxury buyers relate to products, it is completely different from how baby boomers did. Today, especially in Canada, customers need to relate to a brand and what it stands for and how it relates to their own personal values to make sure the services or product represents them.
Step 1 for any successful luxury brand is to clearly define what they stand for and what their values are. For a long time Cadillac has continued to build great cars but the brand was not resonating amoung the new luxury buyers because we didn't clearly define what we stood for. Before that, for the longest time we were the standard of the world. The Cadillac of whatever meant the best of the best. What we wanted [to do now] is clearly define the new definition of Cadillac. Brands become important to the new luxury buyers by giving access to experiences and not just providing a physical product. The product needs to be an enabler to a very unique experience. Gone are the days where baby boomers would tell you that you will go through an evolution phase whereby you buy a house, you buy a car, you save some money, you start a family early; it's no longer that. Millennials are all about access to unique experiences and if that means they will delay ownership of assets, then so be it. That's how they relate to brands. Cadillac wanted to be a co-conspirator to give its customers and its audience a very clear definition of what it stands for and access to experiences.
Are collaboration with the CFDA and other such creatives organisations around the world a part of that experience?
We clearly took a step back globally. We wanted to recreate Cadillac as a global iconic luxury brand that has a clear message of daring greatly. Because most of next generation luxury buyers are more of an entrepreneurial mindset, they are risk-takers, they are daring by nature, we created the new world of Cadillac called "Dare Greatly." Everyone and anyone that touches the Cadillac brand has to walk, talk, act and live the daring attitude. With the daring mindset, we want to dare not to limit our greatness to a great product. We want to advance our business to the world of "Dare Greatly" and partner up with daring entrepreneurs that are young talent and in our market. Right now, I am co-conspiring with young Canadian entrepreneurs that wanted to dare to disrupt their industries or re-define the space they are in - Whether that is in culinary, fashion or design - to allow Cadillac to give the support to these young talent in Canada to tell their story in their own way. Only those who dare move the world forward and contribute to the world. That is our vision. We want to create a community of daring spirits who have a very strong point of view that is probably not safe and is disruptive. We want to give it that safe environment to help them go and tell the story to the world and move the world forward.
Where does the future lie for Cadillac Canada?
Redefining the Cadillac world is working, it is resonating with a younger affluent community. What we've also done is we've invested through actions and not words. We have invested $12 billion dollars in doubling our product portfolio. We want to be in almost every luxury segment of the automotive industry and we want to have an offering to the entire evolution of the customer ownership cycle including cars and SUVs. Normally these investments come to fruition over six or seven years, we said we're going to be so aggressive that we're going to go from four segments to eight segments by the end of the decade. Cadillac House is a physically space owned by the company in SoHo, New York that is not a dealership but a brand immersive space where Cadillac brings our co-conspirators like Public School, the Warhol Museum, for example or other young designers from the CFDA and we create an experience that represents our world of daring greatly, disrupting and redefining the status quo. We set up a retail lab for them to put their business together and allow them to showcase it. We just grow and nurture that relationship and after two months we bring in another co-conspirator and we keep cycling through our daring partnerships.
How are you redefining luxury through your products?
The best example is what we launched in August 2016: the Escala. It's a concept vehicle to showcase to the world what a daring design language looks and feels like.
There is a lot of innovation in our technology in the vehicle; our past shows that but our future also shows that. We were the first vehicle to invent the V8 engine, we are the first vehicle to have a closed compartment and curved windshield, the first vehicle to have self-inflating tires. There's a list of 128 things that we've done first. We want to keep that true to our DNA. We recently launched the CT6 Sedan, it is literally technology on wheels. We were the first automotive manufacturer to unveil the rear camera mirror technology. It kills any fear of any blind spots, obstructions don't matter anymore. You always have to yell at someone to sit down or their head is in the way. So that brings a whole level of innovation. We have infrared technology and night-vision for a foggy environment or a snowstorm. You have to experience the audio system in that vehicle. Bose has been a partner of Cadillac for 23 years, they have created a sub-brand called Panaray which only exists in Cadillac vehicles. They have redefined the audio experience in any automotive space by delivering through 34 Bose speakers that takes you from an environment where you can hear the music to where you can feel the music.
How does Cadillac Canada dare greatly within the company culture?
Personal transformation drives professional transformation. One thing I was very conscious of and serious about was creating a daring environment in our workplace by hiring a high performance team. What we've done is created real life challenges for our Cadillac team and even our dealers to join us. Obviously none of us are professional athletes but we trained for strong eight months and as a team, in February 2016 we went on an 18 hour mountain climbing adventure when it was -40 degrees Celsius with 50 mph winds and we conquered Mount Washington. It's one thing to climb to the peak alone and claim success but it's a completely different mindset when you dared greatly as a team and you supported each other's strengths. We conquered ourselves more than anything else. In June of the same year, we rode 1,400 km from our headquarters in SoHo, New York non-stop to Toronto to celebrate our new culture and mindset of daring. It was a very high-risk and high reward experience. It reassured us that the challenges that you face at work or in your personal life become welcome, you train yourself to be that person that can live their life by taking risks. And when you're faced with what I call standard risks, it's not an issue. You become comfortable with being uncomfortable.
This interview has been edited and condensed.