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The Saturn Family Case

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The Saturn Family

Consumers are bombarded with advertisements and marketing hype everyday. When you log onto the Internet, watch television, listen to radio, read a newspaper, or open your mail, you are inevitably greeted with a plea to purchase brand X or visit store Y or website Z. In any given day, you are exposed to more information than you can realistically process. In the 1990s, marketers began to look fresh, innovative ways to make their companies stand out from the media clutter. Few have been as successful as General Motors' subsidiary Saturn, whose 1994 "homecoming" of car owners has been described as "the mother of all marketing programs."

Saturn's mission statement emphasizes the concept of "family." In an industry whose history is replete with labor conflict, Saturn has tried to erase the line between labor and management are somewhat taboo. Regardless of their positions in the company, all Saturn boasts that no one punches a time clock and that members of labor and management even eat in the same cafeteria! Moreover, the company expects its employees and dealers to make customers feel like a part of the Saturn family.

According to Joe Kennedy, Saturn's corporate vice president of sales, service, and marketing, "Everything at Saturn hinges on our retail operations being enthusiastic about serving their customers." Indeed, salespeople (or, as Saturn prefers to call them, "consultants") have gone far out of their way to make current and potential customers happy. In one legendary story, a woman in Wyoming was interested in purchasing a Saturn only to find that the nearest dealership was hundreds of miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah. Not to worry. A salesperson from Salt Lake City flew to Wyoming, picked the woman up, flew back with her to the dealership in Utah, showed her the car, and made the sale. Saturn instituted a "no-haggle" pricing policy to reduce the traditionally antagonistic relationship between automobile salespeople and customers. Saturn's television ads have featured employees discussing the family feeling at the company and actual customers sharing their own Saturn stories.

The "Saturn family" concept took hold with consumers. Soon delighted customers began calling and writing the company's plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee (near Nashville), to learn how they could tour the facility and maybe meet other Saturn owners from across the country. So management decided to spend $1 million to hold its first "homecoming" of Saturn owners and their cars the weekend of June 24-25, 1994 in Spring Hill. It mailed out 650,000 invitations to Saturn owners and also purchased commercial time on CBS's late Show with David Letterman.

The response was overwhelming. About 30,000 Saturns--and their owners--made the pilgrimage. If you were on the highway that week and saw a Saturn with an orange ball on the radio antenna, that car was probably headed home to Tennessee. Saturn owners came from as far as Taiwan and filled most of the 24,000 hotel rooms in the Nashville area. In fact, a dealer from Taiwan brought home the first Saturn ever sold in that country. That car was honored with its own tent. Throughout the weekend, car owners met members of the Saturn team, toured the plant, and shared their own Saturn stories. The homecoming had all the trappings of an old-fashioned outdoor revival with music, dancing, testimonials from celebrities (Olympic speed skater Dan Jansen), and food (everything from "southern Chinese egg rolls" to barbecued catfish).

Even though two Herculean thunderstorms blew over some tents, injured a few people, and forced the cancellation of a scheduled concert by country music star Wynonna, it didn't seem to dampen many folks' spirits. Mary Taylor, age 60, was part of a 22-car caravan that trekked 1,800 miles from Nevada to Tennessee to be part of the homecoming. She couldn't stop raving about the dealer. "I couldn't believe how much they cared," Taylor said. "They know us when we walk in. It's



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