Black Label: Lincoln Elevated

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Black Label: Lincoln Elevated

November 18, 2014

By all measures that really matter—and those are predicated on sales numbers—Lincoln is most certainly on the proverbial roll. Andrew Frick, group marketing manager, points out that Lincoln sales are up 14.5% for the year and were up 24.6% for the month of October.

Lincoln’s strength is largely predicated on two vehicles, the MKC crossover and the MKZ midsize sedan. Especially the MKC, which is new to the market this year, but the incremental volumes are nontrivial.

Lincoln MKC Black Label with exclusive Chroma Couture exterior paint. No, we don’t know why someone would park it in a house. But it looks like it fits. The color is part of the Indulgence theme.

Although the MKC wasn’t available until May, through October, 8,615 units have been sold. Realize that there are several factors that need to be taken into account when looking at that number. For one thing, it is a matter of building volumes in dealerships, so it isn’t like there was the sort of availability for vehicles that one would have after, say, a year in the market. For another thing, this is an all-new vehicle, so there needs to be awareness and consideration built. That said, in October, 2,197 MKCs were sold.

Considering how well those two vehicles are doing—it should be noted that MKZ sales are up 9.7% for the year, and Frick points out that transaction prices are up on the order of $5,300 per unit—it should be no surprise that Lincoln, as it is undergoing a profound transformation, has made those two the first undertaking for its new “Black Label” undertaking, initiative, experience, or whatever else you’d call an uncharacteristic, upscale approach to selling motor vehicles—and “selling” almost seems to be too garish a word in the Black Label context.

Jet Black Venetian leather and Foxfire accents. The seats in Black Label vehicles have different foam and sewing patterns than the standard MKC and MKZ offerings. Note the geometric pattern of the perforations.

Keep in mind that Lincoln has an opportunity, in a sense, that more-established premium brands don’t have for the simple reason that they are more-established and therefore have their routines generally set in place. Lincoln is something of a challenger brand, which seems somewhat odd, given that it has been a part of Ford since 1922 and never stopped being in business. Still, over the past several years the brand languished and was hit by the Great Recession and only recently has become a focus of the parent company, which realizes that having a premium brand is pretty much essential in today’s market.

Lincoln customers—and it should be noted that Frick and Paul Bucek, Black Label Operations Manager refer to these people as “clients,” which may seem like a small thing, but how you describe something or somebody makes a huge difference in the treatment received—now have the opportunity to buy an MKC or an MKZ in a way that it unlike most auto transactions and to become the members of something of an elite club.

Black Agento wood is, explains Janet Seymour, who is in charge of Black Label Colors and Materials, “designed.” Note the angle of the stripes on the wood (yes, that is wood). This is created though a meticulous lamination process such that all of the wood trim has the same pattern which is in one sense very organic, but in another, an artifice.

A starting point is shopping for the car. Black Label intenders can actually have a Black Label-trained sales professional come to their home or office at a time that is convenient for the customer client. (That part about being convenient for the client bears repeating. Black Label is, in large part, focused on the person who is going to be purchasing the car, which is in and of itself atypical.) The sales person will have an oversized metal briefcase with them that contains material samples (leather that is based on the hides of less than 1% of all those that are otherwise considered automotive grade; Alacantara; woods, both natural and designed) and color samples, that have been curated by Janet Seymour, Color and Materials Design Manager, and her team to be appropriate for the vehicles.

Because there are a multitude of possible choices (e.g., exterior color, headliner color, trim color, seat color) that could conceivably be overwhelming—and which, Seymour notes, might seem right at the time but not in a year or two down the road), the designers have created four design themes—Indulgence, Oasis, Modern Heritage, Center Stage—that help organize and simplify the selections. (And presumably this helps immensely vis-à-vis supply and logistics, given that Frick estimates that the take rate for Black Label will be on the order of 5 to 6% of overall sales, so complexity needs to be managed.)

Call it discrete. The black “Z” badge and special wheels are the primary cues of a Black Label vehicle. Car cognoscenti may also note that there are six specials colors for the vehicles, too (this one being Confidential White).

Even though home and office visits are possible, there is also dedicated space within a certified dealership for Black Label. Once someone gets a Black Label vehicle—and it should be pointed out that while it is just MKC and MKZ right now, next up will be MKX, followed by whatever it is that Lincoln will come out with—then there is an extended warranty, free carwashes, and even the opportunity to dine at restaurants that are part of the Black Label experience. This goes beyond the seats having different foam and stitching in a Black Label vehicle compared to the conventional version; Frick uses an analogy that it is like getting a suite with club-level access in a Ritz-Carlton versus a room: both are certainly top notch, but one is that much more. (Yes, there is a premium for a Black Label vehicle; either can be had with an upcharge of $5,995, which, arguably, dare I say, is a “bargain.”)

Lincoln isn’t the only car company that offers its buyers to have special paint and fabric and amenities. But it is likely the only one who recognizes that in order to gain share in the market, having first-class vehicles is only the starting point, so with Black Label it is going well beyond the baristas and biscotti.