Dr. Uwe Ellinghaus
Director of Brand Management, BMW
"Brand loyalty can only be established if a brand is able to connect with its customers on an emotional level. From a brand management perspective, we see ourselves not only as a car manufacturer, but also as a creator of emotion."
This year’s Best Global Brands focuses on the human aspect of brands — the connections made between people and brands.
The connection between people and vehicles is fundamental for an automotive company. In general, how has the relationship between people and automotive brands changed or shifted in the industry? How has BMW responded to these changes?
Brand loyalty can only be established if a brand is able to connect with its customers on an emotional level. From a brand management perspective, we see ourselves not only as a car manufacturer, but also as a creator of emotion. “Joy,” the core of the BMW brand, is one of the strongest emotions and has positive associations in every single market we are selling our brand globally.
Successful branding is all about changing perspective. That means taking on our customer’s point of view when defining and evolving our brands. Today, customers shop on their own terms. It is easier than ever for them to make educated decisions because unprecedented amounts of information are available to them. In addition, customers increasingly research the company behind the products they buy. They solicit others' opinions and share their own experiences with products and brands online. Now, more than ever, customers expect responsive service, knowledgeable assistance, customization options, and a high level of convenience.
Facing those changes in customer behavior, our processes and customer feedback were critically reviewed as part of the corporate Strategy Number ONE. Customer insights, customer understanding and customer orientation now stand at the very beginning of all our processes.
The main target, from a branding perspective, is being able to optimize our brand personality and its relevance according to the evolving changes in customer behavior and needs. In terms of how we respond to these changes, first, we bring the brand to where the customers are. We look to increase the number of possible brand contact points with customers and prospects and work to enhance the brand experience at all touchpoints. One example is our first BMW Brand Store in the heart of luxury retail in Paris. By bringing our presence into a retail space, BMW can reach out to shoppers, allowing them to experience the brand in their chosen environment. We also offer innovative mobility services under the BMW i sub-brand to meet the growing need for flexible mobility solutions in urban areas like DriveNow and ParkNow. Another example of how we “bring our brand to life” and invite customers to interact with our brand is the BMW Welt in Munich.
The BMW Welt, distinctive for its futuristic architecture and the wide range of exhibitions and events it offers, just welcomed its ten-millionth guest since opening in 2007. Presenting our latest range of vehicles as well as interactive exhibits that allow visitors to experience the brand on numerous sensory levels, the BMW Welt also serves as a platform for concerts, panel discussions, and other informative and entertaining events. Fusing technology, design and innovation with lifestyle and culture, we have created a public space that gives visitors an immersive, brand experience and access to entertainment as well. The concept has certainly succeeded—it’s currently the number one tourist attraction in Bavaria.
BMW has been very successful. How do you foresee the BMW brand evolving in the next decade?
Each of our three premium brands, BMW, MINI and Rolls-Royce, have a differentiating brand core that embodies the emotional benefit of each brand, and a distinctive set of brand values that further differentiate the brands within the portfolio. Since both the competition and our customers are evolving, our brands need to evolve as well and be made future-proof. But brands do not evolve by themselves. Brands need to be strategically developed.
The key to our success is that we stay true to each brand but develop our brands in ways that make them capable of supporting the growth of the company as well as changes in customer needs and preferences. Take our new sub-brand BMW i, for example. We realize that the world is experiencing a period of radical environmental, economic and social change. A rash of global developments such as climate change, the dwindling availability of resources and increasing urbanization, call for a new balance between the demands of the planet and the desires of the individual. Therefore, fresh solutions are required to underpin personal and, most importantly, sustainable mobility.
The BMW Group has responded to this situation with the creation of an all new BMW sub-brand that meets the changing needs of customers head-on: BMW i. The BMW i sub-brand sets out to rethink mobility and come up with pioneering solutions to the challenges we are currently facing—namely, cars for the future. All facets of the BMW i brand clearly reference its parent brand, which is evident in the look and feel of products, communication and retail outlets. However, BMW i also takes a whole new look at various brand elements, giving the sub-brand a distinctive identity while remaining uniquely BMW.
How does BMW balance innovation across an organization that strives to deliver "The Ultimate Driving Machine" while simultaneously producing environmentally friendly vehicles under the EfficientDynamics initiative?
For the BMW Group, there has never been a contradiction between sheer driving pleasure and efficiency.BMW sees technical innovation as an elementary part of the brand’s product strategy, and our commitment to innovation includes finding ways to reduce emissions and fuel consumption
In a time when the general framework is constantly shifting due to market volatility, evolving customer expectations or new legislation, the BMW EfficientDynamics strategy enables the BMW Group to be prepared for inevitable changes ahead. An approach summed up by the idea of “lower emissions, more driving pleasure,” we believe no other car manufacturer applies this principle as convincingly and successfully as BMW. Putting this thought into practice, the BMW i8 concept car is the symbol for the future of Sheer Driving Pleasure—offering the performance of a BMW M Car and a highly emotional character combined with the fuel economy and emission management of a modern small car in the premium class.
The success of the BMW Group has always been built on long-term thinking and responsible action. The company has established ecological and social sustainability throughout the value chain, comprehensive product responsibility and a clear commitment to conserving resources As a result of its efforts, the BMW Group has been ranked industry leader in the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes for the last seven years.
BMW is known for incorporating its brand values of Dynamic, Innovative, and Aesthetic into all business activities. How do you ensure that this is achieved throughout all departments, divisions, and business units?
The key element of successfully managing a brand is to safeguard a maximum of self-similarity over all touchpoints the brand has with all stakeholders. At the BMW Group, we have a toolbox with several sophisticated brand management systems to steer the continuity of strong premium brands.
One of those tools is our BMW Group Brand and Customer Institute, an internal brand training institution in which we inform and enable our employees to understand and work with our brand values. This internal brand training started almost a decade ago. As our brand portfolio and our customer needs get more and more complex, the importance of internal brand training gains further importance. So far, we have trained over 70,000 BMW Group employees worldwide on the basics of premium branding, the values of our brands and the necessity of customer insights and customer orientation.
What’s the secret to successfully leading BMW’s global brand management efforts from Munich?
BMW is a global brand being driven by a single brand strategy and a global brand identity. Nevertheless, the brand has to be managed with different priorities in each market. Because of this complexity, global brand leadership must set up organizational structures and processes that enable us to allocate brand building resources on a global level, while also leveraging the brand strategy for each market or region.
Our customer base varies from one market to another, so a brand program that excels in one region might fail in another. Therefore, our brand management program has to take into account and cater to those regional differences while still safeguarding the consistency of our global brand appearance and activities. This system of ongoing dialogue between markets and central departments establishes transparency and mutual confidence and ensures that our brand is positioned and perceived as a premium brand globally.
What inspires you personally and fuels your ideas? Are there any particular books, people or other external resources that have changed or influenced your thinking?
The most stimulating element of my job is keeping the balance between evolving customer demands and an ever-changing competitive environment—and the fundamental requirement to evolve the brand with continuity and consistency. My ideas are fueled by market research, feedback from dealers and colleagues, but also from sources outside of the automotive industry. And occasionally, they are fueled by mere gut feeling. An external development that has influenced my thinking about the future of marketing the most is the digital revolution. I am fascinated by the way “digital natives” interact with brands and I am convinced that their request for feedback, transparency, interaction and personalized information will accelerate the paradigm shift in marketing that is already underway. For brands to stay relevant, becoming digitally savvy is an absolute must.